Pesticides are chemicals that kill living things, including weeds, insects and fungi. Unfortunately, the effects of pesticides cannot be limited to the intended target and there is a large body of evidence that these products cause damage to people, animals and the environment.
For decades, extensive, peer-reviewed research has demonstrated the biological harm of many common herbicides and insecticides. These studies have been corroborated by shifts in physician caseloads and the societal burden of unprecedented chronic illness and disability. More than 22 years ago, the American Medical Association called for improving public notification of pesticide applications and for workers to restrict exposures to themselves and others. A 2012 position statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics links pesticide exposure to increases in childhood cancers, cognitive dysfunction and behavioral problems.
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Given the risks of the ingredients that are listed on pesticide labels and that more than 80 percent of the chemical content may not even be divulged, isn’t it unethical to expose people to these products? A fundamental restriction to this effect appears on most pesticide labels: “Do not apply this product in a way that it will contact workers or other persons, either directly or through drift.”
I find it difficult to understand why Larimer County and Colorado State workers routinely spray pesticides on roadsides, school bus stops and public parks and lands without posting notice. This lapse guarantees the exposure of unsuspecting people and pets to the risks of pesticides.
A case in point. In April 2013, Larimer County workers sprayed the bare roadsides near my home. This placed pedestrians, bicyclists, mail carriers, trash collectors and children returning home from school at risk for pesticide exposure. Residents and visitors to Lory State Park alike walked and biked through a wet, tank-mixed cocktail of four toxic products. A label restriction for Arsenal®, a weed killer applied that day, says that it must not be used on walkways. On our county roads, the roadsides ARE the walkways.
Glyphosate, another herbicide discharged that day, is reported to cause endocrine (hormone) disruption and has been named as a suspected pathway to many neurologic disorders. The World Health Organization and the International Agency for Research on Cancer have announced that glyphosate is a probable carcinogen.
After the 2013 spraying, my neighbors and I expressed our concerns to Larimer County officials and the Colorado Department of Agriculture. The response we received is that public entities are under no obligation to post a warning when they apply pesticides. The Pesticide Applicators’ Act excuses government applicators from the bother of this basic safeguard that is required of applicators working in private businesses, even though the public use of pesticides places more people at risk. Is the lack of a state mandate justification to dismiss pesticide label safety restrictions (federal law), namely, to prevent the exposure of people to toxins through direct contact or drift?
Growing and legitimate public concern about pesticides should be a moral cue for all pesticide applicators. The regulations are clearly need of review, but in the meantime, is it too much to ask of Larimer County and the State of Colorado to simply post or otherwise notify the public when they apply herbicides and insecticides?