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Pesticides: Pursuing that Lush, Lovely Lawn

Article / Review by on May 31, 2011 – 9:47 pmNo Comments

Pesticides: Pursuing that Lush, Lovely Lawn

Pesticides: Pursuing that Lush, Lovely Lawn

Darn you, dandelion.

As summer unfurls in upstate New York, homeowners seek ways to keep lawns and newly mulched flower beds weed- and pest-free.

But do we too often reach for chemicals to help our horticultural pursuits? And what are the lingering health concerns with residential pesticides anyway? If a chemical is commercially available, isn’t it presumably safe?

Not necessarily, says URMC expert Dr. Bernard Weiss, who believes many consumers are unaware of the threats that even low-levels of pesticides might pose, especially to the developing fetus and very young children (which is why pregnant women are warned to be very cautious about the kinds of pesticides they use in and around the home). In fact, according to Dr. Weiss, some studies estimate that consumers may use 10 times the amount of chemical pesticides on their lawns as farmers apply to their crops.

To gain some clarity on this topic, we spoke to Dr. Weiss, whose research focuses on how exposure to toxic agents – from metals, to air pollutants, to pesticides – might be influencing our learning and cognitive capacities, motor and sensory performance, even differences between males and females.

Some highlights:

1) Pesticides aren’t always what we think. Beyond the obvious weed-killers, the term “pesticides” can refer to just about any product aimed at scaring off (or killing off) pests — including insect repellant lotions and sprays.

2) Unborn babies, newborns and young children are most at risk for the negative cognitive developmental effects that might be tied to pesticide exposure. Because of the way they behave (constantly putting things in their mouths, crawling low to the ground), youngsters are most at risk for exposure to pesticides ingested, inhaled, or even absorbed into their skin. What’s more, since their blood-brain barrier may be a bit “leaky” (and imperfect at protecting their yet-developing brains), they have most at stake. For these same reasons, pregnant and breastfeeding women are often encouraged to take extra precaution and avoid contact with pesticides.

3) We conduct safety tests on pesticides one at a time, but often use them in combinations — so it’s hard to appreciate real-life risks. What’s more, the Environmental Protection Agency is still hard at work developing a system to assess neurotoxicity. Until we’ve established a set of standards, it’ll be difficult to fully understand the subtle and long-term risks pesticides might pose, Weiss says.

To hear more of Dr. Weiss’s comments, just watch the clip below.

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*  The above story is adapted from materials provided by University of Rochester Medical Center

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University of Rochester Medical Center

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