Once making it into a home, pesticides will take much longer to degrade than in the outdoor environment in water or soil.
(Beyond Pesticides) Pesticide residue doesn’t announce itself –it isn’t colored, it doesn’t glow or reflect light, and after an initial application doesn’t put out a discernible odor – but it is likely ubiquitous in rural U.S. homes, according to a study published by Cornell University researchers late last month. The study is a warning specifically to households with young children, who are at increased risk of health effects from even minute levels of pesticide exposure. “Numerous health problems occur from exposure to pesticides, such as cancer, birth defects, leukemia and ocular [vision-related] toxicity, among a number of other health issues,” said Joseph Laquatra, PhD, coauthor of the research. “Households with crawling toddlers should be concerned, as toddlers will accumulate pesticide residues on their hands and then ingest them due to hand-to-mouth behaviors.”
Researchers focused in on 132 households in rural counties of New York State that agreed to test for pesticide residue inside their home. Wipe samples were collected from both carpeted and non-carpeted areas, and tested for pesticides used commonly as part of agricultural production in the region. The pesticides analyzed included 15 compounds ranging from organophosphates like chlorpyrifos and malathion, to synthetic pyrethroids like resmethrin, the triazine herbicide atrazine, and the widely used herbicide 2,4-D.
Every single compound tested for was discovered in every home examined. This discovery has important implications for rural residents. Pesticides can make their way into homes through a variety of ways. The obvious route is a home application, but many of the pesticides tested were restricted use, allowed only to be used outside or in agriculture by certified pesticide applicators. Previous studies have shown that herbicides like 2,4-D can be tracked into the home on shoes or by pets, but pesticides can also enter houses through airborne entry or off-gassing from soil.
Once making it into a home, pesticides will take much longer to degrade than in the outdoor environment in water or soil. A study published last year found that synthetic pyrethroids, the active ingredient in most bug sprays like RAID, leave significant residues that can persist in homes for over a year. And studies have found that the presence of a pesticide in one’s home correlates with the concentration of a pesticide subsequently found in an individual’s urine. And children, being more prone to crawling on the floor and hand and mouth activities, are at greater risk of pesticide-induced diseases than adults.
While pesticide residue may invisible to the naked eye, there are sources of exposure that households can address in attempts to reduce residue inside the home: dirt and dust. In their research, the Cornell team referenced a 2006 study which found that cleaning practices could significantly reduce pesticide residues.
“When building new homes or remodeling existing homes, install hard surface, easy-to-clean floors, such as hardwood, tile or resilient flooring. Keep floors clean,” he said. “Have a home entry system that captures soil and pollutants at the door. This entry system should consist of a hard-surfaced walkway, such as a paved sidewalk, a grate-like scraper mat outside the entry door, and a highly absorbent doormat that will trap pollutants.”
With pesticides found in our air, water, and soil, it is no wonder that these chemicals are also making their way into our homes. While household protective measures focused on removing dirt and dust that pesticides have clung to can make an impact today, only sustained efforts towards a pesticide-free society will end the risks pesticides pose to our health.
Help support this movement by purchasing organic whenever possible, switching to pesticide-free management of home lawns, forgoing the use of pesticides inside the home, and encouraging your community to follow suit by implementing pesticide reform policies. Tell us you’re ready to fight for a pesticide-free community by signing the petition today, and receive a packet of information you can use to advocate in your community.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.