Lawn poisons a big price to pay for the look of perfection

Monday , July 28, 2014 - 12:00 AM

Brian Moench

A recent article in the Standard-Examiner raised the issue of the safety of pesticides for lawn care. (“Officials urge care when applying lawn weed killer,” July 12) Statements by representatives of pesticide applicators and the Poison Control Center demonstrated that neither one had any idea of the real reason why pesticides are a serious health hazard.

The article addressed symptoms of pesticide toxicity and accidental poisoning. While those are legitimate concerns, it’s like weighing the risks of smoking cigarettes and only considering the chance of setting your house on fire, not what smoking itself will do to your health. The real dangers of pesticides aren’t associated with any symptoms. Furthermore, pesticides were portrayed as safe when “the instructions are followed,” an idea as absurd as believing that smoking is safe if the instructions are followed.

Just weeks ago, new studies showed that pregnant women exposed to more pesticides have higher rates of autistic children, and lab animals exposed to common levels of the chemicals in air pollution give birth to newborns with deformed brain architecture typical of autism. With Utah’s having by far the highest rates of autism in the country, we should be paying particularly close attention.

Through the air we breathe, water we drink, food we eat and consumer products that we buy, we are all exposed to over 84,000 artificial chemicals, a hundred times more than fifty years ago. Indoor air of the average home has about 400 chemicals. These chemicals can penetrate any and every cell in your body. “Healthy” adults excrete an average of 2,300 chemicals in their urine. Even the blood of newborn babies is contaminated with hundreds of chemicals and heavy metals, disturbing proof that babies in their mother’s womb are being born “pre-polluted.” We are literally changing who human beings are because we have allowed our bodies to become essentially “chemical junkyards.”

Weed killers and insecticides are effective precisely because they are poisonous to critical biologic systems shared by plants, insects, animals and humans, especially small humans — fetuses and infants. The chemicals you spray on your lawn don’t stay on your lawn. They get into our air, water, and soil. They in end up on shoes, hands and feet, on the tomatoes growing in our backyard, on our dinner table, and ultimately in the kidneys, bone marrow, and brains of our children.

The International Agency for Cancer Research and the National Toxicity Program estimate that about 10 percent of these 84,000 chemicals are likely to be carcinogenic. And as stated in the world’s most prestigious medical journal, the New England Journal of Medicine, “Every molecule of a carcinogen is presumed to pose a risk.” Eighty percent of cancer is environmentally caused.

Of equal concern are the non-carcinogenic side effects of many of these chemicals, like their potential to act as “endocrine disruptors” i.e. mimic and disrupt the body’s hormonal balance, or as neurologic poisons. Exposure to even low doses of these chemicals can cause such devastating consequences as birth defects, impaired immune systems, and brain and nerve damage.

Recent official statements from medical specialty organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the President’s Cancer Panel, and the Endocrine Society all warn of the widespread public health dangers of allowing contamination of our environment with these thousands of chemicals.

This spring, leading scientists from Europe and the United States described toxins that have been damaging the brains of unborn children, found ubiquitously in both the environment and consumer items, as a “silent pandemic,” causing not just lower IQs, but ADHD, behavioral disorders and autism. They said, “children worldwide are being exposed to unrecognized toxic chemicals that are silently eroding intelligence, disrupting behaviors, truncating future achievements and damaging societies.” Pesticides are at the top of that toxic list.

Weed and bug killers advertised to make your lawn and garden look emerald green and dandelion free are poisons, and “following instructions” don’t make them benign. These poisons end up in the bodies of beneficial insects, birds, pets, children and adults in your entire neighborhood. It’s a big price to pay for the look of perfection.

Moench is president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment.

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