Chemicals Redefine Concepts of Community

February 9th, 2007

Commentary upon an article in “The Coloradoan

Kevin Darst’s article, “City leaders try to weed out chemical controversy,” and subsequent posting of letters based on this article, are all disturbing because of the manner in which this problem is being mischaracterized as a local dispute between neighbors.

In this story, a woman attempted to alter her neighbors’ usage of toxic weed-killers. The drift from these applications was having severe adverse impacts upon her health. All but one neighbor agreed to make the shift to less toxic products; the remaining hold-out is exercising his right to use legally marketed products on his own property. However, the issue remains that such chemicals cannot be restricted to one property. They migrate over extended periods of time to surrounding areas, which has led to international medical conferences on their effects and the implementation of bans across entire cities, in other countries. Unless the occupants of Fort Collins have a different biochemical make-up than other humans around the globe, this discussion ought to be broadened to look at how chemicals are redefining property boundary issues and the concept of ‘community’.

Which leads us to the question of why the discussion is limited to the concept that certain individuals are too ‘sensitive’ and cannot tolerate poisons. No matter what the function served by a poison containing product, it remains a substance that causes impairment, in varying degrees of severity, to many organisms. Federal law states that it is illegal for vendors to infer that these pesticides/herbicides are safe, even when used according to directions. This would appear to end any controversy concerning the safety of ‘economic poisons’, as they used to be called before some bright, Madison Avenue spark thought it might not be the catchiest name. Just ask Monsanto. In 1997, it was forced to stop advertising Round-Up herbicide as being ‘safe’ and paid some $50,000 towards the costs of New York State’s case against their claims.

This manufactured controversy isn’t about eagles’ eggs versus control of malaria. It is about dandelions–and industry profits–versus human biochemistry and the extent to which human beings can legally be damaged. In 2004, The Ontario College of Family Physicians produced a comprehensive review of data about pesticides and herbicides in relation to exposed populations. They found the weight of evidence to be most compelling, linking these products with diverse forms of cancer, reproductive effects and central nervous system damage. The recommendations included avoidance of these products wherever possible. This confirmed the suspicions of many Canadians who had already managed to enact bans on cosmetic lawn treatments in dozens of municipalities, including Toronto. Croplife Canada, a trade organization which includes pesticide makers, took its case regarding this restraint of its trade at local levels, to Canada’s Supreme Court. A 2005 ruling upheld the right of communities to enact such bans.

The information typically made public, regarding the testing of pesticide/herbicide products, is limited to the active ingredients. So-called ‘inert’ ingredients and synergists, added to increase the efficacy and toxicity of the actual marketed product, are generally kept secret and are rarely tested. A surfactant has been added to increase absorption of Roundup’s main ingredient, glyphosate. Studies have shown that the complete product known as ‘Round-Up’ presents greater problems than has been reported for its active ingredient, and in smaller concentrations than generally encountered in the environment. Two pertinent articles are as follows:

Glyphosate Factsheet

Differential Effects of Glyphosate and Roundup on Human Placental Cells and Aromatase

These show that everyone’s biochemistry can be adversely affected by this chemical, with or without observable symptoms. Pyrethroid insecticides often include piperonyl butoxide, which works synergistically to make the main ingredients significantly more hazardous to targeted–and therefore non-targeted–organisms. See:

Mosquito spray increases toxicity of pyrethroids in creek, study finds

The extent of damage done to each individual may vary, but as a result of diversity in physiology, not out of genetic ‘weakness’. Our defenses were not made for these chemicals but for those we produce internally as a result of digestion, respiration and all of our bodily ‘anti-aging’ functions. These defenses are co-opted and misdirected from their intended functions, when we surround ourselves with unnecessary poisons. Generalized inflammation can result and this is associated with many disease processes in humans.

Few consumers have any notion about the fact that the EPA does not test these products and rarely prosecutes when complaints involve registered pesticides and licensed applicators. Dursban was not taken off the market until the year 2000, despite some 800 complaints annually regarding its adverse health effects. Dursban was found in over 800 products at the time of its ban–which was achieved through negotiation between the EPA and the manufacturer, who was allowed to withdraw the product without admission of its harmful properties. Successful lawsuits claiming damages stemming from these poisons do occur, but records of these settlements remain sealed, ensuring continued ignorance by consumers regarding the danger. Yet, in 2003, Dow Agro-Sciences agreed to pay a two million dollar fine to end its dispute over charges by the NYS attorney general that it had made misleading claims regarding the safety of Dursban. The entire class of chemicals known as organophosphates are known to be neurotoxic, as are the less well-researched pyrethroids, which have largely replaced them in residential use.

Little or no regulation of ‘drift’ (the movement of chemicals from their sites of application) is in place. Drift is not only the immediate result of wind-borne travel during spraying. The bulk of contamination occurs as the chemicals volatilize from exposure to sun, soil and water over ensuing days and weeks. Fumes move through walls and floorboards from one apartment to another during indoor residential uses. Once entering a home, these poisons bond with dust particles and enjoy a prolonged half-life, since the lack of sunlight impedes degradation. Contamination of rugs, fabrics and porous materials may not be correctable by cleaning. This leaves the question of ‘due care,’ the legal responsibility we all have to keep our actions from causing harm to others. The following study found that 2-4 D, a common herbicide, was found in dust samples taken from ALL homes, in an investigation looking at contamination in farm houses versus homes in strictly residential areas.

Pesticide contamination inside farm and nonfarm homes

Apparently, choice has been removed for all concerned, regarding exposure to this herbicide. For the uninitiated, 2-4D was a component of the herbicide, Agent Orange.

Science only answers those questions which it is asked. However, it is difficult to obtain funding in order to research answers to the right questions because most research is proprietary in nature and performed by those with vested interests. Now that health care comprises 16 percent of the GNP, perhaps those questions need to be asked.

We have moved well beyond old concerns into the realm of genetic effects and gene expression (how a cell knows what to do at the right time.) Research is finding new ways in which human damage can be calculated over many years and across generations.

As the incidence of developmental disabilities and rates of chronic illness soar among pre-retirement aged adults, perhaps it is cheaper to fund research instead of medical care. Industry has yet to understand that going for the ‘quick killing’ for immediate profits is no substitute for investing in enlarging a healthy and productive consumer base. People with a lot of disposable income are a great investment. Diversification of product lines into less toxic products that serve the purpose is certainly the most sensible move industry can make at this time. Vinegar, salt, citric acid, clove oil, soaps, etc., are among many items that can kill weeds effectively when used correctly. Yes, even these products can be respiratory irritants but there can be no comparison to the breadth of adverse effects which are known to be associated with conventional products.

This isn’t about neighbors but whether property rights actually include the air and soil around a given property. Isn’t that air shared with many, and the run-off of water from contaminated soil eventually reaching the water table? Chemistry will lead us to a new definition of the term “community.”

Categories: The Coloradoan

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