Herbicide Toxicity and Natural Herbicide Alternatives
A surprisingly few number of studies have been done on herbicide toxicity to both our human health and the environment.
Herbicides tend to get less publicity and less criticism than pesticides. Perhaps this is because we think herbicides come in lesser contact with our food and families. But it's simply not true. Herbicides travel through our groundwater and soil, contaminent nearby plants and habitats and affect wildlife and humans alike.
One major issue in regards to herbicide safety comes from inadequate testing. Although the Environmental Protection Agency requires testing of the active ingredient, they don't always take into consideration the inactive ingredients. Neither do they generally test for mixtures of chemicals, such as two herbicides or a pesticide and herbicide. It's already been shown that chemical combinations can do more harm than a single chemical alone.1
The Dangers of Herbicides
Herbicides work by immitating the plant's hormones. It's not such a long stretch to assume the chemicals can have affect on our natural bodies as well. The following information will show you how herbicide toxicity is no minor issue.
Herbicide Toxicity and the Environment
Herbicides used in aquatic weed control has been shown to affect freshwater crustaceans, and in turn the fish that depend on them for food.2
Herbicides have also been shown to have a negative impact on the insects that serve as the ring-necked pheasant and gray partridge chicks birds food source. These insects also act as beneficial predators in North America ecosystems.3 Another study states the same thing, saying "Chemical farming (in particular, the use of herbicides) has dramatically altered the habitat pattern of temperate landscapes in North America and western Europe."4
Herbicide Toxicity and Our Health
One study showed evidence suggesting occupational exposure to phenoxy herbicides (one of the most widely used herbicides in the world) results in an increased risk of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.5
According to two Swedish studies, phenoxy herbicides also show an increased risk of soft-tissue sarcomas. This increase is most commonly seen among manufacturing workers.6
An ecological study of Kentucky counties linked water contamination, corn crop production, pesticide use and triazine herbicides to breast cancer risk, suggesting an increased risk of breast cancer in relation to an increased level of triazine herbicide exposure.7
Herbicide toxicity may also be linked to birth defects. One study showed defects were 60-90% more likely in counties where large amounts of wheat were grown, as well as in babies conceived in springtime when nearby wheat crop herbicide spraying was heaviest (up to 5x more likely).8 Similar results are shown from the herbicide atrazine.9
Likewise, herbicides have been linked to female infertility. One article showed that "mixing and applying herbicides 2 years before attempting conception was more common among infertile women, as was the use of fungicides."10
Atrazine (the most commonly used herbicide) and other chemicals have also been shown to have an adverse affect on endocrine, immune, and nervous system function. This links herbicides to such things as ADD/ADHD, among other disorders and illnesses and is especially seen with mixtures of chemicals.11
Natural Herbicide Alternatives
All of these studies and more contribute to the pool of research explaining herbicide toxicity. But none of them tell you what you can do about it.
Below are a few natural herbicide alternatives to keep unwanted plants at a minimum without sacrificing your health or the environment.
- Manual Elimination: Nothing beats manually pulling weeds or uprooting unwanted plants. This technique ensures you get the whole plant and root with minimal reseeding taking place. It's obviously not always an option but it should be your first consideration.
- Mulch or sheet mulching: Heavy mulching prevents weeds from reseeding and also keeps roots from sending up shoots. Sheet mulching can also be done to smother existing weeds.
- Vinegar: Vinegar has been shown to work for some plants, especially reseeding plants not spread through their roots.
- Corn meal or corn gluten meal: Spread around the plant's base this will inhibit new growth from gorwing roots.
- Also make sure you're buying organic as much as possible: Organic foods will help limit your exposure to herbicide residues. In my ebook, Making Organic Food Affordable I go into dozens and dozens of ways to make that happen.
Whatever you choose it's important to stay committed to the use of natural herbicide alternatives and avoid herbicide toxicity.