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Always Read the Label And Always Consider the Source of Your Information

The Internet being the amazing communication tool that it is, we get questions from some incredibly far-flung places. Yesterday a follower in Nigeria said she was afraid of the products in her local garden center and wanted our help in deciding what to buy to spray on her lawn. Soon afterward, a reporter from New York wanted our help in creating a top 10 most dangerous list of lawn and garden pesticides. Then a junior high school student sent me a list of interview questions by email. “Why are you so adamantly opposed to pesticides?” he began. “The man I spoke with from Scotts says pesticides are safe when used as directed.”

By 1 p.m. I had responded to more than 40 such emails, most from my iPhone while attending to other matters or conferencing in on phone calls.

Here’s just a sampling of some of my answers. They all have a common theme of “read the label before you buy or apply:”

To the woman in Nigeria:
“I’m not sure about the labeling requirements in your nation, but the label is the best place to start. Try to determine the active ingredients and any so-called ‘inert’ ingredients if they are revealed (in the U.S. they are not) and use an Internet resource such as the pesticide database to find out more about the substances.”

To the New York reporter:
“Creating a list of just 10 bad pesticides is like asking me to rank oil spills from worse to worst,” I said. But I proceeded to give him some of what he wanted, not necessarily in order of risk:

1) Preen (active ingredient trifluralin) — The label states “This pesticide is extremely toxic to freshwater marine, and estuarine fish and aquatic invertebrates. Causes moderate eye irritation. Harmful if swallowed, inhaled or absorbed through skin. Avoid contact with eyes, skin or clothing.” When you dig a bit deeper on this one, you learn that trifluralin is classified by the EPA as a possible carcinogen and that the agency further states: “No information is available on the acute (short-term), chronic (long-term), reproductive, developmental effects of trifluralin in humans.” Kind of makes you wonder how a product like that gets approved in the first place, doesn’t it? It’s a classic case of a pesticide that is innocent until proven guilty.

2) Sevin (active ingredient carbaryl) — This may well be the most toxic pesticide in common use by homeowners. Why it’s still allowed is anyone’s guess. The label states, ‘This product is extremely toxic to aquatic and estuarine invertebrates. BEE CAUTION: MAY KILL HONEYBEE IN SUBSTANTIAL NUMBERS.” This is also on the list of the EPA’s possible human carcinogens and the material safety data sheet from one manufacturer states: “Carbaryl is moderately to very toxic. It can produce adverse effects in humans by skin contact, inhalation, or ingestion.”

3) 2,4-D (this is the active ingredient, included in thousands of weed-killing products, either alone or in combination with other compounds) — I recall a conversation I once had with Jim King, a likable enough marketing guy for Scotts, who said, “2,4-D has been the most tested pesticide on the market and it’s always been proven to be safe.” This is the same ingredient that has been banned for use in residential areas in almost 80 percent of Canada due to its health and environmental effects. Here are just a few tidbits from our own government’s web site: “2,4-D is both an excitant and a depressant of the central nervous system [Hathaway et al. 1991]. It is also a moderate skin irritant and a severe eye irritant [Parmeggiani 1983] . . . Acute overexposure of 2,4-D may cause sudden death due to ventricular fibrillation and cardiogenic shock. Animals exposed to large amounts of 2,4-D developed extreme stiffness of the extremities, incoordination, lethargy, stupor, and coma. Severe dilation and congestion of the blood vessels in the lungs, liver, and kidneys occurs; death is due to congestion of the liver and pneumonia [Hathaway et al. 1991; ACGIH 1991]. Moderate cumulative toxicity due to 2,4-D has been reported in animals by some authors [Parmeggiani 1983], but others report no pathological changes following low dose 2,4-D exposure in the diet [ACGIH 1991]. 2,4-D is mutagenic in a variety of animal test systems [NIOSH 1995]. It also has teratogenic and fetotoxic effects causing fetal growth retardation and skeletal abnormalities in rats [Rom 1992; Sax and Lewis 1989; NLM 1995]. IARC studies of the carcinogenicity of 2,4-D in animals have been inconclusive [NLM 1995]. Human exposure to 2,4-D has been associated with central and peripheral nervous system effects, liver and kidney damage, and death [NLM 1995; Hathaway et al. 1991; ACGIH 1991]. Several case control studies of soft-tissue sarcoma and lymphoma have suggested an increased risk among workers exposed to phenoxyacetic acid herbicides, including 2,4-D. . . . Acute exposure to 2,4-D has caused irritation of the skin, eyes, throat, and chest; nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea; muscle twitching and weakness; swelling or aching of the extremities; numbness; flaccid paralysis; hyporeflexia and hyperflexia; malaise, headache, and dizziness; low blood pressure; increased body temperature; loss of appetite and weight; malaise; stupor, convulsions, and death [Hathaway et al. 1991; Parmeggiani 1983]. Protein in the urine has also been reported following acute exposure [ACGIH 1991].

That’s some great reading, isn’t it?

But, then, here was my answer to the junior high school student:
“First of all, it is illegal for a manufacturer of a pesticide to make safety claims, because the minimum safety threshold cannot be determined. Secondly, you must always consider the source of your information. Here is the Material Safety Data Sheet produced by Ortho (a Scotts-owned brand) on 2,4-D:
EYES: No adverse eye effects are expected from product contact.
SKIN: This substance is not expected to cause prolonged or significant skin irritation. If absorbed through the skin, this substance is
considered practically non-toxic.
INGESTION: If swallowed, this substance is considered practically non-toxic.
INHALATION: If inhaled, this substance is considered practically non-toxic.

“Now, son, if you believe a word of the MSDS sheet produced by Ortho, please see this web site from the U.S. government on 2,4-D:”

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
  • Sarah

    Great posting!

  • Stephen L. Tvedten

    How to kill pests without killing yourself or the earth……

    Americans rank their fear of pest infestations third – only after their fear of fire and natural disaster – on the list of threats to their homes that they worry about most. This is why the buSINess of pest control is so lucrative and adversely effects so many of us.
    There are about 50 to 60 million insect species on earth – we have named only about 1 million and there are only about 1 thousand pest species – already over 50% of these insect pests,150 plant diseases and 270 weeds are known to be resistant to our volatile, dangerous, synthetic pesticide POISONS. We accidentally lose about 25,000 to 100,000 species of insects, plants and animals every year due to “man’s footprint”. But, after poisoning the entire world and contaminating every living thing for over 60 years with these dangerous and ineffective pesticide POISONS we have not even controlled much less eliminated even one pest species and every year we use/misuse more and more pesticide POISONS to try to “keep up” because these POISONS do kill the beneficial species that control pests naturally! Because of all this expensive and unnecessary pollution – we lose more and more crops and lives to these thousand pests every year.

    We are losing the war against these thousand pests mainly because we insist on using only synthetic pesticide POISONS and fertilizers There has been a severe “knowledge drought” – a worldwide decline in agricultural R&D, especially in production research and safe, more effective pest control since the advent of synthetic pesticide POISONS and fertilizers. Today we are like lemmings running to the sea insisting that is the “right way”. The greatest challenge facing humanity this century is the necessity for us to double our global food production with less land, less water, less nutrients, less science, frequent droughts, more and more contamination and ever-increasing pest damage. Now, one in every six people worldwide suffers from chronic hunger — over a billion women, men and children are literally starving..

    National Poison Prevention Week, March 18-24,2007 was created to highlight the dangers of poisoning and how to prevent it. One study shows that about 70,000 children in the USA were involved in common household pesticide-related (acute) poisonings or exposures in 2004. At least two peer-reviewed studies have described associations between autism rates and pesticides (D’Amelio et al 2005; Roberts EM et al 2007 in EHP). It is estimated that 300,000 farm workers suffer acute pesticide poisoning each year just in the United States – No one is checking chronic contamination. The EPA currently allows 71 known carcinogenic pesticides to be sprayed on our food crops. DDT was banned over 35 years ago, yet scientists can still find a gram of DDT in anyone they test today. Pesticide POISONS are pervasive contaminants.

    In 1973, a study conducted by the Department of Occupational Health at Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School in Jerusalem found that when cancerous breast tissue is compared with non-cancerous tissue from elsewhere in the same woman’s body, the concentration of toxic chemicals such as DDT and PCBs was “much increased in the malignant tissue compared to the normal breast and adjacent adipose tissue.” Pesticide POISONS are not safe!
    In order to try to help “stem the tide”, I have published my free IPM encyclopedia entitled: THE BEST CONTROL II, that contains over 2,800 safe and far more effective alternatives to pesticide POISONS. This latest copyrighted work is over 2,000 pages in length and is always being updated at my new website at . All of these copyrighted items are free for you to read and/or download. There is simply no need to POISON yourself or your family or to have any pest problems.

    Stephen L. Tvedten
    2530 Hayes Street
    Marne, Michigan 49435
    When a man who is honestly mistaken hears the truth, he will either quit being mistaken or cease to be honest.

  • Tara Dillard

    Is there a vaporization temperature for Sevin? When I worked in the nursery industry the Security Chemicals rep said many of the landscape chemicals she sold had a vaporization temperature of 80f. Beyond that temperature the vapors would be absorbed thru exposed skin.

    Do you know more about this? Is it true?

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  • Yard dawg

    One of my friends was boasting last week that he used 200 # of imidicloprid coated fertilizer on his yard this spring in an effort to really control insects and make his lawn look nice. This is about a 10x rate and i scolded him for his over use. This person os highly educated and would tell you he is an informed Homeowner And lawn keeper. This is a good example of why synthetic pesticides are routinely misused and overapplied. What is really surprising is that they have had an episode of cancer with a child last year, and he seems to be blind to the dangers of these products.

  • Diane

    This is one of my favorite posts and I refer to it often. I just responded onlibne to an article in the Durham Patch–someone wrote he “Uses Sevin to kill the red lily leaf beetle” and I could not help but jump in to respond!

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