Hazards of Yard & Garden Pesticides
Pesticides are synthetic chemical formulations designed to kill pests, including unwanted plants (herbicides), insects (insecticides), rodents (rodenticides), and molds/ fungus (fungicides). However, a more accurate term might be biocides, because these chemicals interfere with basic life processes and metabolism, thus harming “non-target” plants, animals, and people.
The shelves of the lawn and garden section of our stores are lined with pesticides. The multi-billion dollar pesticide industry counts on consumers believing there are no other effective options for getting rid of weeds or pests. There are, however, many safe alternatives, some of which we discuss in the Organic Methods section of our website.
How Are We Exposed?
Even if you do not use pesticides in your own yard, your children and your pets may be at risk of exposure. Pesticides applied by a neighbor can present a health hazard for you and your loved ones, especially if the wind is blowing towards your property when spraying occurs. There are three routes of exposure for pesticides, including: oral ingestion, absorption through the skin, and inhalation.
- Breathing air contaminated by pesticides.
- Playing in grass that is covered in pesticide residue.
- Eating vegetables, fruits, or berries grown with pesticides.
- Exposure to pesticide residues that have been tracked into the home from outside and rest in carpets, and on window sills and other flat surfaces.
In addition to exposure to pesticides used for outdoor residential use, there are a number of other ways we can be exposed, including: exposure to pesticides found in store bought or subsistence foods we eat, pesticides used to treat pets for fleas and ticks, and pesticides used for indoor pest control.
What Happens to Pesticides After They Are Applied?
Some pesticides persist in the environment long after they are initially applied. The synthetic chemicals leach into soils and waterways. Studies have shown that glyphosate, the active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup, can migrate from where it is applied and is mobile in soil.
Health Hazards Linked to Exposure to Glyphosate
(The Active Ingredient in Roundup)
Glyphosate-based herbicides such as Roundup, Rodeo, Sting and Accord have been linked to:
- Reproductive problems
- Preterm birth
- Birth defects
- Hormone disruption
For more information about the health effects linked to exposure to glyphosate, and how you can reduce your exposure, download our Glyphosate fact sheet
Health Hazards Linked to Exposure to 2, 4-D,
(The Active Ingredient in Weed-B-Gon)
Herbicides containing the active ingredient 2, 4-D found in Weed-B-Gon, Plantgard, LawnKeep, and other formulas have been linked to:
- Insulin resistance and increased risk for heart disease
- Reproductive toxicity
- Thyroid hormone disruption
- Changes in brain development and behavior
What About Children and Pesticides?
Maternal, in-utero, and early childhood exposures to pesticides, including 2,4-D and glyphosate used for residential use, have been associated with adverse health effects. Children are more vulnerable to the effects of pesticides than adults because:
- Relative to adults, children eat more in proportion to their body weight, resulting in more concentrated exposures.
- Children’s skin is more permeable and their livers do not excrete as efficiently as adults’.
- Children’s hand-to-mouth behavior increases their chance of ingesting pesticides.
- Children play on the ground outdoors and on the floor indoors increasing the chance of absorbing pesticides through their skin.
What About Pets and Pesticides?
Cats and dogs are more vulnerable to pesticides because they walk through chemically-treated areas unknowingly, absorb pesticides through their mouth, nose, and eyes, and can absorb through their skin any powder that sticks to their fur.
To learn more, download Pesticides and Pets: What you should know to keep your pets safe , a fact sheet published by Beyond Pesticides.
What About “Inert” Ingredients – Are They Safe?
Not necessarily. “Inert” or “other” ingredients are added to the pesticide formula to help transport the active ingredient to make it more effective. Companies are only required to list the product’s active ingredients. Unlisted inert ingredients may be chemically active and toxic, but under current law, these ingredients are not required to be tested for safety or listed on the label. Often referred to as “other ingredients” on labels, inert ingredients are noted as a percentage of the formula.
Alaska Community Action on Toxics is working to increase public disclosure of the inert ingredients in pesticide products. Download ACAT’s public comments to EPA.
For tips on how to control weeds and pests in your yard without the use of harmful pesticides, please visit the Organic Methods section of our website.