What are the myths surrounding the safety of synthetic weed and bug killers? Are these chemicals as harmless as we are led to believe?
I recently appeared before our local school board to ask them to reconsider the routine spraying of toxic sprays. The content of my presentation appears below.
To members of the District School Board,
What would you do if you had the opportunity to improve every child’s ability to learn at no additional cost?
My name is Andrea Fabry. I am the mother of nine, ranging in age from 29-13. Five of my children have been enrolled in this district.
We moved here because our family experienced a severe toxic exposure in our home in Colorado due to builder errors and hidden water damage. When we uncovered the problem, we released high levels of toxic compounds into our home.
I founded a nonprofit organization momsAWARE to help others make the connection between health and environment. I am in the process of becoming certified in the field of Building Biology, an effort to help improve the health of homes, offices, and schools.
I am here this evening to talk about pesticides and herbicides.
Most school districts in Arizona regularly spray for weeds and bugs. I have seen the notices on the front doors of various buildings in this district and have included one of the notices in your packet.
What exactly is being sprayed? And what are the short term and long term consequences?
History of Pesticides
Pesticides have their roots in World War II. At that time, we learned that we can kill people as well as bugs with chemicals. With no knowledge about long-term health implications, particularly for children, we embraced the chemical era.
How Pesticides Work
Many pesticides work as nerve poisons. These include organophosphates, pyrethroids, and others. On the notice I’ve included you’ll see Bifenthrin – which is a type of pyrethroid.
These nerve poisons destroy a key nervous system enzyme, an enzyme that turns off acetylcholine one of the critical neurotransmitters in the human brain.
Why Pesticides Don’t Belong in Schools
Studies have been done noting the impact of organophosphates on the minds of young children. Once such study was published in December 2010.
The study compares two sets of children. One set was raised without regular spraying of pesticides – the other set was raised in a farming community where pesticides were routinely sprayed.
Participating children were asked to draw human figures. Note the difference – children raised in the foothills without regular pesticide use drew far more detailed pictures.
What the Labels Tell Us
On any pesticide label – even those found at the hardware store – you will see two sections. Active Ingredient(s)and Inert Ingredients.
Active Ingredients are the primary chemicals that act as a poison to the weeds, insect or fungal growth.
Inert ingredients are solvents, surfactants, and adjuvants. Inert is misleading. These chemicals help the poison work more efficiently. Many of them are toxic and because of trade secrets are not required to be disclosed.
I have included a label for one brand of Bifenthrin so you can see that the inert ingredients make up 92% of the formula.
Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals
Our safety standards currently operate under the foundational principle of toxicology that says the dose makes the poison, implying that small amounts of poison are safe.
However, we now understand that low levels of certain classes of chemicals are endocrine disrupters. This class of compounds is more toxic when highly diluted – into parts per billion or trillion. Because the amount is so small, they attach to hormone receptors and disrupt a developing child’s hormonal system.
So far there are 800 chemicals suspected to interfere with hormone receptors. Glyphosate is one them. As you’ll see from the notice, this is the active ingredient used by the school district to spray for weeds.
What can you do?
The good news is there are natural, biodegradable agents that specially target pests but are non-toxic to humans. Examples include Diatomaceous Earth, Cedar Oil, Mint, Orange peel and much more. Tucson is home to one company that offers these natural solutions and is currently employed by this district for routine spraying at the charter school where are son Brandon attends. It’s one of the primary reasons we chose this school.
I have included a sample of one of the products used by this company. You can see that 100% of the ingredients are disclosed and are 100% naturally derived.
Several years ago we tried our neighborhood middle school for a one hour after school club for our daughter Kaitlyn. Within minutes of leaving the school, her nose bled profusely. We later learned that the school had been sprayed three days prior. I can’t say for sure what triggered the nosebleed, but it was enough to look for a school that didn’t spray routinely.
I believe that one day we will look back, and the world will be shocked that we sprayed poisons in and around our schools. Since World War II, we have been part of a giant global experiment. We truly have no idea how these chemicals will impact ourselves or our children. We can cross our fingers and hope for the best or we can take action now and return to natural, affordable measures.
For further reading:
The Myths of Safe Pesticides, by Andre Leu
Our Stolen Future, by Theo Colborn
We are dealing with a vast lack of knowledge when it comes to the subject of chemicals. It’s never too late, however, to educate and empower others to ensure a safer tomorrow for our children.