Common Pesticide Problems &
What You Can Do About Them

Unfortunately, we are all being exposed to toxic pesticides in many ways
throughout our daily lives.

We didn't like discovering that fact either - but it's true, whether we face it or not.

And I'd rather know about something that can harm myself and my family, so that we can protect ourselves.

Fortunately, we are not powerless to help change the situation, both as individuals and together.

Below are some common exposure situations and what you can do about them!

For more information on the many ways we're exposed to toxic pesticides and the harm it can do, see our summary page Synthetic pesticides do harm; organics are a positive solution.


Are these invisible pesticides potentially harming you, your family, and the local environment? What can you do to find out more and stop the exposure?

Common Exposure Situation

What You Can Do About It

OVERALL: What do you do if you are or might be exposed to pesticides?

How can you avoid exposure or respond in a pesticide exposure emergency or situation? Excellent information is on <www.ncamp.org/todo1.html>. Also look at <www.panna.org/resources/advisor.dv.html> and choose the appropriate option under Dealing with Pesticides.

In case of a pesticide emergency, call California Poison Control's 24-hour number (800) 876-4766. In the United States call (800) 222-1222.

If pesticide drifts onto you, your car, or your land, report this to the County Agricultural Commissioner's Office; in Sonoma County the number is 565-2371.

See below for information on your specific situation and interests. If you've been exposed to pesticides, especially note our information page Pesticides & Health.


Children can be exposed to pesticides throughout their day - in classrooms, the library, hallways, walkways, the cafeteria, on lawns, and in sports fields.

To better understand how children can be exposed at school - and get information about what you can do about it - see our page <www.healthyworld.org/schools.html>.

This includes information about how you can use the California Healthy Schools Act of 2000 to help protect your children.

Pesticides (especially herbicides) are often sprayed as part of the maintenance of our shared roads, exposing us all both during application and afterwards.

Perhaps you've seen someone spraying what might be pesticides on the road alongside your house, or on street in your town, or the highway. Or perhaps you see the telltale strip of brown grass along the edge.

This exposure can harm you, your family, and your pets as your drive by, stop to change a tire, or take a walk. It can also harm workers and the environment, especially when one adds up all the sources of exposure that are challenging us all.

If you see or suspect a possible pesticide application and want to find out more:

1) Find out what entity is maintaining that road. Is it City, State, County, or Federal? Look at a map or call your county government offices; their phone number is in the government pages of your phone book.

2) Get their contact information. Look in the phone book or online for their main number or the number of their maintenance department.

For instance, in Sonoma County:

COUNTY ROADS ... Sonoma County Transportation & Public Works (Roads Division) <www.sonoma-county.org/pubworks> (707) 565-7280.

They indicate:
* They generally use the herbicide Roundup.
* They don't spray in west Sonoma County, because of public pressure that led to a directive from the County Supervisor's office. We haven't seen the official directive/specifics on this.
* You can direct them not to spray on the road by your house. To do this, put a "no spray" sign at the start and end of the property. You are then responsible for keeping the vegetation cut back.

CITY STREETS ...Find the appropriate city offices in the phone book.

STATE OR FEDERAL HIGHWAYS ... CalTrans, Roadside Maintenance Program <www.dot.ca.gov/hq/maint> To find out what's being sprayed on a specific road, call the District 4 office in Oakland at (510) 286-5768. The main Sacramento number for CalTrans is (916) 654-5266.

3) Contact them to find out what they're using and when. Be friendly and just ask for information. If the person you talks to doesn't know, ask who does. Often it will be a herbicide like Roundup; if so, see more information below.

4) To investigate the pesticides they're using, to find out the possible health and environmental risks, and to investigate alternatives, see our resources information below.

More information about the problem, history, regulations, and alternatives, see this CATs report "The Poisoning of Public Thoroughfares: How Herbicides Blight California's Roads" <www.alternatives2toxics.org/catsoldsite/rdexecsum.htm>. This 1999 report said that "Caltrans and county road agencies apply more than 132,000 gallons of herbicide in liquid formulation and 91,000 pounds of dry weed killers to roadsides in a typical year."

For the view in Washington state, see <www.watoxics.org/issues/roadside-spraying>


Unbeknownst to us, we and our families can be exposed to pesticides in almost any public setting - putting our health at risk without our permission.

By joining together and encouraging government entities to choose less-toxic maintenance options, we can help create safe public spaces for us all.

One of the most innovative and extensive programs in the country is in San Francisco's. For more information, see the website of the SF Department of the Environment. Their Toxics Reduction program is described at <www.sfenvironment.org/our_programs/overview.html?ssi=2>. Other Department programs are described at <www.sfenvironment.org/our_programs>

We're also participating in a wonderful program in Sebastopol (in Sonoma County, northern California). In this program, called the Sebastopol Toxics Education Program (STEP), the city chose to avoid toxic pesticides on their own property and to use public education to support residents in avoiding use as well. For more information, see our STEP information page plus <www.ci.sebastopol.ca.us/toxicseducation.shtml>. And be sure to let the City Council know that you are grateful for their pioneering work in protecting our shared health and well-being.

"Before World War II, growing up on the farm implied a healthy lifestyle -- lots of clean air, fresh food, and physical activity. Today, with the pervasive use of highly toxic agricultural pesticides, growing up on, or even near, agricultural land means potentially being surrounded by a swirl of poisons -- in the air, in water, on food, and on nearly everything a child touches, from a teddy bear to a parent's embrace." (from Trouble on the Farm)

For overview information, see this NRDC report "Trouble on the Farm: Growing Up with Pesticides in Agricultural Communities" at <www.nrdc.org/health/kids/farm/exec.asp>

For more about pesticides' potential harm to farmworkers, see these reports by PAN <www.panna.org/resources/documents/fieldsOfPoison2002.dv.html> and <www.panna.org/resources/documents/workerHealth.dv.html>.

For more about pesticide use on winegrapes, see this article in Alternative Medicine magazine <www.alternativemedicine.com/common/news/store_news.asp?task=store_news&SID_store_news=982&storeID=02AD61F001A74B5887D3BD11F6C28169>. Note: The author makes good points about exposure near farms. However, we disagree with his minimizing of the health impacts of pesticides in the wine itself. While the amount might not be your highest source, especially if you eat mainstream food, it still is notable and enough to cause pause. And many folks have found (including us) that we can really feel the difference when we drink organic wine - avoiding that yucky feeling that we thought was wine - but now think is a result of the conventional growing and processing practices.

Also see this 1997 CATs report "Pesticides & Wine Grapes in Sonoma & Napa Counties, California: Time for a Change" <www.alternatives2toxics.org/catsoldsite/summary.htm>. A news article about it is at <www.metroactive.com/papers/sonoma/11.13.97/news-9746.html>


See these reports:

• "Nowhere to Hide: Persistent Toxic Chemicals in the U.S. Food Supply" <www.panna.org/resources/documents/nowhereToHideAvail.dv.html >

• "Contaminated Catch: The Public Health Threat from Toxics in Fish" at <www.nrdc.org/wildlife/fish/catch/ccsum.asp>.
Note: This link isn't working right now. More info on this topic is at <www.rachel.org/BULLETIN/bulletin.cfm?Issue_ID=520>

• "Lettuce Beware" - how rocket fuel got into much of our lettuce across the country <www.ewg.org/reports/rocketlettuce/>

Solutions are mentioned in those reports and also include:

• Eat organic! For more information, see our organic information page <www.healthyworld.org/organic.html>

• Reduce pesticide levels in every child's food. See "Putting Children First: Making Pesticide Levels In Food Safer For Infants and Children" at NRDC's <www.nrdc.org/health/kids/rpcfsum.asp>.

Also see toxic waste in fertizers below.


For information on the arsenic in pressure-treated wood, see <www.ehhi.org/wood>.


Here are some overall issues that impact us in many or all of the above arenas. By joining together to understand and take action on these, we can help protect ourselves and our communities from the harm of toxic pesticides.

Overall Issue

For Information and Action

If an application anywhere drifts on you, your land, your car, etc.

If you've been exposed to pesticide drift, see the top of this page for information about being exposed to pesticides.

Pesticide Action Network just released a report on the current status of this problem in California <www.panna.org/resources/documents/secondhandDriftAvail.dv.html>.

PESTICIDE USE & THE REGULATION SYSTEM: "Why are these pesticides allowed to be sold in the United States? How are the regulated and how can the be improved?"

That information and more is on our Government Regulation page. For additional government information, see our Government Resources page.

"Hooked on Poison: Pesticide Use in California 1991-1998" <www.panna.org/resources/documents/hookedAvail.dv.html>. This gives specific information on the heavy and increasing use of toxic pesticides in California (that state that grows much of the food that people in the U.S. eat), and details their specific recommendations for improving the system.

Also see our Government Regulation page and our overall Government Resources page.

THE TRUE COSTS OF PESTICIDE USE: "But don't we need pesticides to save us money?"

Even when they seem cheaper, do pesticides actually save us money, when all the costs are considered? See our page on The True Costs of Pesticide Use.

Also see our page on the ever-increasing scale of cancer costs in this country Cancer Costs. Cancer is one of many diseases demonstrated to be caused and promoted by synthetic pesticides and other human-created toxics. Reducing our huge exposure to cancer-causing substances is a great way to reduce our risk of getting cancer!

Pesticides are one of the major causes for the shocking rate of species extinction now happening. An estimated 300,000 have disappeared in the past 50 years, and an estimated 3,000 to 30,000 each year - about 82 a day! Once a species is gone, so too are the plants and animals that depend on it, and the ecosystem they created. Gone forever. Do we really want to unravel creation? For more information, see our Species Extinction page.


See our page Pesticides & Health. Also see this resource on Pesticides & Health from Physicians for Social Responsibility ("Prevent What We Cannot Cure") <www.psrla.org/env_pesticides.htm>.


See "Disrupting the Balance: Ecological Impacts of Pesticides in California" at <www.panna.org/resources/documents/disruptingAvail.dv.html>.


See "Poisoning the Air" at <www.environmentcalifornia.org/reports/environmental-health/environmental-health-reports/poisoning-the-air-airborne-pesticides-in-california>.


See "Toxics on Tap: Pesticides in California Drinking Water Sources" at <www.environmentcalifornia.org/reports/environmental-health/environmental-health-reports/toxics-on-tap-pesticides-in-california-drinking-water-sources>.


These are ingredients in pesticide products that supposedly only play a supporting role - helping the pesticide stay where it's sprayed, for instance. However, it is legal for these to be toxic, yet they are not listed on the ingredients panel or anywhere else, protected by trade secrets laws. They are also not part of the pesticide testing and regulation programs, a serious gap that drastically undermines the credibility and claims of those programs. The result is that pesticides you and others buy can actually be more toxic than the buyer realizes or that the regulations recognize in determining legal uses. This policy has been challenged by pesticide action groups such as NCAP.

See "Toxic Secrets: 'Inert' Ingredients in Pesticides 1987-1997" at <www.pesticidereform.org/article.php?id=196>.


Toxic waste has been found in significant amounts in fertilizers, causing harm to crops and animals that eat them. The government is still negotiating the amount that is "ok" to have. This can impact you as a gardener and by allowing toxic materials to flow through into the food that you eat. Unless you choose to eat organic, as this is another harmful practice that is just not allowed in organic agriculture!

For more information, see:

"Holding the Bag: How Toxic Waste in Fertilizer Fails Farmers and Gardeners" <www.watoxics.org/files/holding-the-bag/view?searchterm=toxic%20fertilizer>

"Dumping on Farmers: The Toxic Waste in Fertilizer Story"<www.watoxics.org/files/dumping-farmers/view?searchterm=toxic%20fertilizer>


Some synthetic chemicals have been found to interfere with our hormone (endocrine) system - the system responsible for growth, sexual development, and many more vital functions. Some ask if this could be related to cancers, infertility, birth defects, harm to future generations, and more?

For more information on the evidence suggesting just that, and what chemicals might be involved, see these websites <www.iatp.org/edrc>, <http://e.hormone.tulane.edu>, and <www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/nature>.


See this PAN list of resources and reports <www.panna.org/resources/ge.html> as well as our page of resources <www.healthyworld.org/ge.html>.


For information on alternatives by "pest", see <www.pesticide.org/factsheets.html#alternatives> and <www.panna.org/resources/advisor.html>.


For thousands of years on this planet, humans were able to grow food and otherwise exist without using synthetic toxic pesticides that put at risk our health and environment. Individuals and communities are showing that we can do that again, providing long-term benefit to all of us.

Two examples of cities eliminating or drastically reducing their pesticide use are described on these websites: SF Department of the Environment and Sebastopol Toxics Education Program (STEP).

Also see the report "Advancing Alternatives: Successful Least-toxic Pest Management Programs in California's Urban Settings" at <www.pesticidereform.org/publications/publications.html>.

Organics are a fabulous grassroots success story, where farmers and consumers joined together to create an alternative to the mainstream system that has only gotten more and more toxic and unnatural. More information on organics is below.


1) Reduce and eliminate your use of toxic pesticides at home, work, and school.

Look in books and online for alternatives information. If you need a pest control professional, choose one committed to using non-toxic alternatives and always ask for a MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) for any chemicals they propose using.

2) Buy organic to buy healthier food and support healthier agriculture and reduce our shared exposure to toxics.

3) Support others in your life in making those positive changes as well. Express your concern about their well-being by giving them helpful information in books, handouts, and more.

4) Connect with and support groups that are providing information and taking community-level action to help create a healthier, less-toxic world for us all.

5) Find out the current issues these groups are working on and take action on them. For instance, we need to:

• Insist that the Food Quality Protection Act be implemented in a timely manner. For more information on this, see the bottom of our Government Resources page.

PROTECTING CHILDREN FROM TOXICS: "How can I keep my children safe at home and school?"

Children are especially vulnerable to toxics, as their developing systems can be permanently and more strongly harmed than adults.

For more information, see "Our Children At Risk: The 5 Worst Environmental Threats To Their Health" (NRDC's 1997 report) <www.nrdc.org/health/kids/ocar/ocarinx.asp>. Pesticides is one of the 5 threats discussed. Also see their companion webpage "How to Protect Your Children from Environmental Risks" at <www.nrdc.org/health/kids/g5worst.asp>

The "Resource Guide on Children's Environmental Health" includes pesticide exposure information <www.cehn.org/cehn/resourceguide/rgtoc.html>.

To better protect children, we need to:

• Reduce exposure at home. (See above.)

• Reduce exposure at schools. See Exposure at Schools above.

• Reduce pesticide levels in food. See "Putting Children First: Making Pesticide Levels In Food Safer For Infants and Children" at NRDC's <www.nrdc.org/health/kids/rpcfsum.asp>.

For information about activities in Washington state, see <www.watoxics.org/healthy-schools>.

Resources to assist you with all of the above are on Toxics and Alternatives Resources Page and Recommended Books Page

For information about Sonoma County and area toxics, organics, and environmental and political information and action, see our Sonoma County Resources Page. 

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