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Stunning Media Coverage Misses Major Point

The media pick-up on the study linking ADHD to pesticide exposure has been nothing sort of stunning. I can’t recall another pesticide story — short of an outright poisoning event — that has seen as much coverage.

All the major networks jumped on the bandwagon. NBC’s evening news and the Today Show chimed in, as did ABC and CBS, and most talked about how you need to wash your children’s fruit before they eat it. Some media types trotted out the list of fruits you should avoid outright if they’re not grown organically . . . stuff like apples, peaches, pears, strawberries and blueberries etc. that are the very cornerstone of the foods that kids enjoy and should be eating.

The washing advice is good, to a point, but it masks the fact that the pesticides get INSIDE the fruits, too, and no amount of washing will wipe away all the exposures.

The real thing missing here, almost universally, is the acknowledgment that these very same pesticides applied to foods are also applied to lawns and landscapes around our homes, parks, playgrounds and playing fields. Homeowners apply 10 times more pesticides per acre than farmers.

How can that be true? Farmers apply as little pesticide as possible because there’s an economic reason to do so. In general, they don’t want to overapply because that will have a direct impact to their bottom line. Homeowners don’t have the same financial considerations because their personal acreage is much smaller, a quarter to a third acre on average.

So folks spray like crazy. They think that if a little pesticide is good, then a lot of pesticide is better. The New York office of Pesticide Control once told me in an interview that estimates show only 20 percent of people even bother to read directions on the label. I call this phenomenon the Drano Mentality, and if you’ve ever actually read the directions on a bottle of the drain de-clogger, you know what I mean: “For a small clog, use a quarter of the bottle. For a medium clog, use half the bottle. For a big clog, use the whole bottle . . . ” And there is absolutely no way to define small, medium or big except for the homeowner to take a wild guess.


For many SafeLawns followers, the connection to the lawn and garden pesticides is obvious and they’re looking to us to help the media make the connection.

“I was thrilled on Monday to see the pesticide/ADHD story get huge media play,” wrote George Robinson earlier today on our blog. “It was stunning, really. But I don’t understand why people aren’t tying this pesticide issue back to lawn and garden products; they’re the same pesticides, after all. Can you help get the word out about this?”

While it’s flattering, I suppose, that people think we can connect into the media, the reality is that getting the newspapers, radio and TV stations to talk about something is rarely as easy as it looks. When two sisters died from a pesticide poisoning earlier this year, it didn’t get mentioned much outside of Utah. When an April study was published linking pre-natal pesticide exposure to slower childhood development, that story seemed to fall flat. Day after day stories and studies are published linking pesticide exposure to everything from cancer, to pet and amphibian poisoning, to the shrinking and deformation of male genitalia. The latter story always gets a laugh, but no serious media coverage.

So while organizations like ours will continue to try to push the media envelope on this pesticides-in-the-landscape angle, it’s important for homeowners and concerned citizens to keep the dialogue flowing. As Dr. June Irwin infamously states in the movie A Chemical Reaction, “Letters to the Editor are Free.” So is sharing information with your garden club, your watershed association, your parent-teachers association, as well as your mayor, town manager and other elected officials. You have the power to make your voice heard through the Internet, through radio call-in shows and other social networking sites. If you want to keep products like weed ‘n feed, malathion, Roundup etc. out of your communities, YOU too have the power to use the media in all its forms.

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
  • Tara Dillard

    Mentioning, Testosterone on Wheels Landscaping vs. Matriarchal Landscaping I’ve not lost a listener or reader. Ha, they may not like it but it’s understood. A little laugh, a few flowers vs. lawn & chemicals & dollars.

    You’ve hit a good headline, ADHD & Pesticide Connection. Finally, disturbing science behind styles of landscape design.

    It seems a class action lawsuit could pin its little tail on the donkey of mow-blow-go and shoot me up with chemicals while your at it landscaping.

    Thank you for all you do.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  • Cheryl Hadden

    What would pesticides do to a community that was being sprayed every night and had been sprayed every night for 2 years?
    It wasn’t a farming community, it was part of a major city.
    If that wasn’t enough, the state stepped up the spraying to include even larger swaths of residential areas.
    The state sprayed from Beverly Hills to Pasadena to San Bernardino. Over 1200 sq miles of residential area.
    But not 1 farm.
    No place was spared, no one could opt out for any reason except if someone shot down one of the helicopters, as Pasadena did.
    It was like a war zone and there was nowhere to run.
    They relentlessly sprayed the residential areas but left out the surrounding farming communities, claiming that the farmers would have to pay for their own Malathion spraying.
    All this to kill the Mediterranean Fruit Fly.
    The state only found 1 male fly in the county trap and so ordered the entire valley to be sprayed but they didn’t include any farmland.
    The closest they came to a farm was out in San Bernardino, when they accidentally sprayed part of Loma Linda farm that bordered San Bernardino.
    The outlying areas were lucky because they were only sprayed 5 times, it was supposed to have been 6 but they made a mistake and sprayed San Bernardino a day ahead of the scheduled time.
    No one was prepared, people were out in the streets, there was a minor league baseball game going on, and the stadium got sprayed.
    The mayor raised Hell about that, so the last spraying was canceled.
    Funny thing, those that got caught reacted in a most peculiar way. Those that were usually peaceful became hostile, those that were hostile became docile.
    That effect didn’t last long, but it was very noticeable.
    This happened at the height of the gang wars in South Central LA, the area that was sprayed constantly for over 2 years.
    There should be records, it’s been 20 yrs.
    Wonder what happened to all those children?,,20117246,00.html

  • Eugene Pummill

    I don’t know if this is trivia or a simple aside comment, but I remember as a kid the town where I grew up would fog for mosquitos in the summer. They would use some type of a fogging device attached to a truck, and it would create a thick blanket of pesticide that drifted through your house if you didn’t shut the windows in time. I recall silly children, victims perhaps, who would ride their bicycles as close behind the truck as they could get in competition with one another. I suppose their thinking must have been that it had to be safe since it was being sprayed indiscriminately all about town. I don’t know which was worse, potential disease spread by mosquitos or the side effects of the toxins.

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