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help us protect our children

EPA Raises Glyphosate Concentrations on Food Crops


Last week the EPA let Monsanto raise the allowable concentrations of glyphosate on food crops, animal feed, and edible oils. The new regulation lets farmers use more of the chemical, which is the active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup.

Under the new regulation, forage and hay teff can contain up to 100 ppm (100,000 ppb) glyphosate; oilseed crops can contain up to 40 ppm (40,000 ppb) glyphosate, and root crops such as potatoes and beets can contain 6000 ppb glyphosate. Fruits can have concentrations from 200 ppb to 500 ppb glyphosate. These numbers are magnitudes higher than the levels some scientists believe are carcinogenic.

The EPA has classified glyphosate as a Class D carcinogen, which means it either does not cause cancer in human beings or that its cancer-causing potential is unknown. But in 2009, a study conducted at the Indian Institute of Toxicology Research found that glyphosate “has tumor promoting potential in skin carcinogenesis.” An EPA Fact Sheet that is part of the Safe Drinking Water Act states that glyphosate can cause lung congestion after acute exposure above the minimum containment level (MCL) of 0.7 mg/L. That is the equivalent of 0.7 ppm (or 700 ppb). In addition, the EPA says that long term exposure to glyphosate above the MCL causes kidney damage and reproductive effects.

In April, Food Poisoning Bulletin reported on a new study from MIT that showed glyphosate residue has been found on food. That study also found that glyphosate can induce disease in human beings because our gut bacteria, which play an important part in immunity, contain the shikimate pathway, which glyphosate disrupts. Chemical manufacturers have previously claimed that glyphosate is not toxic to human beings because, as mammals, we do not have the shikimate pathway.


Such an important read from someone who used to live here, will we all have to move to protect ourselves?

For a year we lived on 1/2 acre of land in Northern California wine country. We moved away from that area four months ago, in part due to this incident….

March 8, 2008

So I had to take a few days before writing this to calm down and write rationally. I’m rational now (as rational as I’ll ever be), and I’m going to to three things here: tell you a personal story about pesticides, tell you some of the other problems with herbicides and pesticides, and give you some alternatives for your garden. So please bear with me – don’t go away – this is important!

A Little Backstory…We moved here back in May, to a beautiful little area next to a vineyard. As we settled in, we found that there was a cat living beneath our porch. Chatting with the neighbors one day, I learned that she’d been abandoned four years earlier by some bad tenants (they also left a dog that the neighbors took in).

First we gave her a name: Raisin, as she came out of the vines in the heat of the summer. Then we started feeding her, and spending time with her, slowing gaining her trust. After a few months of fairly hard work at it, she was happily snuggling next to us in our bed every night, right beside our dog Ellis.

We made a little opening in one of the windows, so Raisin could go in and out to do all her business. In other words, no litter box necessary. Raisin has been a happy indoor/outdoor cat ever since.

She was a dream cat, very low maintenance but full of love.

What Happened Wednesday Afternoon.Normally Matt and I carpool on Wednesdays: I drive him to work and then go read until my Master Gardener class, then I pick up Matt and we drive home together. On a whim, I decided I just wanted to go home in between – basically I was sick, and I wanted to be home for a while. So I suppressed my guilt for spending extra CO2, gas, and money, and went home for a few hours of down time.

After an hour at home, I heard Raisin scratching at the door. Usually she pushes it open, so it was a bit strange. I went to open the door and she fell into my office convulsing, with little control over her muscles. Her face was ticking and twitching wildly, she was licking her mouth very strangely… it was scary, to say the least. I ran through a list in my head of all the things it could be: scared by a hawk or truck, bit by a snake or scorpion, or she ate something bad. But I didn’t ponder for long – I wrapped her in a blanket and dashed to the vet.

On the way to the vet, Raisin became worse. I brought her and the blanket into my lap, and she crawled into the smallest possible ball. Her body was hot hot hot. She was terrified. When I pet her, lots of fur fell out. She was becoming increasingly limp. I stepped on the gas a little harder.

I pulled up to the Humane Society and rushed her in, then I waited in the waiting area for about 10 minutes, my heart pounding as I spoke sweet words to our kitty. Finally the technician came in and took her vitals. She was running a high fever, breathing rapidly, and her whole body was now shaking out of control.

Not two minutes later the vet dashed in, did a quick check over, and scooped her up. She quickly said, “I’m taking her in the back. She has all the signs of being exposed to pesticides.” “Ah,” I said with a quivering voice, remembering I’d taken the above photo when I first got home, “they were spraying in the fields today.” With that confirmation, off she went with Raisin, saying behind her, “I’ll call you in 45 minutes. We’re going to give her an iv, medicine to calm her down, and a thorough bath. I’ll let you know if it doesn’t work.” And she was gone.

I left the office in a panic, called my husband who left work a little early, and we waited. And waited. An hour later the vet called, saying she’d been able to lower Raisin’s temperature, slow the convulsions, and she was no longer worried. She’d give her a break for a while, then try a very thorough bath to remove the pesticides. We could come get her between 4 and 5pm. Sigh of relief times ten.

Here’s what the veterinarian told me: The pesticide was working on Raisin exactly the way it is designed to work on insects. It makes the muscles twitch so that the body continues to heat up to the point of death. It happens to dogs and cats. And, I assume, it happens to the birds, frogs, toads, jack rabbits, coyotes, wild turkeys, and beneficial insects – all found outside our home and in the vineyard. I feel anger creeping into my soul now.

Raisin is doing well. She came home wet and mad as hell, she can’t go outside anymore, and we have to keep drugging her with muscle relaxants (to stave off the pesticide mechanisms)… But she is alive!

Boy am I glad I went home Wednesday. It saved this cat’s life, most definitely. Below, is one drugged-out kitty.

- See more at: http://1greengeneration.elementsintime.com/?p=306#sthash.EKIjavms.dpuf


From Lilipoh Magazine (short for Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness! Yes!)

The Passion to Farm

Click here to go to article: http://www.lilipoh.com/past_issues/2009Issues/Summer2009/PassionToFarm.aspx

One woman’s story of why she works so hard 

I married into agriculture. Still processing his near-death experience in Vietnam, Dewane could only say, “I need to farm organically.” I was young, in love, and uncertain of my personal destiny in life. “Sure,” I replied. “Let’s go for it.” 

My family was appalled. They knew I liked to cook, but this was not the life they raised me for. The pay was sure to be low, the work hard. Horticulture is not an esteemed profession. We outsource much of our food production. We all want cheap food. 

But do we? Produce raised thousands of miles away has to be picked unripe; its nutrient profile is undeveloped. You can taste the truth of this statement. Just compare a winter tomato to a summer one. Standards in other countries can be lax. A friend who served in the Peace Corps in Central America in the 1990s related how small farmers applied agricultural chemicals: double doses meant better results. Tainted pet food and baby formula—we can condemn foreigners, but we have been presented with contaminated peanut butter produced right here in the USA. The pressure for cheap exposes us to risk. 

I learned to garden because I wanted to feed my children wholesome food. I recognized the correlation between highly processed foods and diabetes, pesticides and cancers, nutrition and health. I prized the vitamins, minerals and fiber in a freshly harvested salad of baby greens. I wanted them to eat the skins of potatoes. I taught them to pop open a pea pod and pick out fresh green peas; to find perfectly ripe raspberries; how to dig up a carrot, wipe it on their jeans, and take a big bite without fear of soil (versus dirt). 

I learned to garden biodynamically though the conviction that I am a temporary steward who will someday have to answer for how I cared for the earth. When I take a worn-out piece of ground and restore it to productivity, diversity, health and beauty, I am redeeming something of God’s that has been spoiled. Industrial agriculture focuses more on squeezing cash profits out of the soil without regard for His creations, be they old-growth forests or soil microbes. I know in my heart that in the way I serve the least of things is also how I serve Him. 

I garden because I prefer to couple exercise with external accomplishment. By the time the tomatoes are composted and mulched, I am back in shape. 

I garden for a hundred families because Community Supported Agriculture is about relationships. It is about interconnectedness. CSA members are my support and my community. In turn, I strive to be a source of love, care and truth in a world that is against those things by sharing my life, my farm, and my passion for this work. 

I sell shares in the CSA because this is the most just way I have found to exchange food for money. Members’ food dollars go directly to the garden’s workers, rather than to a lengthy and obscure chain of supply that often has underpaid and abused agricultural workers on the other end. Share prices are calculated on what it costs to grow the garden. Not more, not less. Everything raised is divided equally between share members. I listen to members and, to the best of my ability, plant in proportions that reflect their preferences. I do everything I can to bring in abundant crops, and I agonize (still, after all these years) when a crop falls short due to weather conditions beyond my control. CSAs are the embodiment of transparency and trust. 

I believe in the value of CSA. The best way to maximize your food budget is to cook basic products at home. In season, local produce is the best bang for your buck. Families can share more than physical nourishment in the kitchen. It is an opportunity to teach and to listen, to hug and be hugged. Don’t have family nearby? Invite a neighbor. Make a new friend. 

I keep gardening with an open offer to share what I know, especially with the next generation. I pray they will stand on my shoulders, not repeat my mistakes. 

I garden because I cannot thrive without the blessings of working in—and with—Nature. I hated the years I spent on the road attending Fancy Food Shows. My income was higher, but my spirit suffered. And in the end, spirit is what I will leave with. 

Anne, along with her husband Dewane, operates Midheaven Farm in Minnesota. The 460 acre farm is Demeter-Certified Biodynamic, and produces beef cattle, hay, oats and corn, and a full spectrum of vegetables for their CSA. Somehow, after all the long hours in the field, they still find time to serve the larger community and educate their customers. Dewane sits on the board of the Josephine Porter Institute for Applied Biodynamics, and Anne writes a weekly newsletter for her customers

More than 100 studies show link of pesticides and Parkinson's

Click here to go to article: http://www.upi.com/Health_News/2013/05/28/More-than-100-studies-show-link-of-pesticides-and-Parkinsons/UPI-71381369718840/

Published: May 28, 2013 at 1:27 AM

PAVIA, Italy, May 28 (UPI) -- A meta-analysis of more than 100 studies shows pesticide, herbicide and solvent exposure is linked to a higher risk of Parkinson's, researchers in Italy say.

Study author Dr. Emanuele Cereda of IRCCS University Hospital San Matteo Foundation in Pavia, Italy, and Dr. Gianni Pezzoli of the Parkinson Institute -- ICP, Milan, Italy, reviewed 104 studies on exposure to weed, fungus, rodent, bug killers and solvents and the risk of developing Parkinson's disease.

Studies that evaluated the proximity of exposure, such as country living, work occupation and well water drinking were also included.

The research, published in the journal Neurology, found exposure to bug killers, weed killers and solvents increased the risk of developing Parkinson's disease by 33 percent to 80 percent.

In controlled studies, exposure to the weed killer paraquat or the fungicides maneb and mancozeb was associated with two times the risk of developing the disease, Cereda said.

"We didn't study whether the type of exposure, such as whether the compound was inhaled or absorbed through the skin and the method of application, such as spraying or mixing, affected Parkinson's risk," Cereda said in a statement. "However, our study suggests that the risk increases in a dose response manner as the length of exposure to these chemicals increases."

Read more: http://www.upi.com/Health_News/2013/05/28/More-than-100-studies-show-link-of-pesticides-and-Parkinsons/UPI-71381369718840/#ixzz2UdH7mQ4f

Review Highlights Dangerous Health Effects of Glyphosate 

Beyond Pesticides, May 9, 2013) A review of the scientific literature of the toxic effects of glyphosate, one of the most popular weed killers in the U.S. and the active ingredient in Roundup, links the herbicide to a wide range of diseases and suggests that more research is needed. The review, conducted by a scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), looks at the mechanisms through which the adverse effects may be happening and points to the chemical’s inhibition of cytochrome P450 (CYP) enzymes, which plays the crucial role of detoxifying xenobiotics. Thus, glyphosate can enhance the negative effects of other environmental toxicants on the body. Authors argue that this has been a critically overlooked component in research on glyphosates’ toxicity to mammals.

We “have hit upon something very important that needs to be taken seriously and further investigated,” Stephanie Seneff, PhD, lead author and research scientist at MIT, told Reuters.

Not surprisingly, Monsanto, the developer of Roundup, the leading product containing glyphosate, has attempted to discredit the study, claiming that its product has a long track record of being safe – read Another Bogus “Study.” However, Beyond Pesticides has assembled  extensive documentation on the human health and environmental risks of glyphosate. It has been linked to a number of serious human health effects, including increased cancer risk, neurotoxicity, and birth defects, as well as eye, skin, and respiratory irritation. One of the inert ingredients in product formulations of Roundup, polyoxyethyleneamine (POEA), has also been shown to kill human embryonic cells. In 2009, Beyond Pesticides, submitted comments to the U.S. Environment Protection Agency (EPA) showing new and emerging science which illustrates that glyphosate and its formulated products pose unreasonable risk to human and environmental health, and as such should not be considered eligible for continued registration.

Glyphosate is used in almost all agricultural and urban areas of the U.S. Overall, agricultural use of glyphosate has increased from less than 11,000 tons in 1992 to more than 88,000 tons in 2007. The greatest glyphosate use is in the Mississippi River basin, where most applications are for weed control on genetically-modified corn, soybeans, and cotton. Additionally, glyphosate persists in streams throughout the growing season in Iowa and Mississippi, but is generally not observed during other times of the year. The pervasiveness of glyphosate in our food supply, and the general myth that it is “essentially nontoxic,” the researchers argue, may make glyphosate one of the most dangerous chemicals in the environment.

The paper concludes: “Given the known toxic effects of glyphosate reviewed here and the plausibility that they are negatively impacting health worldwide, it is imperative for more independent research to take place to validate the ideas presented here, and to take immediate action, if they are verified, to drastically curtail the use of glyphosate in agriculture.”

The peer-reviewed paper, “Glyphosate’s Suppression of Cytochrome P450 Enzymes and Amino Acid Biosynthesis by the Gut Microbiome: Pathways to Modern Diseases,” is published in the April 2013 journal Entropy.

To see more scientific research on the effects of pesticides on human health, see Beyond Pesticides’ Pesticide-Induced Diseases Database, which supports the clear need for strategic action to shift away from pesticide dependency. Public policy must advance this shift, rather than continue to allow unnecessary reliance on pesticides.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.


New Study Finds Roundup Could be linked to Severe Health Issues

A.M. White Nation of Change/News Report
Published: Saturday 27 April 2013 

Glyphosate may be “the most biologically disruptive chemical in our environment” and that the “negative impact on the body is insidious and manifests slowly over time as inflammation damages cellular systems throughout the body.”


According to a new peer-reviewed report from the scientific journal Entropy “glyphosate”, the main ingredient in Roundup, has been found in food. 

Roundup was developed by Monsanto and is used as a weed killer on their genetically engineered crops. Monsanto’s crops are specifically engineered to be resistant to Roundup so that farmers may spray the weed killer directly on the crops to kill weeds without affecting the crops themselves. Monsanto and other leading industry experts have said for years that glyphosate is proven safe, and has a less damaging impact on the environment than other commonly used chemicals. A spokesperson for Monsanto confirmed this when asked for a comment after findings from the study were published.

According to the authors of the study, Stephanie Seneff, a research scientist at MIT, and Anthony Samsel, a former science consultant from Arthur D. Little, Inc., glyphosate may be "the most biologically disruptive chemical in our environment," and that the "negative impact on the body is insidious and manifests slowly over time as inflammation damages cellular systems throughout the body.” The residues of Roundup that are appearing in food enhance the “damaging effects of other food borne chemical residues and environmental toxins.” This relationship is linked to a range of health problems and diseases, such as Parkinson’s, infertility, autism, and cancer.

The Environmental Protection Agency is currently reviewing glyphosate and must determine by 2015 if its use should be altered or limited. The findings of the review, as well as similar studies such as this one, could potentially have a major affect on farming, as glyphosate is the top herbicide on the market.

The author’s conclusion that glyphosate is "the most biologically disruptive chemical in our environment," echoes the concerns that many have had for years on the effects of herbicides and the practice of growing genetically engineered crops on health worldwide.  Hopefully more independent and unbiased research can be conducted during the EPA’s review of the herbicide so that this previously claimed “non-toxic” chemical can be properly regulated.

The full article in Entropy is viewable here.


Pesticides and Wine Grapes in Sonoma and Napa County

This is a very well written and researched booklet by California Alternatives to Toxics (CATs).  Plese take a moment to read it if you are 


Farming's Toxic Legacy-
Banned ag chemicals linger in neighborhoods that swallowed up former farms and orchards


By Rebecca Clarren


Nothing about the quiet summer morning suggests a reason to worry. Two-year-old Kian plays happily in the dirt of the empty lot where his family's new house will eventually stand. Nearby, his mother, Tara Compton, points out interesting "buggies," and when he toddles down the steep hillside, she holds his hand. Dust rises from the soil as though from a phantom stampede, and dirt covers the little boy's hands and face.

"This is where I plan to grow our garden," says Compton, pointing to a wide plot of earth near a peach tree that yields delicious fruit. She's pregnant, but with her tall, strong build, it hardly shows. "It's important to me to grow a lot of our own vegetables because it's so hard to know what's in the food you buy at the store."

Compton, a 38-year-old intensive care nurse, is a conscientious mother. She buys organic produce, filters her water, and uses lotions and sunscreens that are paraben-free. Compton and her husband, Ron, who's studying to become a teacher, chose Yakima out of a host of Western cities largely because of the nearby hiking and camping opportunities. Yet despite the natural beauty and the good, clean living, their new home hides a potential threat to her children -- one that Compton is hard-pressed to control.

Some 30 years ago, this upper-middle-class neighborhood, with its two-story brick houses and generous views of Mount Adams, was all orchards and farmland. In this way, Yakima resembles many communities. Over the past 28 years, more than 5.5 million acres of former farmland in the West have been plowed under and transformed into subdivisions, schools and parks. But even though the apple trees and cotton fields are long gone, they can leave a hidden toxic legacy.

Throughout much of the 20th century, farmers in Yakima and across the country blanketed crops with now-banned pesticides, including lead arsenate and a suite of long-lasting, synthetic organic compounds laced with chlorine, such as DDT, dieldrin, toxaphene and chlordane. Today, decades after they were sprayed, these compounds and their breakdown products often persist in the soil.

That doesn't necessarily mean they're harming people; in many places, the levels are likely negligible. There are no immediate health effects associated with exposure to these chemicals in the soil. And existing research indicates that the known health risks of living on former agricultural lands are relatively low -- especially where the soil has been capped with a grassy lawn. Still, children who are exposed regularly over a long time period to contaminated dirt through direct contact -- perhaps by playing in it or gardening or eating vegetables grown in it -- may develop cancer or other health problems decades later, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Washington state has decided that low risk is not the same as no risk. Since 2006, it has spent close to $7 million removing soil from 20 elementary schoolyards in the central part of the state, wherever lead and arsenic, the primary components of lead arsenate, exceeded levels set by the state to protect human health. The project -- which includes some Yakima schools -- is unique in the West.

Because the dangers posed by legacy pesticides are insidious and poorly understood, agencies and advocacy groups have focused on more obvious threats. Neither the federal government nor any Western state requires testing the soil prior to development of privately owned farmland, leaving the burden on landowners like the Comptons. Meanwhile, real estate agents say it's the buyers' responsibility, not theirs, to find out about possible pesticide contamination. A survey of over 20 national environmental groups, including ones that focus on pesticides, reveals that none are working to change this dynamic.

"As a nation, we're flying blind on this issue," says John Wargo, Yale University professor of environmental risk analysis and policy. "The Environmental Protection Agency is so overwhelmed by new chemicals and managing the changing science on existing chemicals that are licensed that they're interpreting the ban (on legacy pesticides) as having solved the problem. That's shortsighted. We're not even asking questions, we're not doing the testing, and the result is people are being exposed without their knowledge and certainly without their consent."

A hundred years ago, land speculators lured people to plant orchards in the Yakima area with promises that "here fortunes grow on trees." Hand-colored postcards from that era depict row after row of verdant orchards, neat fields and two-story white-painted homes. Ads in East Coast newspapers touted Yakima as the "orchard city," where "ten acres in fruit makes a man independent for life."

But that abundance did not come naturally. It relied on pesticides like lead arsenate, which helped control insects like the codling moth, an apple-loving scourge that thrives in the West's arid climate. "Without lead arsenate, there would be no industry," says Frank Peryea, professor emeritus of soil science at Washington State University and one of the nation's foremost experts on arsenical pesticides. At the university's tree fruit research center in Wenatchee, a few hours north of Yakima, Peryea snaps a small unripe apple from a tree and slices it open with a pocketknife. These trees have not been treated with modern pesticides or pheromones, which disrupt the moths' mating cycle. Where the white flesh of the apple should be is a crater filled with the moth larvae's black excrement. "You want to eat that?" Peryea asks dryly.

Nope. Neither did consumers in the early 1900s. When researchers first introduced lead arsenate, farmers quickly became hooked on it, using handgun sprayers to coat apples, potatoes, cotton, cherries and other crops. Not only did the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommend spraying crops, but if growers didn't do so, state pest control boards in Oregon, Washington and California would spray for them -- and charge the farmers for the effort, put a lien against their land, or even remove their trees. As early as 1915, the bugs had developed some resistance; farmers responded by spraying more. In 1941, U.S. farmers sprayed more than 60 million pounds of lead arsenate.

Then, in the late 1940s, American farmers abandoned their old standby in favor of DDT, then hailed as the savior of mankind. By the early '70s, an estimated 1.35 billion pounds of DDT had been sprayed in the U.S. -- enough to fill more than 238 Olympic-size swimming pools. But public outcry against the pesticide began building after the 1962 publication of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, which reported that DDT accumulates in living tissue in greater and greater concentrations as it moves up the food chain. Soon, other scientists linked the chemical with the near extinction of many birds. Several notable studies, presented to the nascent EPA, showed that DDT could cause cancer in humans. The EPA banned the chemical in the U.S. in 1972, and by 1990 had followed suit with lead arsenate and most other organochlorine pesticides.

Unfortunately, the very thing that made organochlorine pesticides like DDT effective for a long period of time also makes them hard to get rid of. Because chlorine binds strongly to other elements, the compounds are stable and do not break down easily. Organochlorines also bind to organic matter in soil, and to the fat cells of the organisms that consume it. When they eventually do degrade, they can break down into other toxic compounds. Lead arsenate, meanwhile, is composed of lead and arsenic, the party lingerers of the elements. Neither breaks down over time. They also bind to organic matter in the soil and don't dissolve readily in water, so rain can't easily wash them away. All of these chemicals can remain in the top 12 to 18 inches of the ground for decades -- perhaps even hundreds of years.

Though no one has comprehensively sampled Western soils for legacy pesticides, during the 1990s, the U.S. Geological Survey looked at streambeds and fish across the nation, including every Western state. In watersheds where more than 50 percent of the land was in agriculture, DDT and its breakdown products, DDD and DDE, were present in sediment at half the sampled sites as well as in the tissue of 90 percent of sampled fish. Dieldrin was present in sediment in 17 percent of the sampled sites and in 63 percent of the fish. And while levels of both pesticides in fish tissue have dropped by 50 percent since they were banned for agricultural use in the '70s, research published in the past five years shows that this trend has flat-lined for DDT in some lakes. It could be that a certain amount of the compound is not degrading, or there may be continuing input of DDT from the atmosphere or watershed.

The fact that these chemicals persist in the environment means they're still finding their way into our bodies. DDT, dieldrin and other organochlorine pesticides are commonly found in the fatty tissues, and even in the breast milk, of people throughout the country, including those born decades after the compounds were banned. 

People can be exposed to these toxic chemicals through the water and air, or through touching or ingesting them in soil and food. Long-term, chronic exposure to various organochlorine pesticides is associated with damage to the central nervous system, liver, kidney and thyroid. The EPA classifies all as probable carcinogens; many are suspected endocrine disruptors, which mimic or block hormones that regulate metabolism and neurological and sexual development, and can cause various ailments.

Long-term exposure to lead arsenate, meanwhile, may elevate the level of lead in the blood, which is associated with learning and behavioral problems. Ingesting arsenic -- most of the research has been done on people exposed through drinking water -- can cause bladder, lung, liver, prostate and kidney cancers. Simply touching inorganic arsenic, however, does little more than irritate the skin, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

Because their bodies are small and still developing, children, especially in the womb, are most vulnerable to the harmful effects of chemicals. They're also more likely to be exposed, since kids love to play in the dirt and toddlers put everything in their mouths, including soil.

But it is impossible to predict whether a particular individual will get sick. So the EPA has projected the risk for an entire population, setting screening levels based on how much of a specific chemical, over an exposure period of 30 years, will cause no more than one person in 1 million to develop cancer. State and federal agencies can use these levels when considering cleanup of contaminated areas. But the standards aren't enforceable; there's no law saying that soil can't contain X amount of a particular compound. Nor does the EPA have any department or staff to deal with mitigating threats posed by legacy pesticides in converted farmland. The agency does, however, investigate and oversee cleanup of indisputably and severely contaminated land. And last month, the EPA released a draft of its guidelines for locating new schools to protect children from environmental hazards. Though the document does suggest that sampling for banned pesticides in the soil of proposed school sites may be appropriate, it's not required and doesn't apply to existing schools.

"We've done our job, we've cancelled these pesticides," says a staffer in the EPA's Office of Pesticide Programs, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The agency lacks a mandate from Congress to assess potentially toxic products once they are removed from commerce, the staffer explained. "We know they're hanging around but there is nothing further we can do."

Without federal leadership, most Western states are caught in a bizarre catch-22. Because there are no acute toxic effects from contaminated soil -- because kids aren't eating dirt and getting immediately, obviously sick -- people are not necessarily even aware of the old pesticides in their backyards. But unless homeowners complain or state legislatures mandate action, state agencies say that they can't devote resources to the problem, especially given the long list of more pressing toxic threats. All of this makes it even harder to raise the public awareness that might lead to the allocation of funds for cleaning up contaminated soil.

Washington is an exception; so is California, which requires the evaluation of soil for pesticides at any school using state funds for construction. Washington, Oregon and California have guidance documents that recommend residential developers hire environmental consultants to evaluate potential agricultural contaminants before building. But all are voluntary. No Western state mandates testing. And while some states have catchall requirements to disclose known contamination, only Colorado, Arizona, Washington and Nevada specifically require sellers to disclose legacy pesticide contamination if they find it, according to state agencies. Some environmental consultants who spoke off the record say they've seen sellers avoid soil testing because they'd rather drop the asking price on property than incur potential liability. However, state environmental agencies say the lack of oversight and public awareness probably isn't a problem, because the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. has required banks to evaluate potential pollution when reviewing loan applications for new development since 1993.

But banks may have been an imperfect safety net, especially during the recent housing boom, says Richard Renken, banks and trusts program manager for the Oregon Division of Finance and Corporate Securities, a state agency. "If Bank A wants an environmental assessment done, with all those extra costs, while the bank down the street just wants a property appraisal and the costs are lower (there), where do you think a developer will go?" asks Renken. "Plus, if someone wants a loan for an existing single family home that's 15 years old, even if 35 years ago someone sprayed DDT on it, it's already been long in a different use. No one's going to look."

Due to this collision of factors, the Comptons had no idea that their property had been an orchard until a neighbor told them. "I don't know what to do now," Tara Compton says. "I've been working in the soil and especially since I'm pregnant -- what have I been doing that could affect this baby?"

The clank and moan of chains knocking against tetherball poles provides a lonely soundtrack for the empty playground at Yakima's Hoover Elementary. Near a sign that urges kids to "Read More this Summer," the monkeybars emerge from bare dirt. Pink ribbon flutters around     exposed sprinkler heads, and off to the side of a soccer goal sits a two-story mountain of dirt covered with black plastic and sandbags. In the soil underneath the tarp are levels of arsenic nearly four times Washington's threshold for requiring cleanup; there's lead there, too, at nearly three times the threshold.

Over the past five years, Washington's Department of Ecology has overseen remediation of 20 out of the 35 schools in the central part of the state where lead and arsenic levels exceed state cleanup standards. Here, construction crews are removing 1,135 tons of soil to be taken to a local landfill. By the time school resumes this fall, they will have put a barricade of geotextile fabric on the bare ground and capped it with clean dirt and grass sod. The price tag for just this one school: $239,000.

"That's an expensive lawn," says Mark Dunbar of the state's Department of Ecology as he picks up a long-buried white-and-blue marble from the denuded playground, reminding me to wash my hands after I touch it. "But what's the cost of just one cancer treatment these days? It's cheap insurance compared to that."

Even here, though, the scope of inquiry is limited. The Ecology Department decided to test only for lead and arsenic in schoolyards, rather than DDT and other legacy pesticides, because it's cheaper and because the agency didn't want to overwhelm the public, says Valerie Bound, the agency's regional section manager for toxic cleanup.

"When you know it's an old orchard, how far do you want to open the door? Once you have the lab results, you can't really ignore them," says Bound. "The scope of the problem is so large. You can't really clean everything up. You just have to prioritize."

The tests are expensive -- $100 to screen for a suite of pesticides and $20 per heavy metal, such as lead or arsenic. The cost underscores how difficult it is for homeowners to discover what might be lurking in their soil, since doing so requires separate tests of multiple samples from different places around their yards.

A composite of five soil samples taken from the Comptons' yard by High Country News revealed levels of DDE, a DDT breakdown product, at 0.6 parts per million -- roughly half of the EPA's cancer risk threshold -- and arsenic at 4.7 ppm, seven times the safe level in Washington and 67 times the levels recommended by California's environmental health agency. This is fairly normal in central Washington, where background levels of naturally-occurring arsenic are 5 ppm. Still, that's not much consolation for a pregnant mother. And because the samples taken were combined and tested as one owing to the cost, the pesticide levels are only an average of the sampled sites. So now the Comptons have new questions: Are there hotspots in their yard where pesticides exceed safe levels, perhaps due to a spill or an old storage area? Or is most of the yard relatively clean?

"This is worrisome," says Compton, after she receives the test results; it's late summer, and she and her son have been digging in the dirt for days. Even though the test came back within a zone deemed safe by government experts, she worries that future standards will be much stricter. Already California has set levels that are far more protective, based on the most recent research. (See "Backyard poisons?" this page.) So Compton has decided to be proactive, within reason. The only failsafe solution -- removing the topsoil -- runs a prohibitive $950,000 an acre. Instead, next spring Compton will build raised garden beds, line them with an impermeable barrier and fill them with clean soil. (See "How to play safe in the soil," facing page.)

Set against the onslaught of toxic chemicals in our world, legacy pesticides are just another problem to contend with. Possible threats lurk everywhere, from the kitchen-sink cabinet filled with household cleaners to the flame retardant-impregnated mattresses in the bedrooms. "I can't live my life completely freaked out about these things," Compton says. "You can only protect your kids, and yourself for that matter, from so much. You're always going to be living with a certain amount of uncertainty."

Even so, the urge to protect is strong. On a warm summer night, Compton and 13 other moms hover around a picnic table at Yakima's Franklin Park. It's piled high with baking soda, apple cider vinegar and vegetable glycerin.

"I know we all want to do something, to take action," Suzanne Noble, a local special-ed teacher, tells the small group, which meets monthly to discuss how to reduce their kids' exposure to toxic chemicals. Today's lesson, taught by Noble, is on how to make your own cleaning products.

Children bounce in and out of their mother's laps, distracted by the Fisher-Price toys scattered on the ground. Two little girls race each other across the grass, their hair flying in their eyes. They stop at the finish line -- a pine tree -- and roll down a slight incline, holding their bodies as straight as Tootsie Pops. At the bottom of the hill, one of them wipes her face, smearing mud and snot, and laughs into the evening.

This story is funded in part by a grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism and by contributors to the High Country News Enterprise Journalism Fund.


This is a link to the Pesticide Action Network. 


This is a great place to do some research and to stay informed about all of the different ways that people are being proactive and working to make alternatives to the status quo of our Agricultural norm of today.