Are You Living in a Pesticide Hot Spot?

New pesticide data maps show concerning trends that could impact your community's health.

May 20, 2013

Are you living in an area plagued with high pesticide use?

You take special care to avoid pesticides in your food. You never use chemical bug killers, and you even grow some of your food in an organic garden. Surprisingly, you still might not be living a pesticide-free life. A new tool can help you figure it out. First-of-its-kind pesticide use statistics from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) ID pesticide trends—and break down which communities are inundated with hundreds of pesticides.

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These national maps and trend graphs show the distribution of farm use for 459 pesticides for each year from 1992 to 2007 in the U.S. It even shows which crops are receiving the pesticides. Before the releases of these maps, the data was spottier. The purpose of the maps is to help researchers better study how these pesticides are damaging the soil, air, and water on a larger scale and to figure out how the chemicals are affecting human and environmental health.

"These data enable national analysis of the full range of pesticides in agricultural use, and the annual estimates allow improved explanation of pesticide concentration trends in streams and rivers," says study coauthor Wesley Stone, scientist at the USGS Indiana Water Science Center.

Scientists gathered pesticide use info on the county level using proprietary surveys from farms and compared that with annual harvested-crop acreage to come up with pesticide estimates. Some of the findings show a huge jump in specific pesticide use, particularly glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup. Since 1992, the use of genetically engineered corn and soy crops has skyrocketed. These crops are designed to survive heavy sprayings of Roundup, opening the gate for widespread use.


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The new USGS maps show how many pounds of pesticides are applied per square mile; from 2001 to 2007, glyphosate use increased by about 100 pounds per mile, with farmers spraying it primarily on GMO corn and soy. About 100 million pounds of glyphosate are doused on American soil each year, so much that the pesticide is turning up in rain and water. Between 250 and 260 million pounds are sprayed around the rest of the world annually.

The chemical has been shown to harm amphibians and kill human cells. Still, the Environmental Protection Agency is poised to allow even higher limits of glyphosate residue levels in food and animal feed. "We're using more and more of these chemicals, and they have bad environmental effects," says Says Bill Freese, science policy analyst at Center for Food Safety. "Cumulatively, all of these pesticides aren't good for our health, especially farmers on the front line, women, and children."


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To gauge and reduce your exposure to pesticides, do these 3 things:

Do a pesticide check. To pinpoint how your part of the state ranks in levels of pesticides, choose a pesticide and then review its prevalence locally on the USGS map. The maps serve as a handy tool. You can select from the extensive list of pesticides and then study the national map to see where in the country specific pesticides are used more heavily.

Lobby for pesticide-free zones. Many pesticides, including glyphosate, are sprayed around parks, lawns, schools, golf courses, and other community areas. Gather with like-minded people in the community to lobby for pesticide-free areas in your neighborhood.

Vote with your wallet. As more studies link pesticides to diseases like obesity, ADHD, autism, type 2 diabetes, Parkinson's disease, and other problems, people are increasingly choosing organic. According to the latest numbers, the organic industry grew by 9.5 percent in 2011, with the organic food and drink sector valued at nearly $30 billion. Every time you chose an organic product, you're sending a message to farmers, saying you want to eat food grown without chemical pesticides.

Tags: Pesticides