“In the spring, a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of toxic pesticides.” ~Adapted from Alfred Lord Tennyson
The journal Environmental Health Perspectives has just e-published a report that was as predictable as it was disturbing. Researchers have concluded that agricultural pesticides may be an important risk factor in the development of cutaneous melanoma.
We know that the rates of melanoma have tripled in the last 30 years, and most of the increased risk is presumed to be due to excess sun exposure. We know this as a fact, yet we continue to bake away on the beach and in the suntan parlors. We hear it, but somehow we don’t get it. Assuming that suntans make us look better, we blithely ignore the health threats posed by unnecessary ultraviolet exposure. But UV rays are apparently not the only threat to our skin.
The researchers of the Agricultural Health Study at the University of Iowa studied 50 agricultural pesticides (do we really need that many?) by comparing the rates of melanoma in 56,285 pesticide applicators (popular poisons!) in Iowa and North Carolina (we certainly have to protect those valuable North Carolina tobacco leaves). Cancer rates were compared for the various pesticides used.
The results? After adjusting for factors such as age, sex, and other potential cofounders, there were significant associations between cutaneous melanoma and maneb, mancozeb, methyl-parathion, and carbaryl. These 4 toxins are routinely sprayed on a variety of crops in the United States, including nuts, vegetables, and fruits.
Does the name “carbaryl” strike a familiar chord? Probably not, but it should. Carbaryl, which doubled the risk of melanoma in this study, is the active ingredient in the popular home and garden pesticide Sevin. Introduced in 1958 by our friends at Union Carbide and now ranking third in domestic sales among all pesticides, Sevin has been implicated as a causative agent in birth defects in mammals (especially dogs, for all you dog lovers), in worsening hypertension and depression, and in impairing pituitary, thyroid, and reproductive function. It’s good to know that we can potentially add melanoma to this sterling public health record.
Fortunately, for all Sevin users, the EPA says, “The Agency has reviewed all available information on the teratogenic potential of carbaryl and concludes that the weight of evidence suggests that this potential effect from carbaryl in humans is low…The scientific data available concludes it does not pose an imminent hazard….” Damned by very careful wording. Good thing the EPA pronouncements have never been wrong before.
Clearly, it is too early to conclude there is a causative relationship between these 4 pesticides and melanoma. But why continue to use them? Even if the association is not yet proven where do you think these 4 toxins go after they’re spread on the tobacco field, and where does Sevin go after it’s showered all over your lawn. Correct. Right into our groundwater. Are you that confident in your Brita® and Pur® filters? I wouldn’t be.
And if these poisons are as safe for humans as the EPA suggests, why do you and your family have to remain off the lawn for a day after an application? Is that really enough time? And why do the pesticide company applicators come dressed like astronauts when they do their spraying? Do you wear all that equipment when you spray your lawn and garden?
Is increased agricultural yield really worth the risks posed to farmers who apply the poisons on their crops and to the general public that later consumes their products? How much is a green, weed-free lawn worth to you and your children?
If we’re not certain of safety, shouldn’t we be conservative and exercise great caution? Kermit was right, “It’s not easy being green.” And for lawns, unlike frogs, it’s not always natural.
Think about it: your pride is hurt a bit because your backyard garden yield is a bit off this year and your lawn isn’t as pristine and verdant as your neighbor’s lawn.
Remember, “Pride cometh before the fall.” ~Proverbs 16:18