The results of a recently published large study are depressing, but not surprising. The pesticide 2,4-D, which was originally used in Agent Orange, is still around decades later and found everywhere you look - including in us.
In the past decade there has been a tremendous increase in the amount of both agricultural and residential use of 2,4-D in the US. The herbicide (a type of pesticide) is used to kill unwanted vegetation, including weeds. In 2020 alone, 33.3 million pounds of 2,4-D were used for agricultural purposes in the US! This number is projected to rise more each year, especially because it's used on genetically modified crops.
The study (with 14,395 participants) found that in 2011-2012, 40% of persons had 2,4-D in their urine. This was a massive increase from the start of the study in 2001 (17.1%). It is expected to have increased since then. Other studies find that current levels of pesticide residues (including additional pesticides) are in over 90% of all Americans, including pregnant women.
Children (aged 6 to 11 years) had the highest 2,4-D concentrations, and below that women of childbearing age. Interestingly, one difference they found was that non-Hispanic white persons had higher levels of 2,4-D in the blood than black persons.
The researchers thought that this might be because so much is used on lawns and green spaces in white suburban areas (think of those "perfect manicured lawns"). High-income persons had higher levels (manicured lawns!) than lower income persons. Agricultural workers also had higher levels of 2,4-D.
Health effects from 2,4-D: They include an increase in the risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, pediatric leukemia, birth defects (e.g., hypospadias in boys), allergic wheeze, hypothyroidism, chloracne, abnormal sperm, reduced fertility, soft tissue sarcoma, and olfactory deficits. It is an endocrine disruptor.
How do we get exposed to 2,4-D? Food and water frequently have 2,4-D residues. It can be in dust, in the air (from drift when applied nearby), rain, and even on our pets (when they go on treated lawns). We can inhale it, ingest it (from food and water), and absorb it through our skin and eyes. It is in most household carpet dust samples (it gets tracked inside).
What to do? Some simple steps:
- Avoid using any pesticides, including weed and feed products on lawns! Lawns do NOT need pesticides to be healthy!
- Stay off pesticide treated lawns, especially in the first 3 days and before a rainfall.
- Take shoes off at the door to avoid tracking in 2,4-D (and other pesticides, heavy metals).
- Eat organic food, as much as possible. [2,4-D is not allowed to be used in organic farms.]
2,4-D (2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid) is commonly added to weed and feed products, and used by both ordinary consumers and lawn care services. Incredibly, big box stores such as Costco sell big bags of these 2,4-D products - even next to food! This makes consumers think it's safe. But it's not.
From Science Daily: One out of three people exposed to potentially harmful pesticide
One out of three people in a large survey showed signs of exposure to a pesticide called 2,4-D, according to a study published today by researchers at the George Washington University. This novel research found that human exposure to this chemical has been rising as agricultural use of the chemical has increased, a finding that raises worries about possible health implications.
"Our study suggests human exposures to 2,4-D have gone up significantly and they are predicted to rise even more in the future," Marlaina Freisthler, a PhD student and researcher at the George Washington University, said. "These findings raise concerns with regard to whether this heavily used weed-killer might cause health problems, especially for young children who are very sensitive to chemical exposures."
Lead author Freisthler and her colleagues looked for biomarkers of the pesticide found in urine samples from participants in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. They estimated agricultural use of 2,-D by studying public and private pesticide use data from 2001 until 2014.
Out of 14,395 participants in the survey nearly 33 percent had detectable levels of 2,4-D in their urine. [NOTE: this averages all the years of the study together.] The researchers found that participants with urine levels of this pesticide went from a low of 17 percent at the start of the study in 2001-2002 to a high of nearly 40 percent ten years later.
Other key findings of the new study:
- As the use of the herbicide increased during the study period so did human exposures.
- Children ages 6-11 had more than double the risk of increasing exposure to 2,4-D.
- In addition, women of childbearing age had nearly twice the risk of increased exposure compared to men in the same age group.
- Human exposures are likely to rise even more in the near future as this herbicide's use continues to go up.
2,4-D was developed in the 1940s and soon became a popular weed-killer for farmers who wanted to increase crop yields. In addition, homeowners looking for a pristine, green lawn also turned to 2,4-D often in combination with other lawn chemicals.
Exposure to high levels of this chemical has been linked to cancer, reproductive problems, and other health issues. While scientists don't know what the impact of exposure to lower levels of the herbicide might be, they do know that 2,4-D is an endocrine disruptor and this study shows children and women of childbearing age are at higher risk of exposure.
Children can be exposed if they play barefoot on a lawn treated with the weed-killer or if they put their hands in their mouths after playing outside, where the soil or grass might be contaminated with the chemical. People also can be exposed by eating soybean-based foods and through inhalation. The now widespread use of 2,4-D on GMO soybeans and cotton leads to more 2,4-D moving in the air, which can expose more people to this chemical, according to the researchers.