An Herbicidal Dilemma- Are You at Risk?
It’s enough to make some homeowners aghast: monster weeds popping up overnight, threatening to engulf and destroy their beautiful prized lawns. Sometimes all it takes are a few lovely dandelions to prompt your HOA to come calling. (We call them flowering herbs, they call them weeds!) So you reach for your bottle of Roundup, a quick and easy solution to your problem. Or maybe your yard is maintained by a landscaping service and you are completely unaware of what’s inside that huge jug of chemicals he sprays over your lawn each week. But there are long-lasting consequences to your quick fix – to your health and your family’s health and to the ecosystem.
Local governments are beginning to take action to protect people from the harmful effects of pesticides, which encompass herbicides and insecticides. In a groundbreaking victory, on July 22, 2013, the Takoma Park, Maryland City Council announced a ban on all cosmetic lawn pesticides on both public and private land, representing the first of its kind legislation over private land pesticide use1. A similar ban was passed in November 2014 in Ogunquit, Maine. On October 6, 2015, Maryland County became the largest county in the country to ban cosmetic use of pesticides, protecting one million people just outside of the Washington, DC area.
Recent scientific studies are behind this type of legislation. In an extensive evaluation across multiple studies spanning 1998-2008, a positive correlation was found between parents’ occupational exposure to pesticides and the risk of acute lymphocytic leukemia in their children2. In another review of the literature, occupational exposure to herbicides increased the risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, this time in the workers themselves3,4. Even exposure in the womb has been shown to be detrimental. One study showed that pregnant women exposed to residential herbicides and insecticides increases the risk of their children developing leukemia. A study by Silver5 suggests a possible link between metolachlor, a widely used herbicide, and liver cancer in those that apply herbicide occupationally.
Children are exposed to these chemicals playing on school playgrounds, community parks, and your neighbor’s’ front lawn and your own back yard. Exposure to pesticide drift during pregnancy increases a child’s risk of autism and developmental delay by 60%.
Two other herbicides suspected to cause cancer in humans, glyphosate (the main ingredient in Roundup) and 2,4-D, are approved for use on 90% of all corn and soybean crops, which are genetically engineered or GMO crops. 2,4-D is also linked to hyperthyroidism, Parkinson’s disease, and suppression of the immune system6.
The harmful effects of herbicides are also a detriment to our delicate ecosystem, affecting butterflies, birds, and bees, which are critically important pollinators for the world’s food supplies7. The well-documented disappearance of bees worldwide can be attributed to Neonicotinoid pesticides and the herbicide glyphosate. These toxins are believed to contribute to Colony Collapse Disorder by weakening the bee’s immune system and causing disorientation.Nearly a billion butterflies have vanished since 1990. One of the reasons behind this is that glyphosate has drastically reduced milkweed, the butterflies’ food source8.
So how can we make our yards beautiful without this toxic barrage of chemicals? Old-fashioned hand weeding! There are tremendous health benefits in working in the yard: exercise, getting back to nature and stress relief to name a few. Being in the sun also increases your Vitamin D production, which has been linked to an amazing array of health benefits, contributing to prevention of heart disease, certain cancers, osteoporosis, multiple sclerosis, the flu and tuberculosis. Many people have a Vitamin D deficiency which can be overcome by just 15 minutes of sunlight per day9.
Another benefit of weeding comes through our exposure to dirt. In our ultra-hygienic society, we may have lost some of the natural protection that comes with playing in the dirt. There is evidence from animal studies that exposure early in life to bacteria builds up the immune system, preventing the immune disorders ulcerative colitis and asthma10.
Getting dirty in the garden may make for more beautiful skin. Recent studies show that soil based organisms such as Ammonia Oxidizing Bacteria (AOB) protect the health of the skin and even aid in wound healing10.
So next time you’re tempted to reach for the bottle of weed-killer, remember the tremendous health benefits of weeding the natural way. If you use a landscaper for yard maintenance, talk to him or her about natural alternatives. We utilized an organic pest control company for a termite problem, which we were able to eliminate without any toxicants that could cause harm to us, our children or our pets. PETA has a list here of alternatives that are safe for people and pets.
You can also voice your concerns to your homeowners association and your child’s school administrators. Ask them about their pesticide policy and suggest safer methods11.
Until legislation protects our families, pets, and communities, it’s up to us to. Knowledge is power. Pull, don’t spray!
Razi Berry, Founder and Publisher of Naturopathic Doctor News & Review (ndnr.com) and NaturalPath (thenatpath.com), has spent the last decade as a natural medicine advocate and marketing whiz. She has galvanized and supported the naturopathic community, bringing a higher quality of healthcare to millions of North Americans through her publications. A self proclaimed health-food junkie and mother of two; she loves all things nature, is obsessed with organic gardening, growing fruit trees (not easy in Phoenix), laughing until she snorts, and homeschooling. She is a little bit crunchy and yes, that is her real name.
- Anderson B. and Gassana J. American Public Health Association Meeting. Presentation #336944. Upcoming Nov. 3rd 2015. Is Childhood Leukemia Incidence in Florida Linked to Pesticide Exposure? https://apha.confex.com/apha/143am/webprogram/Paper336944.html
- Herbicides and Cancer. J Natl Cancer Inst 84:1866–1874, 1992.
- Turner, Michelle C., Wigle, Donald T., & Krewski, Daniel. (2011). Residential pesticides and childhood leukemia: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Ciência & Saúde Coletiva, 16(3), 1915-1931.
- Silver S. et al. Cancer incidence and metolachlor use in the Agricultural Health Study: An update. International Journal of Cancer. Volume 137, Issue 11, pages 2630–2643, 1 December 2015.
- The Environmental Working Group http://www.ewg.org/agmag/2015/07/fields-drift-weed-killer-exposure-playing-fields-and-parks
- Organic Consumers Association. https://www.organicconsumers.org/campaigns/save-bees
- The Environmental Working Group. Monsanto’s GMO Weedkiller Threatens Endangered Species http://www.ewg.org/agmag/2015/07/monsanto-s-gmo-weedkiller-threatens-endangered-species
- Harvard School of Public Health. http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/vitamin-d/
- Olszak T. et al., “Microbial exposure during early life has persistent effects on natural killer T cell function,” Science, doi:10.1126/science.1219328, 2012.