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Pesticides and the Environment

Get Your Yard Off Drugs!

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that on average, each American uses over four pounds of pesticides each year.

Treating plants or controlling garden pests with chemicals often makes the situation worse because the chemicals damage the soil's natural defense system by killing off good organisms and bacteria along with the bad. This, in turn, may lead you to think that more chemicals are needed. In fact, healthy soil is full of beneficial bacteria, fungi, and other organisms that work together to keep disease and pests under control and protect the health of plants.

It's easy to keep your soil's organisms happy with a good food source (compost) and a healthy place to live. Here's how:

  • Build healthy soil: Amend your soil annually with good-quality compost. This will restore the natural array of beneficial organisms and provide them with food and habitat.
  • Plant right for the site: Ask your nursery which plant species and varieties have good resistance to common Northwest plant diseases. Choose plants that are resistant to pests.
  • Be strategic if you spray: Know your bugs. Some bugs are good for your garden. The broadcast application of pesticides and herbicides rather than localized spot-treatment can end up killing off some of the beneficial organisms in your garden. After spot treating pests and weeds, give your plants a boost with a layer of mulch and compost.
  • Encourage diversity: Plant a variety of species and consider using plants that are native to our area (external link) to encourage vigorous and robust plant and animal life.

The Pesticide and Herbicide Problem

Where Do Pesticides and Herbicides Go?

Washington State Department of Ecology scientists have detected 23 pesticides in Puget Sound waterways, with the greater number of pesticides found in urban areas rather than in agricultural areas. Many of the pesticides and herbicides identified are widely used on lawns. These chemicals can reduce the diversity of essential soil life, contribute to soil compaction, intensify soil acidity and increase thatch buildup in lawns. They also lead to an increase in algae growth in lakes, which reduces oxygen levels, killing fish and other organisms.

Pesticides Put the Health of Our Children and Pets at Risk

Children are especially sensitive to toxic chemicals because they are small and often play in the yard. As of July 2002, a parent notification law requires Washington public schools and licensed daycares to establish a system for notifying parents and employees of pesticide use on school grounds. Specifically, they are required to provide annual written notice to parents, guardians, and employees of the school's pest-control policies and methods, including details on how they will notify parents and post information at least 48 hours prior to pesticide use.

Avoid Using "Weed and Feed" and Other Pesticides

Weed and feed is the most widely used pesticide in King County and, as such, has been identified by the county as the number one priority for education. Sales of weed and feed peak each spring. Weed and feed is most often used as a fertilizer, and most people are not even aware that it is a pesticide.

According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), 16 pesticides have been detected in the Northwest at levels that exceed standards set to protect aquatic life. One of those pesticides, 2,4D, is a component of weed-and-feed products.

Overuse of these products can also damage soil and plants. Studies have found increased health risks among families that use lawn and garden pesticides, especially among children and pets.

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Updated: Oct. 3, 2008


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