(Beyond Pesticides, February 25, 2011) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released a new report detailing sales and usage of pesticides in the U.S. for the years 2006 and 2007 and showing a modest decrease in pesticide use. The report compiles data from EPA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and other sources in order to track pesticide trends and monitor usage. Previous industry use reports had been published every two years between 1994 and 2001; however, the last report was published ten years ago, in 2001, leaving a gap in the data.
In one of the more promising findings, the report shows that pesticide use in the country did decrease throughout most of the last decade. Use of conventional pesticides, measured in pounds applied, decreased about 3% from 2002 to 2007 and 11% from 1997 to 2007. However, the total pounds of pesticide use decreased only by approximately 8% — from 1.2 to 1.1 billion pounds — during the years from 2000 to 2007. While any decrease in the use of toxic chemicals is a hopeful sign, this marginal reduction does not go far enough. The fact that chemicals which are known to adversely affect human health and lead to environmental degradation continue to be used at all remains troubling.
Measuring pesticide applications in pounds of ingredient applied can often give a skewed picture of usage. Since formulations can come in many different forms, such as powders, liquids, or gases, and often change over time, these numbers can present somewhat inconsistent data trends. Additionally, this method underestimates the impact of systemic pesticides — chemicals which are taken up by the vascular system of the plant and incorporated into the plant tissue itself. They are then expressed throughout the systems of the plant, including in pollen. Measuring application in number of acres treated with a pesticide is a usually a better way to truly understand the prevalence of chemicals in the natural environment.
The report also found that organophosphate insecticide use decreased about 44% from 2002 to 2007, 63% from 2000 to 2007, and 55% from 1997 to 2007, resulting in about 33 million pounds of organophosphates being applied in 2007. Organophosphates, derived from World War II nerve agents, are a common class of chemicals used in pesticides and are considered to be among the most likely pesticides to cause an acute poisoning. Many are already banned in England, Sweden and Denmark. Organophosphate pesticides are extremely toxic to the nervous system, as they are cholinesterase inhibitors and bind irreversibly to the active site of an enzyme essential for normal nerve impulse transmission. In finally responding to concerns stemming from this information, the EPA reached agreements with chemical manufacturers to phase out residential use of two common organophosphate pesticides, chlorpyrifos and diazinon, in 2000 and 2002 respectively. These agreements may partially account for the recent decline in use of organophosphates. However, these pesticides remain registered for other uses, including in agricultural production.
Farms in the U.S. spent a total of $7.3 billion on pesticides in 2006 and nearly $8 billion in 2007, according to the report. Farm budgets are often very tight and these sums represent precious percentages that could be spent on other resources, such as labor, infrastructure and equipment maintenance, or implementation of integrated pest management systems, which can even be more cost effective than using pesticides.
Although about 80% of all U.S. pesticide use is in agriculture, the amount of money spent on insecticides and miticides for use on private homes and gardens nearly equals the amount spent by agricultural producers on such products. Pesticides are often used in the home in attempts to control infestations of pests such as ants, termites, and bed bugs. However, such infestations can be effectively controlled without the need to expose yourself and your family to toxic chemicals, whose side effects can often be worse than the pests themselves. Integrated approaches to pest control involve cultural and mechanical practices that are safer and often more reliable than pesticides.
Some of the other findings of this year’s report that are highlighted by EPA include:
”¢ Approximately 857 million pounds of conventional pesticide active ingredient are applied, based on 2007 data.
”¢ Herbicides remain the most widely used type of pesticide in the agricultural market sector.
”¢ Among the top 10 pesticides used in terms of pounds applied in the agricultural market are the herbicides glyphosate, atrazine, metolachlor-s, acetochlor, 2,4-D, and pendimethalin, and the fumigants metam sodium, dichloropropene, methyl bromide, and chloropicrin.
”¢ Herbicides are also the most widely used type of pesticide in the home and garden and industrial, commercial, and governmental market sectors, and the herbicides 2,4-D and glyphosate are the most widely used active ingredients.
”¢ In the U.S., pesticide sales are approximately $12.5 billion at the user level, which accounts for 32% of the nearly $40 billion world market, based on 2007 data. Pesticide use in the U.S. is 1.1 billion pounds based on 2007 data, or 22% of the world estimate of 5.2 billion pounds of pesticide use.
Want to do your own part to help reduce the release of dangerous and damaging chemicals in our homes, farms, and environment? Support organic agriculture and institutional IPM programs at schools and hospitals! You can even go organic in your own home, lawn, and garden.
For a great opportunity to learn more about pesticides and health, pollinators, organic food and farming, genetically engineered crops, healthy communities, organic land care, non-toxic bed bug control, and more, register for Sustainable Community: Practical solutions for health and the environment, Beyond Pesticides’ 29th National Pesticide Forum, April 8-9 at the Colorado School of Public Health in Denver (Aurora), Colorado. The conference will include talks and workshops with experts in the fields of organic farming, beekeeping, health and toxicology, land management, federal policy, and more. The event is open to the public and registration starts at $35. Limited scholarships are available, contact Beyond Pesticides for more information.