Pesticides... Why Care?

Increasing the demand for safer products will encourage manufacturers to make products that are safer and more environmentally sound. You can have an attractive landscape without using hazardous pesticides. Use effective non-chemical methods and less-hazardous products instead.

Pesticides, human health and the environment  

Pesticides include some of the most hazardous chemicals commonly used in and around the home. Products that kill insects, weeds, bacteria and fungi may be hazardous to children, pets, birds, fish, other wildlife, and also to beneficial insects like bees and lady bugs.

Pesticides used in the yard or at the workplace can be carried inside on shoes and work clothes and mix with house dust. Young children, who crawl on the ground and put objects in their mouths, can then ingest the chemicals.

Rain and irrigation wash pesticides off of yards and carry them to streams, sometimes in amounts that can harm salmon or the aquatic organisms that are their food.

Pesticides and children

In 2009, United States poison centers had over 90,000 incidents related to acute exposures to pesticides - about 45% involved children under the age of six. Children are vulnerable to repeated, very small, unintended exposure to pesticides. Per pound of body weight, pesticides have a greater effect on children’s growing bodies and developing nervous and hormonal systems and organs.

Pesticides and pregnancy

Environmental chemicals, including pesticides, are known to collect in the bodies of humans. Studies looking at human health effects of pesticide exposure suggest a number of potential concerns including difficulty conceiving, birth weight, risk of birth defects, and fetal death. Some studies also suggest adverse reproductive outcomes are possible with both maternal and paternal exposures.

Cancer hazards

"Approximately 40 chemicals are classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as known, probable, or possible human carcinogens, and are used in EPA-registered pesticides now on the market." Reuben, Suzanne H., U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Cancer Institute. 2008-2009 Annual Report – President’s Cancer Panel. April 2010.

Danger to pets

Many pesticide products are toxic to dogs, cats and other pets. The risks can be similar to the human health risks. Pets with access to treated landscapes may pick up pesticide residues on their paws and fur, licking it or tracking it into the house.

Slug bait containing metaldehyde poses a special risk because dogs are attracted to it and may eat enough to be seriously injured or even die.

Toxicity to birds and bees

Most insecticides are toxic to beneficial insects, bees and other pollinators, and some insecticides are toxic to birds. Insecticides can kill bees directly when they eat or even just land on treated plants.

Foraging bees can carry pesticides back to their hives, threatening the entire colony. Some researchers believe that pesticide use may be implicated in honey bee colony collapse disorder.

Chemical persistence

The longer a pesticide remains in the environment, the more likely it is to do damage. Older products, like DDT, are still in the environment and in our bodies almost 40 years after their last uses were banned.

Many modern pesticides breakdown faster, however most pesticides are not gone after a month or two, and may not be harmless just because the treated area has dried. Some pesticide residues may remain in soil, sediment or water from weeks to over a year or more, and sometimes they breakdown to chemicals that are toxic and persistent.

Water pollution

Many insecticides and herbicides are toxic to fish, amphibians and other aquatic organisms. Aquatic organisms come into contact with pesticides and fertilizers through irrigation or stormwater runoff from yards and other landscapes.

Pesticide ingredients that don’t bind well to soil and are persistent in the environment pose the greatest risk to water pollution. Monitoring studies in the Puget Sound and Portland metropolitan region have found common pesticides and fertilizer nutrients in many of our waterways.