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The Many Ways We are Exposed to Pesticides

  Contrary to popular belief, the major way that pesticides get into your body is not from breathing vapors while spraying pesticides but through your skin from contact with contaminated dust13. You do inhale pesticides but in lesser amounts than what goes through the skin. Pesticides attach to dust. Touching contaminated dust is the major pathway. This may not sound too bad until you consider that EPA studies have show that urban soils have higher levels of pesticides than agricultural areas14. Pesticides in dust attach to the bottom of shoes and are tracked into the house. Since pets and children spend more time in contact with floors, carpets and other dusty surfaces, they are potentially exposed more often. When your kids hug the dog they are exposed to pesticides from the yard.

Pesticides can remain active in the air for days or weeks. Some last up to twenty years.15 As much as 85-90% of pesticides that are sprayed drift off target. In commercial agriculture, as little as one-tenth of 1% of pesticides may reach target. In one study, a pesticide in a 1% formulation was detected four rooms away from the site of application and the active ingredient remained present for more than 21 days16.

Furnace duct work may be a major source of contaminated dust and vapors from areas where pesticides are sprayed such as crawlspaces. Furnace ductwork leaks 30% on average. This means that at least some portion of the air inside in a home with duct work in the crawlspace comes from the crawlspace where pesticides were likely applied.

If you’re a golfer it may be in your best interest to get your course to reduce the use of pesticides. Golfers are coming down with some unusual diseases in recent times. One study found mortality rates for golf course superintendents was high for four cancer types - brain, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, prostate, and large intestine - a pattern similar to that found with workers in occupations exposed to pesticides17.

Most people know that pest control and lawn and garden care products contain pesticides. Few people are aware of the following sources of pesticide exposure:
  • Kitchen and bathroom paint with anti-microbials and fungicides
  • Carpets and rugs treated by the manufacturer with insecticides
  • Cotton and wool bedding are often mothproofed.
  • Wood furniture may be treated for termites for storage and shipping.
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Revised: July 05, 2017.

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