A Toxic Tally and Our Task
A California grower called Rachel Carson Council because she was worried about her fruit trees, which were not thriving at the time. She wondered whether sulfonylurea herbicides sprayed nearby during the previous year could have harmed them. From research data presented at our September 1998 conference on Wildlife, Pesticides and People, we now know that herbicides of the sulfonylurea class, could very well have damaged those trees and that they could have done so at fractions of the dose required to kill weeds. This case points out the public's need to know more about pesticides' toxic effects (see issue # 4).
Read on for a tally of ten issues from various sources including our recent Wildlife, Pesticides and People conference:
- Due to vulnerability of the developing fetus to chemicals, pregnant women have been warned to avoid or restrict their exposure to pesticides. (Anon. "End all pesticide exposure during pregnancy, EPA warns," Pesticide & Toxic Chemical News, 1-18-95)
- Children born to parents working as pesticide applicators showed increased deformities. Rates of deformities almost as high were found among the children of non-applicators living in an area of high pesticide use, especially those infants conceived in the spring. (Dr. V. Garry, et al., "Pesticide appliers, biocides and birth defects in rural Minnesota," Environmental Health Perspectives, v104(4), April 1996)
- Sixty seven million birds are estimated to be killed by pesticides in the U.S. annually. (Dr. David Pimentel, et al., "Economic and environmental costs of pesticide use")
- A new sulfonylurea herbicide, chlorsulfuron, has been found, in an EPA test, to damage cherry trees at 1/500th the label application rate. EPA does not usually require studies of herbicides' effects on woody plants such as trees before products are allowed to be registered. There are no simple means to determine the presence of these chemicals in the environment. Assay tests for all marketed chemical pesticides, including sulfonylureas, should be, but are not now required. (Rachel Carson Council's Wildlife, Pesticides & People Conference)
- Frogs living in ponds in close proximity to pesticide use had deformity rates of 20%. In ponds existing on abandoned farms where pesticides had not been used for some time, the frog deformity rate was 2% at most. (Dr. Ouellet, page 2, Pesticide & Toxic Chemical News, Nov. 12, 1998)
- Most streams from developed watersheds in the U.S. were found contaminated with multiple pesticides. The concentration of dissolved pesticides in stream water was the single most reliable predictor of endocrine disruption in carp. (Rachel Carson Council's Wildlife, Pesticides & People Conference)
- A mixture of atrazine and various organophosphates was found to be more toxic than would have been predicted from the additive effect of the individual chemicals' toxicities; an example of synergism. (Pape-Lindstrom & Lydy, "Synergistic toxicity of atrazine and organophosphate insecticides contravenes the response addition mixture model," Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, v.16(11), 2415-2420,1997)
- Pesticide mixtures, not single chemicals, occur as the result of actual use. Their hazards to people and to significant groups of wildlife (including amphibians, reptiles, and aquatic invertebrates) as well as to non-crop vegetation remain largely unresearched. Too little of such information is now required by the EPA for pesticide registration. (Rachel Carson Council's Wildlife, Pesticides & People Conference)
- Pesticide labels may contain warnings and prohibitions against product use around certain wildlife. Yet because these statements may be ambiguous and not prominently displayed, their protective value is questionable.
- Carcinogenic pesticides can be applied with impunity virtually everywhere despite the growing numbers of human and animal cancers linked to these chemicals. (Rachel Carson Council's Cancer and Pesticides Conference)
- In short, deformed frogs, fish with unnatural endocrine function, cherry trees with reduced yield, pollinator losses, surface waters carrying a chemical cocktail, birth deformities and cancer are associated with chemical pesticides. These represent findings of the researchers from universities and government agencies to which the Council has turned for information.
At our recent Wildlife, Pesticides and People conference a number of scientists concluded their presentations with pleas for reduced reliance on chemical pesticides and for substitution of Integrated Pest Management, with chemicals as an option to be used as a last resort or to be avoided. Their message needs to go out to the public. This is our task.
Below are solutions to pesticide issues identified through our research and our recent conference. These solutions have not yet been implemented. In the words of Jean Rostand quoted by Rachel Carson in Silent Spring, "The obligation to endure gives us the right to know."
We need to urge the EPA to:
- Require that every pesticide label include advice to pregnant women to avoid or restrict their exposure to chemical pesticides.
- Actively promote and explain in the media and on pesticide product labels the concept of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) as an appropriate means of dealing with unwanted species. This definition should specify use of the least toxic methods including strategic planning (such as crop rotation and diversity in agriculture) and biological controls as the first steps in minimizing pest problems and use of toxic chemicals only as the last resort.
- Recognize that wild birds, which should be protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), are being illegally killed by pesticides and make a serious effort to end this loss of resources. Immediately include an explanation of the MBTA on each pesticide label and take whatever additional steps are required to protect migratory birds including product banning.
- Give greater consideration to wording and prominence on product labels of warnings and prohibitions related to pesticide use around wildlife.
- Devote more Agency resources to the monitoring of pesticide effects on people, pets and wildlife through collecting, evaluating and making available to the public on product labels pesticide incident report information.
- Include in the pre-marketing assessment for pesticide hazards additional wildlife such as beneficial insects, beneficial fungi, woody plants, native vegetation, aquatic grasses, aquatic invertebrates, reptiles, amphibians, fish, marine mammals and songbirds. Take whatever steps are required to protect wild plants and animals from further pesticide damage, including warnings on labels and when necessary product banning.
- Give more information on inert ingredients on pesticide product labels.
- Require that an assay be developed to detect each active ingredient and any bioactive by-products, as a necessary prerequisite for environmental safety, before a pesticide is allowed to be registered by the Agency.
- Devote more resources to studying the toxicity of commonly occurring combinations of pesticides on people and wildlife and act on such information when required to achieve better protection.
- Identify pesticide formulations containing carcinogenic, mutagenic or teratogenic chemicals through labeling information and as soon as possible ban those causing cancer and developmental damage.
- Inform users that even following label directions will not keep chemical pesticides out of surface water, once they have been released into the outdoor environment.
- Give greater consideration to the economic benefits of wildlife when analyzing the costs and benefits of specific pesticides.
Suggested reading on pesticide alternatives:
Common Sense Pest Control: Least-toxic solutions for your home, garden, pets, and community by William Olkowski, Sheila Daar, and Helga Olkowski, The Taunton Press (1991).
Great Garden Formulas: the Ultimate Book of Mix-it-Yourself Concoctions for Your Garden, Joan Benjamin and Deborah L. Martin (eds.), Rodale Press (1998)