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Chemicals Used in Lawns Linked to Cancer, Hormonal Disruption

May 13, 2014

As the weather begins to warm up in much of the county, many people are beginning to tend to their front lawns and gardens. An opinion piece published in the New York Times points out that many people will use chemicals, such as glyphosate, carbaryl, malathion and 2,4-D to maintain their lawns. The problem with this, according to the article, is that these compounds or their breakdown products can end up in the drinking water and potentially increase the risk of cancer and hormonal disruption. The article also notes that farmworkers are also exposed to some of these chemicals, and there are increasing concerns about their safety.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is taking steps to prevent pesticide-related health hazards for farmworkers. The agency is proposing new rules about exposure to dangerous pesticides, and aims to reduce the incidence of diseases linked to exposure, including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, prostate cancer, Parkinson’s disease and lung cancer. The agency is accepting comments on these proposed regulations through June 17th, the NYT piece says.

According to the NYT article, homeowners who use pesticides in their yards are exposed to the same health hazards. The author of the piece asserts that use of these substances is unnecessary, pointing out that if we eliminate the use of synthetic pesticides, we can greatly improve our water quality. The problem is not with occasional use to deal with an uncontrollable infestation in an isolated location, the hazard is with pesticides that are used frequently and in a widespread manner. Homeowners use up to 10 times more chemicals per acre than farmers, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service says. Testing confirms that most of these chemicals are washed with rainwater into our streams, lakes and rivers or are absorbed into the groundwater. Some of the pesticides also rub off on children or pets.

A growing body of research confirms the risks associated with widespread use of pesticides. In 2009, the Endocrine Society published a statement confirming that there is growing evidence of significant health risks caused by substances in the environment that disrupt endocrine function. The group, comprised of doctors, researchers and educators who specialize in diseases related to the hormonal system, published the statement based on 485 citations from research papers. In 1999, the United States Geological Survey released a study showing that in almost every stream and fish sample tested, there were at least one or more pesticides.

The NYT article notes that many older chemicals mentioned in some studies may no longer be on the market because they are now known to be hazardous, but scientists believe that the pesticides in widespread use now have the same risks. Endocrine disruptions are associated with a higher risk of breast and prostate cancer, thyroid abnormalities and infertility. The Endocrine Society has also pointed at evidence linking the pesticides to diabetes and obesity.

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