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“Eat Organic!” It’s the mantra of those seeking alternatives to the commercially-grown, genetically-modified and pesticide-sprayed crops dominating the U.S. food supply. Not only is it almost impossible to completely avoid eating non-organic foods, but pesticides and herbicides are so widely used that they’re now found in the air and water—and in virtually every human on earth. And although it seems like avoiding them may be impossible, reducing our exposure reduces our risk of some serious health problems. 

According to the Pesticide Action Network of North America, there is no national data on pesticide use—further compounding the misinformation about the safety and ubiquity of these toxic chemicals. California, however, is one of the few states collecting pesticide data, some of which shows that between 1991 and 2000, nearly 2 billion pounds of chemicals were used just in the state of California; and an estimated 1.2 billion pounds are used across the U.S. each year. Even without national data, it’s safe to say the following are five of the most widely used chemical pesticides and herbicides permeating America:

1. Glyphosate: Better known as Monsanto’s Roundup, it is used on their companion genetically-modified soy, corn, canola and cotton as well as in home gardens and parks. Recent studies in the Mississippi Basin discovered glyphosate residue in ground water exceeding permissible levels for drinking water, in rain water and in air samples. Glyphosate has been linked to birth defects, neurological disorders, fertility issues and cancer.

2. Atrazine: More than 75 million pounds of this weed killer are used in the U.S.ever year—most commonly on corn in the Midwest. An EPA study found atrazine in 100 percent of 26 river sites examined. An endocrine disruptor, atrazine exposure has been linked to increased risk of birth defects, infertility and possibly cancer.

3. Chlorpyrifos: Created by the Dow Chemical Company in the 1960s, chlorpyrifos was widely used in home and garden settings and can now be found applied to cotton, almonds, oranges, apples and corn crops. Symptoms of low-dose exposure can include headaches, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, nausea, diarrhea and blurred vision. More serious conditions include respiratory paralysis, increased risk of children born with lower IQs and potential for ADHD.

4. Metolachlor: Classified as a Category C herbicide, metolachlor is recognized by the EPA as cancer causing. It is used on corn, soy and sorghum as well as lawns and trees. Other side effects include difficulty breathing, nausea, convulsions and jaundice.

5. Metam sodium:  This widely used fumigant and pesticide is commonly applied to potatoes in concentrations as high as 150 to 300 pounds per acre. Side effects include nausea, difficulty breathing, vomiting, damage to thyroid, hormone disruption and birth defects.

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

Sources:

http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Environment/Spraying_America.html

http://www.sustainabletable.org/issues/pesticides/

http://epa.gov/oppfead1/cb/csb_page/updates/2011/sales-usage06-07.html

http://pesticideinfo.org/Search_Use.jsp

http://www.pesticideinfo.org/Detail_Chemical.jsp?Rec_Id=PC32859

Image: Price|Photography