Chances are that potentially dangerous untested chemicals are in constant use in your home, and what you don't know may be hurting you. Here's some of the latest research available on these household chemicals.
"EEEEEEEEEK! Honey — look at the ants! There must be millions of them!" screams the housewife. But hubby quickly reaches under the kitchen sink, and with a few shots of insecticide from a grotesquely colored, gaily illustrated aerosol can, showing the contorted bodies of various insects, quickly reduces the military-like lines of precision marching ants into a quivering mass of convulsing bodies. A few brisk wipes with a kitchen sponge, and the cabinet is as good as new — all traces of the pesky insects removed. But the tiny, vaporized crystals forming on the cabinets, the floor, the wall, and under the concealed ledges have NOT been removed. They quickly dry. Growing heat and humidity will cause them to be released, and allow them to float freely in the air of your kitchen — the same kitchen, and on the same tile, where Mrs. Housewife trims steak, chops onions, prepares salads, kneads dough, pours milk, or mixes batter. And above it all, dangling like a good-luck charm or religious amulet, hangs a deadly "no-pest strip" whose lethal DDVP "antiaircraft" gas handily eradicates all flying insects. What does it do to human beings and the food they eat — if anything? Just what are the dangerous chemicals doing to your family, home, and garden? You need to know the facts before you spray.
The Safety Myth
"Pishtwaddle! They're safe as can be snorts the farmer who claims frequent exposure to 20 percent Lindane in oil solutions has caused him no harm. "But it is put out by a responsible well-known company, and of course the government tests all these things," explains the trusting housewife. To millions of Americans who daily chase the little wee beasties who invade their kitchens, lawns, and gardens, there is great comfort in the gaily-printed label, advertising hideous agonies for the sundry flies, mosquitoes, spiders, ants, roaches, lice, and termites, but total safety for human. who follow directions. After all, they saw it advertised on television. It's clearly labeled isn't it? You can easily tell what's in the stuff — a dash of A and B chlordane, heptachlor, and trichlor, and a small percentage of hexachlorocyclopentadiene, whatever that is. But a microscopic 0.02 percent of anything can't hurt you, can it? One thing is for sure — the stuff kills ants and roaches! Just like those clever animated TV ads showed us, or as the one brand advertises: "It smells sooooo good, but it kills bugs soooo dead!" What it does to humans is not yet clear. That's what worries some concerned officials, and many as ecology minded layman. The purpose of this article is NOT to prove how harmful these household sprays and strips are. The plain truth is that the documented proof — one way or another- is not yet in! There are indications that some sprays may be reasonably safe for most people if used as directed, and others are probably harmful, especially if misused or overused. But some sprays, even when used as directed, have done great harm to one person while seemingly not harming another. The simple question we want to ask is "Why gamble?" If in doubt — Don't! A brief history of well-known chemical tragedies bears this out.
The Unlearned Lesson of DDT
DDT was first developed, marketed, and used widely in the early 1940's as an anti-malaria drug in countries ravaged by World War II. After the war, it was used for the same health purposes in many underdeveloped lands. Its proponents claim that DDT has saved almost a billion lives in these health campaigns alone. (Hence the population explosion?) But, beginning in 1946, DDT began its more widespread use as a crop protective pesticide. (Hence greater crop yields, and more population explosion.) For a quarter of a century, DDT was used in such a massive scope that one billion pounds of it are still active in the environment, and perhaps every living animal now has DDT stored in its fat. The average American has 12 parts per million DDT in his fat; the average Indian has 25 parts per million. But here's the lesson. It took scientists about 15 years to realize that DDT was dangerous to man and beast, as well as insects. Dr. Irving Bengelsdorf, Science Editor for the Los Angeles Times, wrote, "No other global contaminant has such four characteristics rolled into one material: broad toxicity, long persistence, extreme mobility, and fat-solubility." Fifteen long years elapsed — with three billion human guinea pigs exposed — before these facts could come to light. It would have been impossible to test DDT for "long persistence," for instance, without decades of research. It would have been impossible to test for "extreme mobility" (between species) without infecting a broad-based animal population. In short, it is virtually impossible to test chemicals economically and scientifically before they are widely used. It takes too much time and money. It took about 5 years to develop DDT, 15 years to realize how harmful it was, 5 years to research and publicize those facts (Rachel Carson worked steadily from 1958 through 1962 on Silent Spring, which exposed DDT's dangers), and another 10 years to finally BAN DDT. Only by December of 1970 was DDT banned in the U. S., except for the disease-control use for which it was originally designed. Early in 1971, the DDT ban began to be lifted, since no other chemical could kill pests so economically, and the effect on humans was not yet "proven." The effect on birds, fish, and other animals — death — is proven. In the 1950's, attacking DDT was like attacking Science personified. How "kooky" could you get? Every family had their little black and red spray pump that junior used on the roses each Saturday. It was as "safe as blowing bubbles." It took twenty years to sway public opinion to the opposite — correct — belief, that DDT is harmful. This magazine has spoken out against pesticides for many years. It used to be an unpopular message, but no more.
Thalidomide, Smoking and Mercury — The Same Lesson
Remember thalidomide those thousands of deformed babies, now about 7 or 8 years old attending special elementary schools all over the U. S.
It took about five years to develop DDT, fifteen years to realize how harmful it was, five years to research and publicize those facts.
and Europe? Thalidomide is another case of a chemical which would have been economically, morally, and scientifically impossible to test without actually waiting nine months until one child, an unfortunate guinea pig, was born under its use. The same lesson of course applies to smoking — it evidently took 50 years of study to finally prove that the tobacco weed causes cancer. Meanwhile, millions of human beings were all-too willing guinea pigs. Marijuana research, likewise, may still be going on 20 years from now, still deadlocked with "inconclusive results." The same story is true of mercury poisoning. As a recent PLAIN TRUTH article showed, industrial mercury pollution has been around for decades, but it took about 40 years for the public to become aware of its harm. All these are similar examples of a dangerous kind of chemical roulette. But "why gamble?" "If in doubt, DON'T." But let's focus on your familiar household chemicals. First, how are they researched and developed? What are the economics involved? Over 40 companies spend at least $60 million a year on research and development of 80,000 new chemicals for insecticides, all of which gross $1.7 billion in consumer prices, growing in volume 17 percent per year. (The U. S. government spends an additional $100 million.) So much for the big numbers. Here's how one chemical is developed.
How Chemicals Are Tested
A chemical firm starts by synthesizing a new chemical, usually a chemical "cousin" of an established killer. Then they "screen" it — seeing if it kills. At this point 99 out of 100 chemicals are eliminated. After a few other tests, the 1 in 100 that "survives" (that is, kills best) goes through a series of evaluations and test marketings. According to a survey by the Arthur D. Little Company, only 1 out of 36,000 products synthesized reaches the market. Even then, no one knows why it works. "It is a striking fact," wrote entomologist E. H. Smith, in 1966, "that knowledge of mode of action has rarely preceded the use of any insecticide." Nor does such knowledge immediately follow. "Even today," Smith wrote, "we do not know precisely how DDT induces its toxic action" (Science, 166:1384, December 12, 1969). That's the knowledge risk. The financial risk is just as imposing. According to the National Agricultural Chemicals Association, it costs a firm $2.5 to $6 million, and anywhere from 6 months to 8 years, to develop one new pesticide for the market. Virtually all of that time and money is spent on testing toxicity (how well it kills insects) and marketability (how well it will sell). There is very little research on its "selectivity," that is, its relative safety to humans and animals, and even less research on further ecological effects. Such research is too difficult, time-consuming, and expensive for economic consideration. A broader economic consideration is that if such pesticides were not used until proven to be safe (a decades-long problem), only the weaker sprays would be used, causing, warns the Department of Agriculture, a 25 to 30 percent loss in U. S. crop production — a catastrophe. Ironically, with the banning of DDT, much stronger insecticides have taken its place. Your common household sprays are often in the same family as these stronger organic phosphates.
The Nerve Gas Family
The organic phosphate family was originally developed in World War II as German nerve gases. Chemically they are cousins to the nerve agents GD and VX, involved in the current chemical dumping controversies, and in biological warfare. Over 75 million pounds of these organophosphates were produced in 1968, with about 60 million pounds sprayed on American croplands, homes, and gardens, the rest exported or used for other purposes. The most common members of the family are parathion, malathion, azodrin, TEPP, and DDVP, the latter being used in household "no-pest" strips. The organophosphates, as a family, are up to 120 times as toxic as DDT. Parathion is 300 times more toxic than DDT! Isn't it rather a deadly double standard to ban DDT, yet allow much more lethal killers such as parathion and DDVP to be sprayed freely? How deadly are they? Human death from parathion comes with 9 drops on the skin. With pure TEPP, the estimated fatal dose is one drop orally and one drop on the skin. Three fourths of all serious pesticide illnesses and deaths come from the organophosphates, NOT the more prevalent, longer-lasting, but weaker chlorinated hydrocarbons (DDT, aldrin, dieldrin, endrin, etc.). Although organophosphates are sometimes hundreds of times as lethal as DDT, proponents of the chemicals argue that these phosphates break down much quicker than hydrocarbons, which have a half-life of about ten years. Parathion breaks down in a matter of 3-6 weeks. This "failing" necessitates frequent repeat sprayings in heavy pest areas. In California a field sprayed with parathion is a "no-man's land" for 21 to 45 days, depending on the strength of usage. During this period, the land is heavily posted with warnings, or guarded from trespassers, since serious injury or death could result from just brushing against the chemical. Does that give you any cause to wonder what the drug might do to the
The amount of parathion used in California alone is enough to kill every man, woman, and child in the world five to ten times over.
plant, the food, the soil and to you? It should! "One chemist, thinking to learn by the most direct possible means the dose acutely toxic to human beings, swallowed a minute amount, equivalent to about .00424 ounce. Paralysis followed so instantaneously that he could not reach the antidotes he had prepared at hand, and so he died. Parathion is now said to be a favorite instrument of suicide in Finland" (Silent Spring, Rachel Carson, pp. 36-37). California has 200 accidental parathion poisonings per year, Japan has 336 cases, 67 in Syria, 100 in India, and so on round the world. The amount of parathion used in California alone is enough to kill every man, woman, and child in the world five to ten times over. Yes, .004 ounce of something CAN kill! In fact, according to the USDA each year about 800 to 1000 people DO die of pesticide poisoning, and another 80,000 to 100,000 suffer pesticide injury. This is the family of nerve gases you may have in your home at this moment: DDVP (short for 0, 0-Dimethyl-2,2- Dichloro Vinyl Phosphate) is the toxic agent in no-pest strips, lindane (a chlorinated hydrocarbon, but twice as strong as DDT) is used in vaporizers, fumigators, moth-resistant closet strips, and garden sprays; and pyrethrum is used for aerosol sprays. Without going into heavy detail (consult the listed sources for further reading), look at the recent research concerning these three major home and garden chemicals.
No-pest strips are sold in 300,000 commercial outlets across the United States. Millions have been bought, with tens of millions of people exposed to its DDVP vapors. Up until a year ago, these ever-present 10-inch wax strips were visible in most restaurant kitchens and a vast number of home kitchens as well. A year ago, the U. S. Department of Agriculture ordered the producers of the strip to add this warning: "Do not use in kitchens, restaurants or areas where food is prepared or served," in addition to the previous warning against use "in nurseries or rooms where infants, ill, or aged persons are confined." But between one and ten million strips are still on the market, for sale, without this added warning. Despite these warnings, some restaurants still prominently display their no pest strips next to their meat broiler. Many housewives still use the strip in kitchens, or baby's room. Also, the ill and aged have been exposed, sometimes with illness resulting. These are some of the people problems that are virtually unavoidable in the use of dangerous chemicals. Labels may give complete and proper warning, but not everybody reads labels! One thorough survey indicates only 15 percent of housewives read the printed instructions. DDVP was developed fairly recently, in 1955, yet apparently "there has never been a study of the effects of inhaling the pesticide steadily over a period of years" ("The Price of Convenience," Environment, October, 1970, p. 2, emphasis theirs). Studies have been made of DDVP ingestion by rats, but there is a lot of difference between the effects of eating a chemical, and breathing it. The liver, intestines, and other protective organs divert many dangerous chemicals from absorption into tissues. But upon breathing a chemical, the drug enters the bloodstream directly through the thin membranes of the lungs. There is precious little protection against an inhaled chemical. One thing is for sure — DDVP kills flies! And a fly is a pretty hardy little critter. Flies have become so immune to DDT ( "kid's stuff" to them), that they can take one full drop of pure DDT (the equivalent of 14 pounds on the skin of a 200-pound man) and survive quite well, thank you! What biologists call "superfly" results in just 25 generations of exposed flies. If such a "superfly," who survives a lot of hostile environments, is killed in a "flyby" near a wax strip, doesn't it make you somewhat suspicious that if you can hang some nerve gas in your kitchen which attacks the hardy fly, it might be doing something to you? Don't wait for the total proof to come in. The chemical blunders of history show that approach to be a dangerous gamble. An investment in a screen door and a good fly-swatter will be cheaper both ways.
LINDANE — Dangerous, Illegal, Yet Available
Lindane has much the same history as DDVP, only lindane is one of the stronger members of the chlorinated hydrocarbon family (like DDT) , not an organic phosphate. Lindane is the gamma isomer of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6-hexachlorocyclohexane, called ( incorrectly) BHC — if that helps. Lindane was first registered for use in 1951, and by 1953 the Public Health Service warned the Food and Drug Administration that lindane was unsafe. But the circumstantial evidence did not become "proof" for over a decade, and it was 18 years after inception — in 1969 — that the U.S.D.A. removed lindane from the approved list of pesticides. Today, after 20 years' use, lindane vaporizers and fumigators are still being sold. This is due to the seemingly never ending series of appeals and hearings requested by the industry. Instead of removing the suspect poison from the market while hearings determine its final guilt, the courts take the strange position of allowing the accused chemical to sell freely while on trial. Lindane, and its cousin BHC, have been linked directly with leukemia and other blood diseases. "Lindane has been implicated directly or circumstantially in cases of serious bone marrow failure," according to a government report, as well as aplastic anemia and diseases of the central nervous system. Plants treated with lindane or BHC "became monstrously deformed with tumor like swellings on their roots. Their cells grew in size, being swollen with chromosomes which doubled in number" (Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, p. 19). As in DDVP, no long-term tests to determine the effects of lindane inhalation have been conducted! It is known that lindane ingestion is twice as lethal as DDT — seven to fourteen grams or less is "acutely poisonous to human beings" (the white lindane crystals are sold in 14-gram packets, and have been mistakenly used as sugar) . But inhalation is conceivably more dangerous than ingestion.
The pyrethrins are a natural family of pesticides derived from a chrysanthemum-type flower, pyrethrum. Combined with piperonyl butoxide (PB) and a Freon propellant, they provide the main ingredients for some of the common household bug sprays. Pyrethrins are relatively weak, compared to DDVP or lindane, but when combined with these other ingredients (PB and Freon), evidence indicates much more danger may be involved. A scientific principle called synergism results when two relatively harmless chemicals are joined to produce a much more harmful effect. Preliminary studies show that "the high death rate from the combination of PB and Freon demonstrated synergism between the two chemicals that tripled the killing power of PB when administered alone" ("Mix With Care," Environment, January/February, 1971, p. 40). Among the diseases now linked with this chemical are heart malfunctions, hepatoma (malignant tumors of the liver), asphyxia, and miscellaneous liver ailments. Asthmatics suffered a particularly severe health hazard from pyrethrins. But, as with DDVP and lindane, "there have been no long-term inhalation tests of animals exposed to such aerosols ... PB and formulations containing PB and other synthetic MDP compounds must be tested for chronic toxicity, including carcinogenicity (capability of producing cancer), mutagenicity ( capability of producing genetic changes) , and teratogenicity (capability of producing birth defects) , before potential human hazards can be assessed" ("Eye on Our Defenses," Environment, April, 1971, pp. 44, 47) . Meanwhile, untested, potentially poisonous pyrethrin home and garden bug sprays are enjoying constant sale and use. Before the results come in, such chemicals may be long in testing. Pyrethrum, said Dr. LaMont C. Cole in Scientific American, "has frustrated the analysis of the ablest organic chemists." "Of course, these chemicals must be safe," answers dogmatic faith in Science and Government, "if science tests them and government approves them." But we've shown how little testing has been done by "science"; now take a brief look at "government approval."
How the Government "Approves"
Many people picture the government as a see-all, know-all, father figure, carefully providing our every need. But the government has the same problems any big corporation would have: personnel shortage, slipshod workmanship, financial woes, deadlines to meet. The Food and Drug Administration is a typically under-budgeted and overburdened agency. We assume they check all foods and drugs for safety, but actually less than 0.1 percent of all food in interstate commerce is actually inspected for pesticide residues! The Pesticides Regulation Division (PRD) of the Department of Agriculture is another example. All pesticides sold in interstate commerce must first be approved by the PRD (a branch of the US.D.A.). With a huge number of chemicals to check, limited safety criteria, and a built-in bias toward the quick agricultural use of each pesticide, the PRD has been called by Consumer Reports "a manufacturer's delight." They explain why in this recent report: "In accepting a product for registration, the PRD almost always relies on information provided by the manufacturer. Only if there have been reports that a particular pesticide has resulted in death or injury following its introduction on the market will the PRD test the product for safety" (Consumer Reports, November, 1970, p. 701). Their job is not to evaluate whether there is a safer product on the market that will do the job. Their criteria are merely toxicity on insects and human safety "when used as directed," although a slight mistake could be very injurious. A further problem, evident throughout government, is the overlapping of duties and authority. The Public Health Service (PHS), more health-oriented, maintains a constant feud with the PRD and FDA. For instance, last year the PRD certified 252 pesticides over objections raised by the Public Health Service. On top of all these other human problems, most farmers or housewives are not told which chemicals will work best for them, in which quantities, under what conditions, by an expert. Instead, a salesman of many varied products tries to put as many chemicals into his customers' hands as they will buy.
What YOU Can Do
If you are using home and garden sprays extensively, don't underestimate the danger you could be causing yourself, your family, and your environment. Dr. Emil Mrak, chairman of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare advisory committee on pesticides, said, "Much of the pesticide contamination of our waters, believe it or not, comes from the home gardener disposing of unused chemicals in the toilet, runoff from his gardens and even golf courses." "But the bugs will take over if we quit spraying," say farmers and commercial home gardeners alike. "Consumers demand food that is attractive and plentiful, not the moldy, worm ridden specimens of pre-pesticide days," answer the grocers, farmers and wholesalers. But the detractors are overlooking the fact that some farmers raise top quality produce without poisons and get top prices because their produce is better. Isn't there some natural way bugs could be combatted? Probably not with monoculture. And difficult with weak, sickly plants and sick soil. No, not with stronger, virulent, pesticide-resistant "super" insects developing. "Under primitive agricultural conditions" wrote Rachel Carson, "the farmer had few insect problems. These arose with the intensification of agriculture — the devotion of immense acreages to a single crop. Such a system set the stage for explosive increases in specific insect populations" (Silent Spring, p. 20). The point is that growing one crop in vast acreages is detrimental to the soil and makes that crop far more vulnerable to attack. This has been explained in past issues of The PLAIN TRUTH. It is not the purpose of this article to discuss proper farming methods but merely to point out the past dangers of garden and household pesticides But if you would like to know how you can change a farm or garden to safe and sane natural methods, you can get the whole story in our free booklet, The World Crisis in Agriculture. It tells what is wrong with modern agriculture and discusses proper farming practices. Write for it and also study other available facts behind any household chemicals you may be using. Think twice before using those convenient killers. When in doubt — DON'T! Why gamble?