What About Those Pest Control Chemicals?

Herbicides, pesticides, and other such agents have been promoted as a victory over weeds and other pests.

Maybe.

First, for the sake of credibility, I have a Ph.D. in chemical engineering. And I spent 20 years working for major corporations.

From this I learned: a) People have made terrible decisions by underestimating the toxicity of chemicals (from aromatic carcinogens to glowing radium), and b) There are experts in every major corporation who know the true impacts of their products.

Second, let’s recognize that the human body is a chemical reaction. Thus, the health of your body depends upon the chemicals that are put into it – either through food or the environment.


California Towhee, (c) Photo by Steve Kaye

The California Towhee feeds on insects and seeds that it finds on the ground. When these are coated with chemicals, the bird eats the chemicals.


Here’s why I’m concerned.

1) Any chemical that destroys life for a living system will, in some way, be toxic for people.

2) Modern pest control chemicals leave no evidence that they are present. In addition, these chemicals remain on the ground after they have been absorbed by plants. Thus, no one knows these chemicals are present after they have been released or after dead plants have been removed.

3) Most of these chemicals cause a delayed reaction.

This is complicated by the variability of human response to toxins. For example, children are more sensitive to toxins than adults. So it’s difficult to relate an illness to contact with these chemicals.

Recently I found an exception: I met a man who was strongly allergic to pesticides. So if he walked through an area that contained pesticides, he would know they were there.

4) Cancer, birth defects, infertility, autism, and digestive disorders have been connected with commonly used pest control chemicals. For example, the increase in autism directly tracks the increased use of Glyphosate.

5) Chemical companies have used propaganda technologies developed by the cigarette industry to hide the true effects of their products. They have discredited science, published bogus reports, and prevented independent studies.

6) These chemicals are especially toxic to birds and other wildlife. Some toxins destroy an entire food chain, from pest to bird to carnivore. Thus, every environmental organization opposes the use of these chemicals.

7) The person applying these chemicals becomes contaminated. For example, the common mist applicator releases a fog of small, invisible droplets that travel far from their source driven by air currents and diffusion. So the person using this system collects the chemical on their clothes, which ends up in their home where they experience repeated contacts with it.

8) Sometimes supporting ingredients (such as solvents and surfactants) are more toxic than the active agent.

9) Outdoor pets collect these chemicals on their fur and paws. Then they can become sick when they groom themselves. Or they can contaminate people at home.


Cooper’s Hawk, (c) Photo by Steve Kaye

A Cooper’s Hawk is more likely to catch a sick bird because it moves slower. Then the hawk becomes sick or dies


Homeowners Consider This

1) Would you gather your family for a picnic on an area that had been treated with a pest control chemical?

2) Would you be willing to post a sign stating that toxic chemicals were used on your property?

If your answer to either of these questions is, “No,” then using these chemicals is wrong.


Important

If a product recommends cautions, such as avoiding contact with your skin, then putting that product in places where people walk, sit, or eat is wrong.


Recommendations

1) Avoid using any type of pest control chemicals.

2) Know what you are using.

Check the list of ingredients by searching for info on their toxicity from independent, reliable sources. Note that the manufactures have a history of minimizing or even hiding the true toxicity of their products.

Then compare the risks with the results.

3) If you must use pest control chemicals, fence off the area and post signs telling people to keep out.

It is wrong to leave toxic chemicals where people can unknowingly come in contact with them.

4) Use traps for bugs and rodents. Use boiling water for weeds. Use ground covers, such as a plastic tarp or bark chips, to prevent weeds.

5) Chop weeds with a hoe, thereby returning them to the soil as mulch.

6) Find more ideas in the books listed below.


Personal Responsibility

I believe that everyone has a personal responsibility to make ethical choices.

While we have no control over what a company chooses to make, we do have control over whether we buy it.

Every purchase is thus a vote that supports continuation of a product or service.


In General

There is a growing concern about the use of pest control chemicals. Some of these chemicals have been banned by cities in the United States and countries in Europe.


Resources

American Bird Conservancy

The Nature Conservancy, Native Gardening

Organic Consumers Association

Moms Across America

Beyond Pesticides

Common Sense Gardening Guides


Books

Weeds: Control without Poisons

The Gardener’s Guide to Common-Sense Pest Control