Safely Pest-Proof Your Garden

Keep bugs away away naturally.


| May/June 2006


To get rid of pests, U.S. homeowners spend more than a whopping $2 billion a year on lawn and garden pesticides. Of 103.9 million U.S. households with lawns, more than half use insecticides; 40 million use herbicides and 14 million use fungicides. Many of these products threaten unintended targets, including people, animals, birds and fish. Studies indicate that even incidental exposures to these poisons, through touch or inhalation, may pose dangers, particularly to pregnant women and young children.

Synthetic pesticides are of particular concern because they attack the nervous system, can cause developmental delays in children, and are linked to cancers and hormonal and reproductive system disruption. Children who were frequently exposed to household pesticides—including some insecticides used on plants and lawns—had twice the risk of childhood leukemia as a control group, according to a French study (Occupational and Environmental Medicine, January 2006). Women who are pregnant—or who plan to be—have good reason to avoid pesticides in light of recent studies linking infertility, spontaneous abortion, preterm delivery and birth defects in lab mice with common pesticides including two fungicides (chlorothalonil and mancozeb), three insecticides (chlorpyrifos, terbufos and permethrin), a dessicant (diquat) and six herbicides, including 2, 4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D), mecoprop, dicambra, metolachlor, pendi-methalin and atrazine.

It’s not just humans at risk. Frogs, salamanders, fish, birds and other wildlife are threatened by runoff from residential and agricultural lands. The U.S. Geological Survey has found that more than 95 percent of streams sampled contained at least one pesticide, and the contribution of nitrate fertilizer to “dead zones” in bays, gulfs and oceans has been well documented.

Drinking water also can be contaminated; atrazine, for one, has been found in groundwater throughout the country. And the herbicide glyphosate (used in Roundup), which kills nearly all plants and is toxic to earthworms, fish and several beneficial insects, is leading to more powerful, pesticide-resistant weeds.

Keep bugs away naturally

Even in light of this depressing news, you still don’t want your garden overrun by pests, so what can you do? Happily, nontoxic pest control and soil-enrichment alternatives abound, and gardeners are making use of them. The following tips can help you keep your yard truly green. Remember to handle all pest treatments, conventional or least-toxic, with caution, keeping them out of the reach of children and pets. Follow instructions carefully; use gloves and wear long sleeves and goggles as necessary. And wash your hands or shower thoroughly afterward.





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