Healing Our World Commentary: Pesticides

By Jackie Alan Giuliano, Ph.D.

Don't Wait for the EPA - or Anyone

We have forgotten who we are
we have alienated ourselves from the unfolding of the cosmos
we have become estranged from the movements of the Earth
we have turned out backs on the cycles of life.

-- Author unknown

It takes only a few years for a deadly pesticide to infiltrate the ecosystem, causing harm to our bodies and our world. In some cases, it take only a single exposure to one of these deadly chemicals to insure that a birth defect will occur. However, it seems to take about 50 years for politicians to gather enough evidence in the form of deaths of children and horrible defects to take action.


Modern chemical and biological protective mask (Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Defense)
Pressure from greedy chemical companies and a decision making process that puts unfair weight on the concerns of the industry rather than on individual safety has virtually paralyzed the Environmental Protection Agency and most other pesticide regulators.

I'm fed up with the lies and inaction. Even when the EPA takes action, as it did with Dursban earlier this year and with Diazinon earlier this month, the agreements always allow production of the poisons to continue and allows stores to sell existing stocks.

In the case of Diazinon, the EPA said it is phasing out this most widely used lawn and garden pesticide because of unacceptable risks to people, especially children.

But then, in the same breath, this agency that seems to put the welfare of industry above that of people, said that the manufacture of retail products can continue until June 30, 2003!

Even more unbelievable is the fact that they said stores could continue to sell existing stocks. No move is under way to attempt to collect unused products from consumers. This chemical has been sold in the U.S. for 48 years and most of the 14.7 million pounds sold annually winds up in lakes, rivers, streams and, eventually, into animal and human tissues.


Children are at greatest risk because they consume a greater amount of pesticides per unit of body weight than adults. (Photos courtesy U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) )
In King County, Washington, the Local Hazardous Waste Management Program has found Diazinon in every stream in the Seattle area tested, in amounts above what is considered safe for aquatic life.

Diazinon is part of a deadly family of pesticides that came from chemicals developed as nerve gases during World War II. Please take that in for a moment. Chemicals that were specifically designed to kill all life forms quickly during wartime were approved by our government for use on our lawns, in our homes, and around our children.

Richard Wiles of the Environmental Working Group, a Washington, DC based lobbying organization, is quoted in the "Seattle Times" as saying that chemicals like diazinon "come in like nuclear weapons. If you're a toddler on the lawn, you're getting the gas, your getting it dermally and you're sticking your hand in your mouth."

This family of organophosphate pesticides - nerve gases - were first synthesized in Germany before and during World War II. Tabun, Sarin, and Soman were made by Gerhard Schrader in the 1930s and 40s.


Methyl bromide pesticide
Sarin, still available today, is lethal to an adult human if he or she gets only 1700 mg on their skin. It doesn't even have to be taken internally to kill. Sarin gained worldwide attention when on March 20, 1995, the Aum Shinrikyo, a terrorist group in Japan, placed Sarin on five subway trains traveling toward Kasumigaseki station. This subway stop is a common one for those working in Tokyo government offices. Twelve commuters died and over 5,000 were injured.

More than 100,000 human made chemicals have been introduced into the environment in the past 50 years. More than 1,000 new chemicals are developed each year. Wherever you live, there are probably more than 250 synthetic industrial chemicals in your body that were not present in the bodies of your grandparents when they were your age.

Earlier this year, the Environmental Working Group released a report estimating that every day, 1.1 million children eat food that, even after it is washed, contains an unsafe dose of 13 organophosphate pesticides. Of those children, 106,600 exceed the EPA's own safe daily dosage level for adults by 10 times or more. The foods found to most likely contain unsafe pesticide levels are peaches, apples, nectarines, popcorn and pears. Among baby foods, pears, peaches and apple juice had the highest levels.

Remember - many of these pesticides on vegetables are not water soluble and cannot be washed off simply with water.


Invisible pesticides become part of the most ordinary looking meals.
With the experience of the last 50 to 75 years, we know that these pesticides cause birth defects in many species, including humans. They cause mutations, and harm the nervous system. Symptoms such as headache, intestinal cramps, excessive secretions and spasms are often confused by doctors with those of heat stroke, heat exhaustion, low blood sugar, gastroenteritis, and severe respiratory infections.

Environmentally, these poisons become deeply embedded in our planet's life support systems and are particularly toxic to birds, aquatic life and, of course, insects.

Yes, the EPA is now conducting a review of the organophosphates because of a 1996 law and it is considering whether to change the acceptable residue levels in food. The new law requires that instead of examining the impact of individual chemicals as has been done in the past, the EPA must consider the cumulative impact of the entire family of poisons.

In the meantime, while the officials are studying and assessing the impact on industry, children whose only mistake was playing on their lawn or eating a meal are at risk and many are dying.


Ladybugs perform natural aphid control services
Please go to your garages and closets at once and immediately remove ALL the pesticides you have in ANY form, regardless what the label says. Use rubber gloves to handle the containers, even if they haven't been opened. Do not throw them in the trash or pour them down the train. Tie them tightly in a plastic bag and take them to a hazardous waste facility in your area. You can find out where by calling your city's garbage collection agency.

There are many safe materials you can buy or make to control insects. Or maybe you can do some research and find ways to live with the insects and the natural world instead of trying so desperately to separate from them.

For your garden, there are flowers you can plant to repel many insects. You can release ladybugs in your yard that will eat aphids. If you have a nest of wasps under your house that is putting your family at risk, you can set up a wet/dry shop vacuum, filled with water, and leave it on all night.

Whatever you choose, do not take any chemical label at face value and do not wait for the EPA, or any agency, to tell you what is safe. Our lives really do depend on doing what we know in our hearts to be right - not what the label says is safe.


1. See a list of toxic poisons and how much it takes to kill at: http://chemistry.about.com/science/chemistry/library/blpoison.htm

2. Read a report on chemical and biological terrorism at: http://www.csis-scrs.gc.ca/eng/miscdocs/tabintre.html

3. See some startling facts about home pesticide use at: http://www.inharmony.com/facts.htm

4. See a news report about young children at risk from pesticide residue on food at http://more.abcnews.go.com/sections/living/pesticide0129/

5. Visit the Greenpeace Toxics Site for a worldwide perspective at: http://www.greenpeace.org/~toxics/

6. Find out who your Congressional representatives are and e-mail them. Tell them that the time is now to start mandating building materials recycling. If you know your Zip code, you can find them at http://www.visi.com/juan/congress/ziptoit.html or you can search by state at http://www.webslingerz.com/jhoffman/congress-email.html. You can also find your representatives at http://congress.nw.dc.us/innovate/index.html.

[Jackie Alan Giuliano, Ph.D. is a writer and teacher in Seattle. He can be found walking with his wife, their unborn child, and with his dog, keeping them all off lawns when they walks around the neighborhood. Please send your thoughts, comments, and visions to him at jackie@healingourworld.com and visit his web site at http://www.healingourworld.com]