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Every year over 4.6 million pounds of the toxic herbicide 2,4-D are applied to lawns, playgrounds and golf courses in the U.S. Commonly found in ‘weed n’ feed’ products, 2,4-D is an ingredient in Agent Orange which was used as a defoliant during the Vietnam war. And while the EPA has been made aware of the health threats associated with 2,4-D, the agency has been slow to take measures to remove this hazardous ingredient from lawn care products.

Today, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) filed a lawsuit against the EPA to ban the use of 2,4-D from ‘weed n’ feed’ lawn care products. Specifically, the suit claims the EPA has failed to respond to a 2008 petition to cancel all registrations and revoke all tolerances of the known neurotoxin and ingredient in Agent Orange.

According to the NRDC, research by the EPA found that babies born in counties with high rates of 2,4-D application to farm fields were significantly more likely to be born with birth defects of the respiratory and circulatory systems, as well as defects of the musculoskeletal system like clubfoot, fused digits and extra digits. These birth defects were 60% to 90% more likely in counties with higher 2,4-D application rates.

Fog over a lawn.

…birth defects were 60% to 90% more likely in counties with higher 2,4-D application rates…

Dow AgroSciences argues that using 2,4-D is essential since farmers reliant on chemical fertilizers and weed controls are unable to supress weeds which have become resistant to glyphosphate, a less toxic herbicide ingredient used in Monsanto’s broad-spectrum herbicide Roundup. Toxic 2,4-D is expected to be used in even greater quantities in the future due to this resistance.

In other words, genetically engineered crops have led to the emergence of ‘super weeds’ which require more toxic chemicals to suppress. While the production of food crops such as corn has been improved through genetic modification, the health implications of applying more toxic herbicides have been dismissed, overlooked or ignored.

The USDA has assured the public that 2,4-D is safe, but scientists around the world have reported increased cancer risks in association with its use, especially for soft tissue sarcoma and malignant lymphoma. Four separate studies in the United States reported an association with chlorophenoxy herbicide use and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Of 30 commonly used lawn pesticides, 19 are linked with cancer or carcinogenicity, 13 are linked with birth defects, 21 with reproductive effects, 26 with liver or kidney damage, 15 with neurotoxicity, and 11 with disruption of the endocrine (hormonal) system. Of those same pesticides, 17 are detected in groundwater, 23 have the ability to leach into drinking water sources, 24 are toxic to fish and other aquatic organisms vital to our ecosystem, 11 are toxic to bees, and 16 are toxic to birds.

…the wheels of justice will grind slowly and are likely to be challenged by industry during the process…

While the NRDC lawsuit may eventually lead to a ban on the use of 2,4-D in ‘weed n’ feed’ products, the wheels of justice will grind slowly and are likely to be challenged by industry during the process. In the meantime, homeowners can take advantage of recent developments in lawn care products which do not rely on chemical inputs. For example, corn gluten is a natural, non-toxic pre-emergent weed killer and fertilizer now available to home owners.

Residue from lawn care chemicals can persist for longer than a month after application, and can be tracked into your home if you, your children or your pets have recently walked on a treated lawn. If you are looking to learn more about lawn care chemicals and ways to reduce your exposure to them, read Lawn Care Chemicals: How toxic are they?

To learn more about ways to maintain a healthy lawn by using non-toxic lawn care products, read our guide to Natural Lawn Care.