Chemical Herbicides: Are they For You? (Part Three)

Reader Contribution by Bruce Mcelmurray

By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.

This is the third and last component of the topic on 2,4-D.  This last blog will cover a cooperative study done by various institutions. When I presented myself to the USDA office my question was: that if the product Is sprayed along ditches could it be inhaled with normal road dust.  My concern was very real as we have dirt roads in our community and often the grader will clean out the ditches and put the dirt back on the road. The answer I received was it had excellent adherence properties and yes it could be airborne on road dust. I was then generously provided a report that had been prepared by the Cooperative Extension Offices of Cornell University, Oregon State University,   University or Idaho, University of California at Davis, the Institute for Environmental Toxicology and Michigan State University where major support and funding was provided by the USDA Extension Service/National Agricultural Pesticide Impact Assessment Program, on 2,4-D. This report amplified and clarified my earlier research on this product.

As previously stated 2,4-D was about 50% of Agent Orange used in Viet Nam.  The main concern with it then was the compound used contained dioxin.  According to the Encyclopedia Britannica dioxin is capable of  killing some species of newborn mammals and fish at levels of 5 parts per trillion. (a trillion is beyond my comprehension) It is also a known carcinogen. The EPA has said it was one of the most perplexing and potentially dangerous toxins known to man.  So my question therefore is does 2,4-D have dioxin? According to the chemical watch fact sheet by Beyond Pesticides, they report that the EPA and the Washington Department of Agriculture have detected dioxin in 2,4-D products in 1998. Since such a small quantity of dioxin is dangerous you would have to ask yourself if you would consider it is safe to use around your home or property. .Proponents of the product say it does not have dioxin, independent studies claim it does. So again, let the reader decide for themselves.  Others studies fall short of specific findings and avoid or allude to the findings of other reports.  I have read various reports that link this chemical to breast cancer, non Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and various other cancers.  It has been studied to death and the conclusion is that there is no sure fire answer.  

So going back to the above mentioned cooperative report when it comes to chronic toxicity the findings conclude:   The report states that rats given high amounts of 2,4-D per day in their diet for two years showed no adverse effects.  Dogs fed lower amounts in their food for 2 years all died; probably because dogs do not excrete organic acids efficiently. A human given a total of 16.3 g in 32 days therapeutically, lapsed into a stupor and showed signs of lack of coordination, weak reflexes, and loss of bladder control.  That doesn’t sound so good to me, and those were the immediate effects on humans, but do not include any reproductive issues, or what the long term effects were.

So depending on which report you read there remains after 50 years of exhaustive study controversy regarding this product and its possible short and long term side effects.  It seems to be agreed that slightly to moderate exposure is toxic to birds. Some forms are highly toxic to fish while others are not toxic. Moderate doses severely impaired honeybees broods. At lower levels honeybees lived longer than the controlled broods.  

So the reader can be the judge whether it is right for you or not. When you do decide, 2,4-D could be a very serious choice for either you, your child,  your pet or the birds and bees that congregate around your homestead. If  you want to run the risk and use the conveniently available chemical pesticide and herbicide spray you should do so being fully informed of the pros and cons of the product.  I don’t believe I will run that risk as I figure I am exposed to so many other toxic elements of which I have no control over that killing weeds is less important than possibly harming those around me. That however is a decision that everyone should make on their own.  In everything I read  I was surprised that after 50 years  we are still  no closer to a firm definitive answer regarding the  risks of this product. Any chance of a clear and factual determination has been seriously clouded by conflicting reports between chemical company scientists and independent studies.  

What also concerns me is its wide spread use and while you may not use it  your neighbor may  and wind drift or carelessness could adversely effect others without their ever knowing they have been exposed.  This is the end of my report and it is up to each person to decide  how they wish to deal with 2,4-D and its risks or lack thereof. Again, I am not a scientist, toxicologist, nor do I wear a lab coat or represent any interest other than the application of common sense. That is what I have learned about the product which is actually very little but enough to present for the readers consideration. I sincerely hope that it will enable the reader to be more informed and decide for themselves.  So as Confucius said you can be wise by either reflection, imitation or experience.  I hope you will reflect on this product and whether it is right for your use or not. 

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