News & Updates
Environment and Human Health, Inc. is releasing the findings of its research report on the risks of lawn care pesticides.
[Hartford, Connecticut, June 24, 2003] Lawn-care pesticides pose significant threats to human health and the environment, warns a new report released today by Environment and Human Health, Inc. (EHHI) titled Risks from Lawn-Care Pesticides. EHHI is a nine-member, non-profit organization composed of doctors, public health professionals and policy experts.
EHHI's report reveals that the scientific community clearly supports the conclusion that pesticides pose a special risk to fetuses, infants, and children. The report recommends immediate changes in laws at the federal, state and local levels of government. It also recommends precautionary measures that may be taken immediately by stores and consumers to limit health and environmental hazards.
"Pesticides, including insecticides and herbicides, are intentionally toxic substances," said John Wargo, Ph.D., professor of Risk Analysis and Public Policy at Yale University, member of EHHI and principal author of the project. "There is broad scientific consensus that children are especially vulnerable to the adverse effects of pesticides. Children's low body weight and rapidly growing organ systems combine to make them more susceptible to many toxic substances, including pesticides."
"There is growing evidence of links between pesticide exposures and the risk of human cancers, including acute childhood leukemia with home pesticide use and non-Hodgins lymphoma with exposures to herbicides," said D. Barry Boyd, M.D., an oncologist at Greenwich Hospital and board member of EHHI. "As well, some recent studies show increased rates of prostate cancer among farm populations that have been occupationally exposed to a variety of pesticides," continued Dr. Boyd. "Of increasing concern is the potential role of pesticide exposure in low doses, as well as in combinations, to exert endocrine disrupting effects causing endocrine related cancers. The long-term risks of these exposures is a worry in vulnerable populations such as children and pregnant mothers."
"The two primary federal strategies to manage pesticide risks are the use of consumer warning labels and effective packaging. Our findings demonstrate that there are significant defects in both the labeling and packaging," said Wargo. Under current federal and state law, it is legal for lawn care chemicals to be sold in bags that commonly break and spill, endangering consumers and workers. Current legal labeling practices confuse the consumer with highly technical language that is printed in minute type.
"At present, no federal or state laws regulate where lawn-care pesticides may be sold and little is done to safeguard either customers or workers in stores from lawn-care pesticide exposures," said Nancy Alderman, MES, president of Environment and Human Health, Inc. "These are hazardous materials and yet they are allowed to be sold next to food and produce without any regulations protecting the public."
Many lawn-care products are packaged in large plastic bags that easily rip and break. EHHI surveyed many large retail outlets in Connecticut in May, June and July of 2002. These stores included a number of Walmarts, Lowe's, Home Depots, Kmarts, BJ's, and Sam's Clubs. It was found that many of these stores had broken bags of lawn-care pesticides, many stores had these products piled up next to check-out counters and some stores had them piled up near food products. Workers in stores are not trained to understand the long-term toxicity of these lawn-care pesticides or the special care needed when cleaning up ripped and leaking packages.
Pesticide and fertilizer odors within stores are a clear sign of packaging failure. Loose pesticide granules threaten workers, consumers, and others who may be unintentionally exposed in stores, in vehicles while transporting the pesticides, and in residential environments. Parents commonly bring small children into stores to shop for lawn-care chemicals, with the expectation that the products are safe and completely contained. Children walking down aisles where pesticides are visibly contaminating their surroundings is clear evidence of failure by both industry and government to protect the public's health.
Consumers presume that lawn-care pesticides are safe because they are sold in stores that also market foods and other consumer products. Products such as "Weed-and Feed," "Weed-B-Gon," and "Turf Builder with PLUS2 Weed Control" are all names that might seem innocuous to the consumer, but they contain pesticides such as 2,4-D, which has been linked to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and MCPP, which has been associated with soft tissue cancers. Products such as "Bug-B-Gone" and "Turf Builder with Insect Control" also might sound quite benign to the consumer, but they contain carbaryl and diazinon, both of which are capable of harming the nervous system. Carbaryl is suspected of altering human hormone function, while the residential uses of diazinon, an organophosphate insecticide, was recently recognized by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to pose a special threat to children. The EPA is phasing out the residential uses of diazinon.
Children are often more exposed to pesticides than are adults in residential settings. Children play or crawl on grass or floors where pesticide powders and granules normally settle. Some lawn-care chemicals are neurotoxic, others are carcinogenic, and still others are suspected to act like human hormones once they enter our bodies.
"The lawn care industry has cultivated the impression that the chemicals it sells are necessary for 'healthy' and aesthetically pleasing lawns," Wargo said. "The price of aesthetics is often human exposure to chemicals recognized by the EPA to carry the risk of nervous system damage, hormonal effects, and cancer. Home applications also threaten water quality, fish, birds, and wildlife."
Despite the fact that pesticides have long term health risks, current federal law does not require consumer warnings of the long-term (chronic) health hazards of these products. Therefore, the public remains uninformed of the potential long-term health threats posed by these chemicals, while at the same time being subjected to intensive television, radio, print and internet advertising.
Susan Addiss, MPH, MUrS, a past commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Public Health and board member of EHHI, explained, "For years, we have protected our children from drugs by requiring packaging in child-proof containers and yet we allow our children to be exposed to toxic lawn-care pesticides, which are packaged in plastic bags that easily rip and spill. Adding to this risk is the fact that when the bags do break, the spilled pesticides are often swept up and thrown in the trash, further adding to contamination and human exposures."
Robert LaCamera, M.D., a pediatrician and board member of EHHI, said, "We must better protect our children from these chemical exposures. Many families take their children into stores where these products are sold and they have no idea that they could be putting their children at risk from these products."
Alderman concluded by saying, "We need better state and federal laws to protect the public from harmful lawn-care pesticide exposures. At the federal level we need child-proof packaging that will be both unbreakable and non-porous, and we need better labeling that will include the long-term health effects of the lawn-care pesticides so that the public can better understand the health risks involved when using these products."
EHHI recommends that stores that sell food as well lawn-care pesticides only be allowed to sell their lawn-care pesticides in outside facilities that are covered and have non-porous floors. EHHI also recommends that individuals reduce their uses of lawn-care pesticides to protect themselves and their families from pesticide exposures.
Alderman concluded, "Connecticut residents experience some of the highest rates of cancer in the nation, and we believe that this fact alone is sufficient to justify more cautious management of known toxic substances."