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Some Questions Remain Unanswered

Open forums, like live radio and television shows, are the closest thing to flying, and perhaps free falling, this side of an airplane. The Midwest Organic Lawn & Garden Conference, held this past week in Madison, Wisconsin, allowed for uniquely intimate access to the four main presenters: Howard Garrett, Peter Wild, Jeff Carlson and yours truly.

Several great points were made, many of which were covered in yesterday’s blog post here. A couple of other questions will stick with me for a long time, though, and I thought I’d share them here.

One woman asked what I thought about the Supreme Court decision to lift restrictions on what corporations can spend during political elections. On stage, I politely dodged the question; a lawn care forum didn’t seem like the time or the place. Later on that day, the questioner apologized and we both lamented privately that conglomerates like Monsanto and Dow will now have unfettered access to political influence through lining the pockets of candidates.

It was another question, however, that touched me in a deeply personal way. It concerned NFL quarterbacks and the seemingly disproportionate association with autism. At least five iconic former NFL quarterbacks — Rodney Peete, Doug Flutie, Jim Kelly, Dan Marino and Boomer Esiason — have children with autism or other neurological disorders. “Is it because the quarterbacks are constantly licking their fingers after touching the ball that’s been on the field covered with pesticides?” asked the questioner.

Later in the conference I had a conversation with a golf course superintendent whose son, like mine, has ADHD. We both wonder if our exposure to pesticides at the time of our children’s conception and youth might have contributed to their affliction.

We’ll never know for sure, of course. And the pesticide industry will say that to even suggest such an association is “fear mongering.” Maybe all those quarterbacks having children with similar diseases is just a coincidence.

The fact is, though, we should never have to ask these questions. As that conference showed, again and again and again, it’s possible to have amazing playing fields, public parks and lawns without toxic pesticides. Killing dandelions should never be considered a good enough reason to utilize a toxic pesticide.

It’s as simple as that.

About The Author

Paul Tukey

An international leader of the green movement, Mr. Tukey is a journalist, author, filmmaker, TV host, activist and award-winning public speaker, who is widely recognized as North America's leading advocate for landscape sustainability and toxic pesticide reduction strategies.

Number of Entries : 1023
  • Scott Morgan

    I have seen you mention a possible link between ADHD and pesticides in the past, but I was always under the impression that ADHD was genetic. I have it myself and I’ll admit up front that I haven’t read anything about it in years, but for several members of my extended family there would appear to be a clear genetic basis for the disorder. Plus, there are several examples of historical figures who likely had ADHD well before the invention of synthetic fertilizers (granted who knows what nasty natural substances they could have come into contact with!). So, while I don’t dispute that pesticides might play a role and perhaps in an ADHD-like disorder, do you know of any studies that directly link ADHD and pesticides that are more than anecdotal? Regardless, I think we can both agree that even if pesticides don’t contribute to ADHD, the potential risk to human and animal life is much too great to keep using them as we have been.

    • JB Royal

      Scott your statement “there would appear to be a clear genetic basis for the disorder” may be partly true but pesticides may have still been the ADHD culprit. I often hear people making a distinction between blaming an ailment on genetics rather than pesticides or some other pollutant as if they were some how mutually exclusive and totally unrelated. The fact is that studies have found that pesticides in low doses and even upon a single event can indeed modify DNA. That said, all you would have needed was one common blood relative that came into contact with a DNA modifier for a particular damaged gene sequence to be inherited by a group of your relatives. Yes it would be genetic and yes it would be caused by pesticides.
      http://cebp.aacrjournals.org/content/7/10/929.abstract

      A new field of study called epigenetics portrayed some of this in a “Ghost in your Genes” on NOVA recently
      http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/genes/

      Now think about the relative who may have had contact with some substance that modified his/her DNA and then look at this study they are doing. When and if they complete this one, I suspect the smoking gun will be on fire.
      http://cancercontrol.cancer.gov/grants/abstract.asp?applid=7532468

      Lastly, I have a full unopened can of a pesticide “Dr. Hess Louse Killer” from the 1920′s that has some NASTY ingredients including Tobacco Tars. As usual, the largest percentage of stuff is INERT. Bad stuff on farms and in the country have been around for ages.

      • Scott Morgan

        JB,

        I see nothing to dispute in your post since what you describe may very well be the cause of ADHD and other disorders. However, I find it very unlikely that there will ever be a “smoking gun” that proves conclusive in every case. The only points I was trying to make were 1. ADHD may have a genetic basis besides modifed DNA since some don’t really think of ADHD as a disorder at all and that there have been possible examples of individuals with ADHD for centuries. 2. There is more than enough evidence for anyone out there that pesticies are, have been, and will continue to be bad for our health. In any case, regardless of one’s view of the cause of ADHD, pesticides certainly aren’t going to help, so I say just don’t use them for whatever effect they may have. That’s really as far as I need to take such an argument.

        -Scott

  • Paul Tukey

    Here is the first major study that most environmentalists point to: http://organizedwisdom.com/helpbar/index.html?return=http://organizedwisdom.com/Pesticides_and_ADHD&url=www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/03/030318072141.htm. Others have followed. The results are far from conclusive, but again it comes down to whether or not it’s worth the risk.

    • Scott Morgan

      Thanks Paul!

      I certainly wasn’t arguing for the use of pesticides by saying I wasn’t sure if they had a link to ADHD; whether they do or not it’s nasty stuff and since moving to my current home from an apartment 3 years ago my lawn has been 100% organic and mowed only with the power of my feet and aching back! I’m curious if the pesticides may cause neurological symptoms very similar to ADHD, so while the causes could be different the symptoms could be very much the same.

      As for possible environmental factors that could have contributed to ADHD in my family, my brother, father, two uncles, and at least one cousin all have ADHD. My father’s father did maintain a garden and I do not know what chemicals he may have used, but I was born and raised in the Adirondack Park and my parents have never treated their lawn with anything. In fact, it wasn’t until moving to the western part of New York State that I knew anything about lawn care services; they just didn’t seem to exist up there. Now in Rochester they are everywhere and when my neighbor has his lawn sprayed I worry greatly for my two boys (4 years & 6 months).

      Thanks for the reply and the information. Keep up the excellent work!

  • Paul Tukey

    I never would want to suggest that lawn pesticides are the only toxins that cause these issues. And many of the older pesticides are far worse than the ones we use today. We know that for certain. Thanks for all the great feedback.

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