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Reduce pesticide pollution at home


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There are many ways people can reduce pesticide pollution at their hones.

Commercial farms are often blamed for the vast array of contaminants that find their way into water supplies and the soil itself. But home-gardening enthusiasts may also be contaminating water and soil through the use of pesticides.

"It's fairly common when people use these pesticides beyond the directions on the packaging for it to get into the groundwater or the surface water," said Bill Blake, natural resources manager for the city of Arlington. This is usually based off of people exceeding the recommend amount of use, and the plants sprayed are unable to absorb all the liquid, he said.

Data from Green-NetWorld, an environmental advocacy group, indicates Americans use approximately 2.2 billion pounds of pesticides every year. Pesticide use is a prolific problem.

Pesticides and herbicides often have the capability of disrupting local food chains.

"If you're using herbicides, it can upset the natural algae in the stream and the small invertebrates, or bugs, which eat the algae," said Blake, which disrupts all the animals that eat the bugs as well.

"Pesticides can actually kill the invertebrates [insects]," he said.

Research indicates that many pests targeted by pesticides will eventually develop resistance to these pesticides, rendering the chemicals useless.

Beyond the environmental effects, the pesticides can have damaging effects to the water supply. More than 100 active pesticide ingredients are suspected of causing cancer, gene mutations and birth defects. In addition, a growing list of pesticides may disrupt the immune and endocrine systems and have long-term impacts on infants and young children.

Preventing runoff is one of the best ways to help the Puget Sound recover and improve as a water system, said Blake, which helps not only the local environment but everyone's quality of life. One way to reduce chemical pollution at home is to find alternatives to pesticides.

Investigate reduced-risk pesticides. "There are certain kinds [of pesticides] that are approved to use next to streams and rivers," said Blake. The United States Environmental Protection Agency is examining pesticides that pose less risk to humans and the environment than existing pesticides. Homeowners concerned about pesticides can visit to learn more about reduced-risk pesticides. Locally, the Washington state Department of Ecology and the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife also have lists of less damaging pesticides. Sometimes brands change though, said Blake, so "as the name changes you want to do a quick check online to do some research," he said.

Biological controls. Biological products, also known as biopesticides, can play a role in a more sustainable food chain. These control agents include fungi, bacteria or viruses and can be applied like chemical pesticides but do not leave toxic residues. Furthermore, they are relatively inexpensive to produce.

There's also the possibility of not removing some of the natural predators of the species you want to kill, said Blake. Species like spiders often kill insects that will eat plants, but often will be killed with pesticide.

"Sometimes when you use pesticides to kill the bugs, what you mostly do is kill the bugs you don't want to kill," he said.

Practical barriers like bark, "which can reduce the hiding places available for insects," are also helpful, he said.

Look to the kitchen. Dish soap can be an effective pest killer. Fill a spray bottle with soapy water and spray around the exterior of your house and on plants that have a pest problem. The soapy water can kill ants and roaches. It also can coat the wings of small flying insects. Catnip is another natural pesticide. Planting catnip in a garden can repel mosquitoes.

Use epsom salt. Sprinkling this salt on the leaves of plants in the garden can keep away animals, such as deer or groundhogs, that would otherwise devour plants. Epsom salt also can repel beetles, slugs and snails.


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