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A Questionable Combination

By PAM BERNS
Remember Agent Orange? Most of us who were in college or older during the Vietnam War remember how the herbicide was used in defoliating broad leaf plants when the U.S. Department of Defense sprayed 20,000,000 gallons of the poison in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. 500,000 children were born with birth defects and 400,000 died as a result, according to Geoffrey York and Mick Hayley in Last Ghost of the Vietnam War.

Agent Orange was made up of two herbicides: 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T, the latter contained a by-product of dioxin, which then led to the ban of Agent Orange. The Agent Orange concentrations used were 13 times the levels considered safe. In 1991, Congress declared certain conditions to be possibly linked to Agent Orange including soft-tissue sarcoma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Parkinson’s disease, prostate cancer and myelogenous leukema.
  
The other herbicide in Agent Orange, 2,4-D, changes the way cells grow. According to the National Pesticide Information Center, it kills broadleaf weeds but not grasses. Products with 2,4-D are used frequently on fields and roadsides today. It is important that people and pets avoid exposure to wet plants soaked with the chemical.
  
Many wonder if 2,4-D causes cancer. In 2004, the Environmental Protection Agency decided that there was not enough data to classify 2,4-D as a carcinogen. But recently, the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a suit against the EPA in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia over 2,4-D, claiming that the agency did not respond to a petition calling for the EPA to stop licensing its use. According to CNN, a senior scientist at the NRDC, Dr. Gina Solomon, says the chemical is being used on playgrounds, soccer fields, and backyards. Children are especially vulnerable to 2,4-D; they can absorb the chemical on their skin and by inhaling dust.
  
According to Dow AgroSciences, 2,4-D is practically non-toxic to honeybees and earthworms. They write that 2,4-D helps farmers improve grass production by reducing weed competition, thus producing better beef and meat production.
  
Over 46,000,000 pounds of 2,4-D are used in the United States every year. CNN says that the chemical is used in more than 24 brands of “weed and feed” products. Solomon says that we should avoid products that might be listed as diethanolamine salt and 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid. In addition to lawns, 2,4-D is used on farms that grow wheat, corn, soybeans and sugar cane as well as on pastures and rangelands where animals graze.
  
Although the EPA doesn’t classify 2,4-D as a carcinogen, studies have linked it to higher rates of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma among farm workers who used the chemical. That is enough to warrant the court’s intervention to stop companies from using 2,4-D.

Weeds—Flowers in the wrong place
Thirty percent of all sprayed herbicides contain another weed killer, glyphosate. Roundup Ready herbicides are being used on genetically engineered (GE) crops throughout the world. The GE plants are genetically modified to withstand large doses of glyphosate. Glyphosate interferes with the synthesis of amino acids—phenylalanine, tryptophan and tyrosine. While many
consider glyphosate relatively safe compared to other herbicides, studies have found abnormalities in pregnant rats exposed to glyphosate. The herbicide is toxic to amphibians.

Opponents of glyphosate cite genentic damage from other ingredients mixed with the herbicide. In 2007 the manufacturer of Roundup was accused of false advertising that said it was was biodegradable—in the European Union, the glyphosate was classified as “dangerous for the environment,” according to organicconsumers.com. The U.S. used more than 180,000,000 pounds of glyphosate-based herbicides in 2007, according to naturalnews.com.

Unfortunately, using this herbicide can affect human placental JEG3 cells within 18 hours in lower concentrations than normally found in agricultural use, according to Environmental Health Perspectives, and has the capacity to act as an endocrine
distrupter and cause reproduction problems.

Superweeds
Many genetically modified crops are failing to thrive because the plants have become resistant to the glyphosate herbicides used with GE crops. Two of the largest agri-giant companies are studying the use of combining the above 2,4-D and glyphosate to kill “superweeds.” Some scientists are worried that this solution to killing these superweeds will create dangerously high levels of toxins that can cause illness in humans, including autoimmune disorders and nerve damage.
  
We must let the USDA know how we feel about these chemicals. We don’t need to use genetically modified methods to grow crops. We don’t need herbicides and pesticides. Organic farmers are able to grow our vegetables and fruits without herbicides and pesticides by using sustainable farming methods.
  
We probably all would know what we should avoid if we understood the labels. But there are so many ingredients that we cannot avoid in this era of industrial farming. Let’s get pesticides and herbicides off our food and out of our environment. If a substance is created to kill a bug or a leaf, you don’t want it in your food, air or water.

Published: April 14, 2012
Issue: Spring 2012 Issue

Comments

2,4-D Herbicide
I am writing with regard to the article in the Chicago Life Magazine, "A Questionable Combination". The article includes a number of inaccurate statements regarding the full nature of the safety of 2,4-D as established by regulators at the US EPA and elsewhere. Coincidentally, last week the US EPA responded to the NRDC petition seeking to cancel the registration of 2,4-D, that was referenced in the article. In reviewing the current science pertaining to 2,4-D, the Agency was clear and unambiguous in its ruling: "EPA evaluated the studies cited in the Petition and public comments and concluded that the studies do not alter the Agency's current conclusion that 2,4-D does not present a risk of concern." This most recent ruling by the USEPA is consistent with previous findings by the Agency and other international authorities, including the World Health Organization, European Commission and Health Canada, that deem 2,4-D to be an acceptable and beneficial herbicide. I encourage readers of Chicago Life Magazine to visit www.24d.org where these expert decisions and other useful information may be found.
Jim Gray, Apr-17-2012
A Questionable Combination
After Chicago Life went to press, the EPA reviewed the National Resources Defense Council's petition and found that the NRDC "had not adequately shown the 2,4-D would be harmful under the conditions in which it is used," according to the New York Times in an article published on April 9. "Some studies have shown a higher risk of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma among farmers who use the chemical. But EPA reviewers have said the farmers might have been exposed to many things, making it difficult to state that 2,4-D was the cause." Mr. Gray, "executive director of the industry task force that sponsored the study, hailed Monday's decision," writes the Times. Chicago Life would have included the EPA decision if our magazine had not already been printed.
Pam Berns, Publisher, Apr-21-2012
2-4-D
I really appreciate your letter. I thought it was thoughtful and well-written. Efficacy and safety data for EPA registered products are provided by the manufacturer of the products. It is not done by an independent auditor. In fact the person who wrote you that note regarding the EPA's decision is part of an industry sponsored task force so of course he thinks the product poses no concern. I run a nonprofit organization, Safer Pest Control Project, that works to provide the best information to homeowners, municipalities, schools and child cares on reducing their pesticide exposure. Many lawn care products that are on school properties, athletic fields and homes use 2-4-D regularly. Pesticides don't stay where they are applied, they drift and end up in our homes and our schools. It is imperative that we make better choices regarding our environment and health. Our website has dozens of fact sheets on how you can reduce your pesticide exposures and how you can inspire others to do the same. Safer Pest Control Project spcpweb.org. Rachel Rosenberg Executive Director
Rachel Rosenberg, May-24-2012