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Pesticides

Many people use synthetic pesticides to kill roaches, fleas, and rodents indoors almost as a matter of course. We now use pesticides in disinfectants to kill germs, on children's heads to combat head lice, in wallpaper and paints to prevent molding, and even in sponges merely to stop odors. Some people don't even think twice when they reach for a can of roach spray to blast just one bug. As a result of our need to instantaneously obliterate offending insects, rodents, and intrusive weeds, we have contaminated our groundwater and air. In 1995, the Environmental Working Group found that twenty-one out of twenty-nine midwestern cities had four or more different weed killers in their tap water. DDT, now banned by numerous countries including the United States for more than twenty years, has migrated into many ecosystems and can even be found in Arctic polar bears and Mediterranean dolphins.

Pesticides used in the home are just as harmful as those used in agriculture. In 1991 and 1992, the San Francisco poison control center reported almost a thousand adverse health outcomes as a result of pesticide exposures. One-fifth of these reported cases were among children aged five or younger. And these are only the reported cases. Many poisonings go unreported because some acute symptoms, such as headaches, dizziness, or flulike symptoms, confuse diagnosis or dissipate before the cause is determined. Long-term consequences of pesticide exposures, too, are underreported. It is difficult to determine how many cases of cancer, reproductive failure, and birth defects can be attributed to pesticide exposures.

Children are very sensitive to pesticide exposures. In addition to their physical vulnerabilities, children behave in ways that increase their risk of pesticide exposure. They may accidentally ingest poisons out of ignorance and curiosity. But children also crawl on floors, carpets, and grass where pesticides tend to accumulate and lodge. Infants may take in particles by breathing or ingesting them. Some pesticides, like flea sprays, layer out close to the ground in rooms so that even though an adult may not smell the chemicals, a child crawling on the ground would inhale them.

Studies show that children living in homes where pesticides are applied suffer the consequences. A 1995 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found a four-fold increase in the risk of soft-tissue sarcoma in children living in homes whose yards were treated with pesticides. This study also associates the use of pest strips containing the pesticide dichlorvos with incidences of leukemia. Another study, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in 1987, found that children exposed to pesticides in the home or garden are three to six times more likely to develop leukemia than children who were not exposed. More recently, in November 1997, Environmental Health Perspectives published a study finding that prenatal exposure to flea/tick products increased the risk of pediatric brain tumor, especially among children less than five years of age.

There are no safe pesticides. They are poisons, intended for killing organisms, and should be treated as such. Many pesticides have not even been adequately tested by the EPA. Others were registered when standards were less stringent and we knew less about the health and environmental impacts of these chemicals. In 1988, Congress amended existing laws to require that all pesticides be reevaluated. In 1996, Congress passed the Food Quality Protection Act, which requires all pesticides to be reevaluated to consider children's vulnerabilities when setting acceptable tolerance levels.

Least-Toxic Pest Control

The best alternative to using synthetic pesticides is Integrated Pest Management (IPM), a strategy that draws from a variety of disciplines to keep pest levels at minimum by emphasizing prevention, monitoring, and use of biological controls, such as a pest's natural enemy, or by interrupting its natural life cycle. IPM is a long-term strategy, not a quick fix. For this reason, it can be more effective than simply spraying pesticides, which only kills pests but doesn't prevent a new infestation.

Some basic IPM tips for homeowners include:

There are numerous strategies employed by IPM proponents. Boric acid is a mild stomach poison that can be used in cracks that you seal (so that your child or pet will not be exposed). Diatomaceous earth (DE), chalky powder made of fossilized algae (use only food-grade DE as another type, used for swimming pool filters, is toxic!), and silica aerogel are desiccants that strip insects of their protective oils and cause them to dry up. Insect growth regulators (IGRs) usually harm only insects by inhibiting molting, so the insect cannot grow, or by interfering with reproduction. IGRs are usually placed in bait stations instead of being dispersed throughout the house. Insects enter bait stations, come into contact with the IGR and take it back to the rest of the insect colony.

Other treatments are also available, such as heat treatments for termites and use of beneficial organisms that kill only certain species, such as a fungus that kills termites and a parasitic wasp that kills cockroaches.

You can find a pest control operator who practices IPM by contacting your state pest control association. You can get their number by calling the National Pest Control Association.

If you have pesticides in your home or garage, place them in locked cupboards or closets high above the reach of children. Dispose of pesticides in accordance with the hazardous waste regulations in your community. Discarding them with your household garbage risks poisoning pets, wildlife, and even humans accidentally, and you'll be contributing to the pollution of landfills that contaminate groundwater and soil. If you have not used stored chemicals for a time, get rid of them. Most pesticide containers are not airtight, and gasses can escape from them.


Excerpted from: Guideto Natural Baby Care, by Mindy Pennybackerand Aisha Ikramuddin


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