Published on December 17th, 2007 | by Stephanie Evans9
Natural Pest Control for the Organic Home and Garden
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states: “Pesticides are not ‘safe.’ They are produced specifically because they are toxic to something.”
In spite of the known dangers of pesticides, almost a billion pounds of conventional pesticides are used in the U.S. every year by pest managers in the agricultural, forestry, residential, and commercial sectors.
Widespread use of agricultural pesticides means that residues are frequently present in a variety of common fruits, vegetables, and grains that we consume. Pesticide exposure is hazardous to the health of farmers and farm workers, who suffer between 10 and 20 thousand pesticide-related illnesses and injuries every year, according to EPA, though the agency states that these numbers are likely to be grossly underestimated reflections of reality. Pesticides are also extremely hazardous to pets. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, over 30,000 pet poisonings related to pesticides are reported to the society’s animal poison control center every year.
Simply killing pests with toxic substances only leads to repeated use of those substances and causes pesticide immunity to build up in the next-generation pest population . . . . Learning to combat pests without chemicals in your own garden and lawn space is a great way to decrease your exposure to toxic chemicals and you will find that alternative pest control methods are even more effective in the long run.
Residential use of pesticides in home cleaning and landscaping products exposes adults and children to steady doses of carcinogenic and neurotoxic chemicals. The chemical 2,4-D—a component of Agent Orange—is used in about 1,500 lawn care products, including various herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, and rodent poisons. The law doesn’t require companies to test lawn pesticides by the same standards as pesticides used on commercially-grown food, so those routinely sprayed on the lawns of homes and schools can be even more poisonous than those that farmers use. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has written, “the range of these adverse health effects [from pesticides] includes acute and persistent injury to the nervous system, lung damage, injury to reproductive organs, dysfunction of the immune and endocrine [hormone] systems, birth defects and cancer.”
Despite these admonitions, pesticides still pepper our homes and food:
- Of the 27 most commonly used pesticides in the U.S., 15 are EPA-classified carcinogens with a total usage of about 300 million pounds every year.
- Eight are known to cause pregnancy problems, according to the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory program, with a collective total use of about 150 million pounds per year.
- The National Library of Medicine reports that 15 of these 27 pesticides damage genes, and these account for 350 million pounds per year.
These statistics only address pesticide ingredients that have been tested—the alleged “inert” ingredients in pesticide products are rarely listed on product labels and are excluded from most toxicology tests required by the EPA.
Pesticides use also contaminates our soil, water, and air, severely diminishing the biodiversity in soil and poisoning the water that humans and animals depend on for survival. A national monitoring study performed by the U.S. Geological Survey collected data from 50 river basins around the country and found that “pesticides or their degradates were detected in one or more water samples from every stream sampled.” The same study found that between 30% and 60% of wells (depending on the type of well) were contaminated with at least one pesticide.
Pesticide-contaminated water also threatens the survival of countless species of fish–enormous quantities of pesticides currently used in U.S. waters are recognized by the EPA as being harmful for fish. Recently released EPA research reveals that minute amounts of two common herbicides cause genetic damage and other adverse health effects in fish. Just these two herbicides together account for a total of 90 million pesticide pounds per year.
It would seem that, with so much awareness about the seriously adverse effects of pesticides, pesticide use would drastically decrease. And yet there are more pesticides in use than ever–every year worldwide sales top $30 billion! Pesticides are extremely profitable for the companies that manufacture them, and the manufacturers are responsible for testing their products for safety. It seems obvious and intuitive that as pesticides are designed to kill a specific living thing, they are naturally hazardous to other living things.
Yet despite mounting piles of evidence that substantiate the contrary, pesticides are still marketed as “safe” for use, both in the spaces that humans inhabit and in the spaces used to grow the basic foods that we depend on for survival.
While pesticide use may seem efficient from a short-term perspective, using them to control pests does little to solve pest problems. Simply killing pests with toxic substances only leads to repeated use of those substances and causes pesticide immunity to build up in the next-generation pest population. A pest problem is best solved by observing and changing the conditions that have allowed the pest to thrive in a particular environment. Learning to combat pests without chemicals in your own garden and lawn space is a great way to decrease your exposure to toxic chemicals and you will find that alternative pest control methods are even more effective in the long run.
Employing smart gardening strategies will help you prevent pest-caused damage before it happens. Here are some tips for natural pest prevention and control:
- An easy way to automatically reduce pests is to cultivate a healthy organic soil base by rotating your plants, adding compost, and mulching. Healthy soil fosters the growth of beneficial nematodes that are natural predators of common soil pests, and plants fare much better in an organically rich environment that helps them fight off pests on their own.
- Plant native species whenever possible—native plants have stronger immunities to pests and more deeply established relationships with other plants and animals in their natural environment.
- Maintaining diversity in your garden with a variety of plants allows plants to protect each other from pests. Pests’ natural predators—ladybugs, ground beetles, birds, fungi, and moss—can help to control your pests naturally. A chemical-free environment encourages these beneficial predators and also makes your garden hum with life! If you are unsure which plants make the best bedfellows, check with your local garden shop or nursery for recommendations.
Many online green pest control sources provide helpful tips for dealing with pests non-chemically:
- An organic pest control guide for the garden can be found at extremely ExtremelyGreen.com.
- Eartheasy.com is a good source of tips on natural solutions for deterring indoor pests.
- An invaluable source for gaining useful information on pesticides and pesticide alternatives is BeyondPesticides.org, a national network dedicated to educating the public about the hazards of pesticides so we are empowered to protect ourselves against them.
Beyond Pesticides states, “We believe decisions should not be made for us by chemical companies or by decision makers who either do not have all of the facts or refuse to consider them.” By keeping yourself informed about the health risks involved in commercial pest management while supporting natural and safe pest control product manufacturers, you minimize your own exposure to toxic chemicals and contribute to a less toxic and far safer future.
Article Contributors: Julie Reid