Pesticides in the United States

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Pesticides in the United States are used predominantly by the agricultural sector,[1] but approximately a quarter of them are used in houses, yards, parks, golf courses, and swimming pools.[2]



Atrazine is the second-most commonly used herbicide in the United States after glyphosate, with application of approximately 76,000,000 pounds (34,000 t) of the active ingredient in 1997.[3]

The U.S. EPA said in the 2003 Interim Reregistration Eligibility Decision, "The total or national economic impact resulting from the loss of atrazine to control grass and broadleaf weeds in corn, sorghum and sugar cane would be in excess of $2 billion per year if atrazine were unavailable to growers." In the same report, it added the "yield loss plus increased herbicide cost may result in an average estimated loss of $28 per acre" if atrazine were unavailable to corn farmers.[4]

In 2006, the EPA concluded that the triazine herbicides posed "no harm that would result to the general U.S. population, infants, children or other... consumers."[5]

EPA concluded, in 2007, that atrazine does not adversely affect amphibian gonadal development based on a review of laboratory and field studies, including studies submitted by the registrant and studies published in the scientific literature.[6]

In 2009, Paul Winchester, a professor of pediatrics at the Indiana University School of Medicine, wrote a paper that was published in Acta Paediatrica[7] reviewing national records for thirty million births, found that children conceived between April and July, when the concentration of atrazine, mixed with other pesticides, in water is highest, were more likely to have genital birth defects.

A 2010 study, conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey, observed substantial adverse reproductive effects on fish from atrazine exposure at concentrations below the USEPA water-quality guideline.[8]

In 2014, New Yorker writer Rachel Aviv reported that atrazine manufacturer Syngenta might have been orchestrating an attack on the "scientific credibility" of not just Tyrone Hayes, the lead critic of atrazine use, but other scientists as well, whose studies have shown atrazine to have adverse effects on the environment and/or human and animal health.[9]


The use of DDT in the United States is banned, except for a limited exemption for public health uses, the ban is due in a large part to the influence of the book, Silent Spring, written by Rachel Carson. The ban on DDT is cited by scientists as a major factor in the comeback of the bald eagle in the continental United States.


The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) was first passed in 1947, giving the United States Department of Agriculture responsibility for regulating pesticides.[10] In 1972, FIFRA underwent a major revision and transferred responsibility of pesticide regulation to the Environmental Protection Agency and shifted emphasis to protection of the environment and public health.[10]


Pesticides were found to pollute every stream and more than 90% of wells sampled in a study by the US Geological Survey.[11] Pesticide residues have also been found in rain and groundwater.[1]

The National Academy of Sciences estimates that between 4,000 and 20,000 cases of cancer are caused per year by the allowed amounts of pesticide residues in food.[2]

The United States Department of Agriculture and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service estimate that between 6 and 14 million fish are killed by pesticides each year in the U.S.[2]

Effects on biota[edit]


The USDA and USFWS estimate that more than 67 million birds are killed by pesticides each year in the U.S.[2]


U.S. scientists have found that some pesticides used in farming disrupt the nervous systems of frogs, and that use of these pesticides is correlated with a decline in the population of frogs in the Sierra Nevada.[12]

Some scientists believe that certain common pesticides already exist at levels capable of killing amphibians in California,[13] they warn that the breakdown products of these pesticides may be 10 to 100 times more toxic to amphibians than the original pesticides.[13] Direct contact of sprays of some pesticides (either by drift from nearby applications or accidental or deliberate sprays) may be highly lethal to amphibians.[14]

Being downwind from agricultural land on which pesticides are used has been linked to the decline in population of threatened frog species in California.[15]

In Minnesota, pesticide use has been linked causally to congenital deformities in frogs such as eye, mouth, and limb malformations.[16] Researchers in California found that similar deformities in frogs in the U.S. and Canada may have been caused by breakdown products from pesticides whose use is categorized as not posing a threat.[17]

Pesticide residue in food[edit]

The Pesticide Data Program,[18] a program started by the United States Department of Agriculture is the largest tester of pesticide residues on food sold in the United States. It began in 1991, and since then, has tested more than 60 different types of food for more than 400 different types of pesticides - with samples collected close to the point of consumption, their most recent summary results are from the year 2005:[19]

For example, on page 30 is comprehensive data on pesticides on fruits, some example data:

Fresh Fruit and
Number of
Samples Analyzed
Samples with
Residues Detected
Percent of
Samples with
Total Residue
Apples 774 727 98 33 41 2,619
Lettuce 743 657 88 47 57 1,985
Pears 741 643 87 31 35 1,309
Orange Juice 186 93 50 3 3 94

They also tested for multiple pesticides within a single sample and found that:

These data indicate that 29.5 percent of all samples tested contained no detectable pesticides [parent
compound and metabolite(s) combined], 30 percent contained 1 pesticide, and slightly over 40 percent
contained more than 1 pesticide. - page 34.[19]

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) used the results of nearly 43,000 tests for pesticides on produce collected by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) between 2000 and 2004, to produce a ranking of 43 commonly eaten fruits and vegetables.[20]

2014 ranking of residues on foods[edit]

The EWG list from 2014 contains both a "Dirty Dozen" and a "Clean Fifteen" based on pesticide tests from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.[21][22]

"Dirty Dozen"[edit]

  1. apples
  2. strawberries
  3. grapes
  4. celery
  5. peaches
  6. spinach
  7. sweet bell peppers
  8. nectarines (imported)
  9. avocados
  10. cherry tomatoes
  11. snap peas (imported)
  12. potatoes[21]

"Clean Fifteen"[edit]

  1. cucumbers
  2. sweet corn
  3. pineapples
  4. cabbage
  5. sweet peas (frozen)
  6. onions
  7. asparagus
  8. mangoes
  9. papayas
  10. kiwi
  11. eggplant
  12. grapefruit
  13. cantaloupe
  14. cauliflower
  15. sweet potatoes[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Kellogg RL, Nehring R, Grube A, Goss DW, and Plotkin S (February 2000), Environmental indicators of pesticide leaching and runoff from farm fields Archived 2002-06-18 at the Wayback Machine.. United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service. Retrieved on 2007-10-03.
  2. ^ a b c d Miller GT (2004), Sustaining the Earth, 6th edition. Thompson Learning, Inc. Pacific Grove, California. Chapter 9, Pages 211-216.
  3. ^ "Atrazine: Chemical Summary - Toxicity and Exposure Assessment for Children’s Health", Environmental Protection Agency publication (Last revised 4/24/2007: includes research articles and other information through 2006)
  4. ^ Potential Association Between Atrazine Exposure and Prostate Cancer and Other Cancers in Humans. 2003 Interim Reregistration Eligibility Decision. U.S. EPA.
  5. ^ Triazine Cumulative Risk Assessment and Atrazine, Simazine, and Propazine Decisions, June 22, 2006, EPA.
  6. ^ Atrazine Updates, April 2010, EPA.
  7. ^ Winchester, Paul. "Agrichemicals in surface water and birth defects in the United States", Acta Paediatrica, Volume 98, #4, pp. 664–669, April 2009
  8. ^ Commonly Used Atrazine Herbicide Adversely Affects Fish Reproduction, ScienceDaily (May 20, 2010)
  9. ^ "A Valuable Reputation: Tyrone Hayes said that a chemical was harmful, its maker pursued him" by Rachel Aviv, The New Yorker, 10 February 2014
  10. ^ a b Willson, Harold R (February 23, 1996), Pesticide Regulations Archived 2011-06-17 at the Wayback Machine.. University of Minnesota. Retrieved on 2007-10-15.
  11. ^ Gilliom, RJ, Barbash, JE, Crawford, GG, Hamilton, PA, Martin, JD, Nakagaki, N, Nowell, LH, Scott, JC, Stackelberg, PE, Thelin, GP, and Wolock, DM (February 15, 2007), The Quality of our nation’s waters: Pesticides in the nation’s streams and ground water, 1992–2001. Chapter 1, Page 4. US Geological Survey. Retrieved on September 13, 2007.
  12. ^ Cone M (December 6, 2000), A wind-borne threat to Sierra frogs: A study finds that pesticides used on farms in the San Joaquin Valley damage the nervous systems of amphibians in Yosemite and elsewhere Archived 2015-11-02 at the Wayback Machine.. L.A. Times Retrieved on September 17, 2007.
  13. ^ a b ScienceDaily (June 25, 2007), Breakdown products of widely used pesticides are acutely lethal to amphibians, study finds. Retrieved on September 17, 2007.
  14. ^ University of Pittsburgh
  15. ^ ScienceDaily (November 28, 2002), More evidence to link pesticide use with amphibian decline. Retrieved on September 17, 2007.
  16. ^ Meersman T (October 25, 1999), Studies link frog deformities to pesticides. Star Tribune Retrieved on September 18, 2007.
  17. ^ Science Daily (May 4, 1998), Pesticides linked to widespread cases of deformed frogs. Retrieved on 2007-10-12.
  18. ^
  19. ^ a b Pesticide Data Program (February 2006). "Annual Summary Calendar Year 2005" (pdf). USDA. Retrieved 2007-09-15. 
  20. ^ FoodNews (2006), Test Results: Complete Data Set. Environmental Working Group, Retrieved on September 15, 2007.
  21. ^ a b c Perry, Susan (May 5, 2014). "Annual 'Dirty Dozen' list offers consumers a guide to reducing pesticide exposure". MinnPost. Retrieved May 5, 2014. 
  22. ^

External links[edit]