Pesticides are one of the primary contaminants to Bay Area creeks and are toxic to the aquatic life that forms the base of San Francisco Bay’s food web. Many pesticides are marketed to consumers as safe for the environment and public health, yet generation after generation are found to have caused dramatic environmental and public health harm – and are banned as a new, supposedly safer generation is introduced.
For instance, many people consider Pyrethroids to be safe, though they have been closely linked with neurological problems and developmental delays in exposed children. Anti-bacterial products that place toxic substances in direct contact with skin are now heavily marketed, despite mounting research that the chemicals fail to do as promised. Read on for a few tips to stay pesticide-free for the health of your family and the Bay.
- Avoid pesticides, even “safer” ones, in your vegetable garden. Available widely in pesticides products for home gardens, Pyrethrins are marketed as safe and natural because they are derived from chrysanthemums. However, this pesticide now impairs every Bay Area creek and has been linked to developmental delays in children who were exposed as fetuses when their mothers came in contact. Try physical removal of the pests, spraying down plants with water and squashing the invaders instead.
- Keep pesticides out of the kitchen by buying organic food whenever you can. When you wash pesticides off of conventionally grown fruits and vegetables, the chemicals go right into the Bay, where they poison aquatic organisms at the base of the Bay’s food web. Especially avoid conventionally grown strawberries, which absorb high levels of pesticides.
- Say no to lawn chemicals and consider going turf free. Avoid using herbicides to get rid of weeds; they poison pets, kids and creeks. Even simple fertilizers contribute excess nutrients to creeks and the Bay, harming the ecological balance. Consider losing your lawn and converting to drought-resistant native plantings. Download Bay Friendly Landscaping Guidelines at www.stopwaste.org.
- Avoid bug repellents and clothing impregnated with Deet. Instead, try oil of Lemon Eucalyptus, which does take more frequent applications to be effective. If you feel you have to use Deet, make certain to thoroughly wash skin after exposure – though that sends it directly to the Bay, it will help protect you.
- Don’t buy a washing machine with nanosilver generators. With claims of preventing odor and killing bacteria, this technology impregnates your clothing with tiny toxic particles and contaminates the leftover washing water you send to the Bay. Nanosilver is known to be toxic to microorganisms and fish, easily crossing organ membranes to cause damage. Nanosilver is now being added to clothing, toothbrushes, counter tops and cutting boards; avoid it!
- Avoid anti-bacterial soap with Triclosan. Washing your hands with regular soap is just as effective. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has found this neurotoxic carcinogen in 75% of people tested. Always check the label: triclosan is often added to clothing, toothpaste and many other items that claim to be antiodor or anti-bacterial.
- Ants appear in your kitchen and bathroom from time to time? Most often they are looking for water or trying to get out of the rain, and will generally leave after a day or two. If you have a more entrenched problem, boric acid will kill them by dehydrating them, without the use of toxic chemicals.
- Fleas in your home? Don’t bomb them with pesticides, which tend not to work very well and leave your home contaminated. Instead, use this tried and true method: Place a dish or glass of soapy water on the floor under a light bulb and leave it out overnight for a few days. Fleas will find the dish, hop in and drown.
- If you suspect you have a termite or other wood-foraging pest, consider baiting the termites yourself. Stake PVC pipe near the foraging site, fill it with wetted cardboard for food and seal it with cork (moistened toilet paper in a toilet paper tube also works). Check the cork weekly and when you see termites, add boric acid to the top of the food source. If you want professional help, be sure to hire a pest control operator who is well-versed in Integrated Pest Management techniques. Learn more from the Bio-Integrative Resource Center at www.birc.org.
- Report pesticide spraying by public works departments to San Francisco Baykeeper. If you see county or city staff spraying pesticides along roadsides, medians or waterways, let us know. Baykeeper monitors these practices under new storm water regulations. Email firstname.lastname@example.org, call 1-800-KEEP-BAY or go to Report Pollution to submit an online report.
Photo by Manuel Noah Angeja (Flickr/CC)