Pesticide Safety: Indisputable Facts . . . or Blatant Propaganda?
During a Google search the other day, I happened upon a blog item titled “The Indisputable Truths About Pesticides,” so naturally I had to stop and read. Since the article was parked on the site of the Lawn Dawg company, a regional chemical spray operation based in Nashua, N.H., I knew I was in for a full-on propaganda treat. It’s rather like visiting the website of the BP company for an honest assessment of the environmental impact of the Gulf oil spill.
The article begins frankly enough: “Any time you hear the word pesticide it typically follows with a negative connotation. I’m sure you have heard the emotional, first-hand stories from those negatively affected by pesticides or even the opinions of environmental activists.” No argument so far.
The author, presumably company co-founder Jim Campanella, goes on to talk about “bias,” and how research is needed to make a good decision. Industry research would show that his company applies more pesticides than any other in New Hampshire and that the fertilizer his company uses is derived from human waste . . . but I digress.
“The Internet provides numerous resources, but here are indisputable, science-based facts regarding pesticides,” he writes before launching into his list.
For the layperson, it’s useful to understand a certain vernacular that has been developed by the pesticide industry in the last 20 years or so. They employ code words developed to fend off any suggestion that their products might be dangerous. Here’s just a short sample:
“SCIENCE-BASED” — This is a decision-making barometer that dismisses any study implicating pesticide dangers as “JUNK SCIENCE.” The recent study linking ADHD to pesticides and published in the journal Pediatrics would obviously fall into this category.
“EPA” — These three capital letters are always invoked within the first minute of a conversation with a pesticide applicator, as in “the EPA approves the product, therefore it is safe.” Some might think the EPA stands for the Environmental Protection Agency, but the more accurate term invoked by the chemical industry is “Every Pesticide Allowed.”
“ENVIROMANIAC” — This is a new word in relative terms. You won’t find it in Websters, or in Wikipedia, and I didn’t hear it in last night’s National Spelling Bee, but it’s only a matter of time, I’m sure. The definition goes something like this: “A person who even suggests that pesticides might be dangerous is clearly a maniac hiding behind his or her concern for the environment.”
I take some measure of pride in the fact that at least one Canadian organization calls me “America’s Most Wanted Enviromaniac.” High praise indeed. Last week, on the anniversary of Rachel Carson’s birthday of May 27, that same organization likened her to Hitler. Their justification was that the banning of DDT had caused more people to die than the Holocaust.
But I digress again. All joking aside, and without further adieu, here’s an assessment of Jim Campanella’s Indisputable Facts. It’s a list, mind you, that’s been trotted out by the Lawn Care Association of America for years:
“FACT:” Pesticides are heavily regulated by the US EPA and enforced by a state level governing body.
REALITY: In most states outside of New York or California, pesticide registrations are a rubber-stamp process conducted by one or two underpaid, overworked and overwhelmed staffers. Pesticide enforcement in the field is even more woefully understaffed; often one or two individuals are asked to police an entire state. The General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress issued a landmark report in 1993 titled “LAWN CARE PESTICIDES: Registration Falls Further Behind and Exposure Effects are Uncertain.” With budget and staffing cuts in the 18 years since that report, the situation has gotten far worse, not better, at the Environmental Protection Agency and its ability to keep up with its work load.
“FACT:” In most states before a lawn care professional can apply a simple “weed and feed” to your lawn, they must prove competence by achieving state certification at either the operator or supervisory level. They must recertify every 5 years and receive continuing education credits during that time.
REALITY: While it’s true that the training and equipment used by certified professionals make pesticide application as safe as possible in most cases, the mere fact that they are applying unsafe products makes this argument a moot point. The EPA declared it illegal to claim any pesticide as “safe,” since a minimum exposure safety threshold cannot be determined that would cover all aspects of human life, from pre-natal to adulthood.
“FACT:” Before a pesticide goes to market it must go through dozens of toxicology tests that can take up to 10 years.
REALITY: Many pesticides reach the market in less than 10 years and virtually all the initial toxicology testing is conducted by the pesticide manufacturers themselves. Toxicology testing by third parties typically only happens once a product has been released into the marketplace and multiple complaints have been registered. In otherwords, the manufacturers are assumed to be telling the truth. No pesticides are tested for chronic health effects unless they are also used on food crops.
“FACT:” Pesticides used by lawn care professionals are registered and labeled by the EPA for use where adults, children and pets live and play.
REALITY: This is true, but given that pesticide safety cannot be assured, it would seem to be a moot fact.
“FACT:” Since the introduction of pesticides to our society we have a more abundant and better quality food supply and we’ve improved our living environment by protecting our lawns and landscape from the devastating effects of insect, disease and weed infestations.
REALITY: Every word of this one is a stretch. Food may be more abundant, but is it really better? This week’s latest report linking pesticide contamination to common fruits and vegetables is just the latest evidence damning pesticides. Last month’s report linking pesticide contamination on food to ADHD is another. “Devastating effects of insect, disease and weed infestation?” Really? Is a dandelion devastating? Are bees foraging on clover devastating? Or is it devastating that bees are being wiped out by exposure to the pesticides that we’re applying to lawns? Is it devastating to the bees that we spend billions of dollars on products that wipe out dandelion and clover flowers that comprise an important component of their food supply?
“FACT:” A healthy well maintained lawn provides cleaner air, cleaner ground water, a cooler earth and increases property value by up to 20 percent.
REALITY: A lush lawn that produces oxygen, traps runoff, filters groundwater and cools the environment has great value — and it can increase the curb appeal if you’re selling your home. Twenty percent, however, is a massive exaggeration. The main problem with this “fact” is blatantly ignoring the environmental damage that comes from a heavily fertilized and pesticide-laden lawn. Mowing and the manufacturing of fertilizers and pesticides pollutes the air; fertilizers and pesticides leach into ground water. Mowing, running the pumps for watering, manufacturing and transporting the fertilizers all release greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.
At the end of the article, Mr. Campanella repeats the same refrain he used in February when he testified to the New Hampshire legislature against the passage of a bill that would study the impacts of a pesticide ban — a study that is ongoing this month by the way.
“Knowledge is contagious. The next time you or someone you know discusses pesticides, keep in mind the facts,” he says. “We, at Lawn Dawg, are true environmentalists.”
Which is different, obviously, from being an Enviromaniac.