Pesticides in the United States

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

Atrazine use in pounds per square mile by county. Atrazine is one of the most commonly used herbicides in the United States. (From USGS Pesticide Use Maps)
Endosulfan use in the US in pounds per square mile by county in 2002. (From USGS Pesticide Use Maps)




About 76,000,000 pounds (34,000 t) of atrazine were applied in the United States in 2003.[citation needed] 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.[3]

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."[4]

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. At this time, EPA believes that no additional testing is warranted to address this issue."[5]

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.[6]


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 Rachael Carson's book Silent Spring. 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.[7] 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.[7]


Pesticides were found to pollute every stream and over 90% of wells sampled in a study by the US Geological Survey.[8] 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 pesticide residues in food in allowable amounts.[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 US.[2]

Effects on biota


The USDA and USFWS estimate that over 67 million birds are killed by pesticides each year in the US.[2]


US 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.[9]

Some scientists believe that certain common pesticides already exist at levels capable of killing amphibians in California.[10] They warn that the breakdown products of these pesticides can be 10 to 100 times more toxic to amphibians than the original pesticides.[10] Direct contact of sprays of some pesticides (either by drift from nearby applications or accidental or deliberate sprays) can be highly lethal to amphibians.[11]

Being downwind from agricultural land on which pesticides are used has been linked to the decline in population of threatened frog species in California.[12]

In Minnesota, pesticide use has been causally linked to congenital deformities in frogs such as eye, mouth, and limb malformations.[13] Researchers in California found that similar deformities in frogs in the US and Canada may have been caused by breakdown products from pesticides which themselves did not pose a threat.[14]

Pesticide residue in food

The Pesticide Data Program,[15] 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 has since tested over 60 different types of food for over 400 different types of pesticides - with samples collected close to the point of consumption. Their most recent summary results are from the year 2005:[16]

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
Orange Juice18693503394

They were also able to test 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.[16]

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 & vegetables.[17]


The EWG list from 2012 is a "Dirty Dozen" and a "Clean 15" based on pesticide tests from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the FDA.[18] Buying organic foods is one solution which arose in the U.S. during the 1970s.[19] Because they are designed to withstand rain, pesticides often don't wash off with plain water or only wash off partially, and fruits and vegetables are sometimes waxed over pesticides.[20] Fruit and vegetables should be washed with a dilute solution of vinegar or dishwashing soap which will remove most of the residues.[19] Other pesticides go into the plant itself and can't be washed away (as in, for example, strawberries).[19]

Dirty Dozen

  1. Apples
  2. Celery
  3. Sweet bell peppers
  4. Peaches
  5. Strawberries
  6. Nectarines (imported)
  7. Grapes
  8. Spinach
  9. Lettuce
  10. Cucumbers
  11. Blueberries (domestic)
  12. Potatoes

Plus: Green beans and Kale/greens[18]

Clean 15

  1. Onions
  2. Sweet corn
  3. Pineapples
  4. Avocados
  5. Cabbage
  6. Sweet peas
  7. Asparagus
  8. Mangoes
  9. Eggplant
  10. Kiwi
  11. Cantaloupe (domestic)
  12. Sweet potatoes
  13. Grapefruit
  14. Watermelon
  15. Mushrooms[18]

See also


  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. 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. ^ Potential Association Between Atrazine Exposure and Prostate Cancer and Other Cancers in Humans. 2003 Interim Reregistration Eligibility Decision. U.S. EPA.
  4. ^ Triazine Cumulative Risk Assessment and Atrazine, Simazine, and Propazine Decisions, June 22, 2006, EPA.
  5. ^ Atrazine Updates, April 2010, EPA.
  6. ^ Commonly Used Atrazine Herbicide Adversely Affects Fish Reproduction, ScienceDaily (May 20, 2010)
  7. ^ a b Willson, Harold R (February 23, 1996), Pesticide Regulations. University of Minnesota. Retrieved on 2007-10-15.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ 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. L.A. Times Retrieved on September 17, 2007.
  10. ^ a b ScienceDaily (June 25, 2007), Breakdown products of widely used pesticides are acutely lethal to amphibians, study finds. Retrieved on September 17, 2007.
  11. ^ University of Pittsburgh
  12. ^ ScienceDaily (November 28, 2002), More evidence to link pesticide use with amphibian decline. Retrieved on September 17, 2007.
  13. ^ Meersman T (October 25, 1999), Studies link frog deformities to pesticides. Star Tribune Retrieved on September 18, 2007.
  14. ^ Science Daily (May 4, 1998), Pesticides linked to widespread cases of deformed frogs. Retrieved on 2007-10-12.
  15. ^
  16. ^ a b Pesticide Data Program (February 2006) (pdf). Annual Summary Calendar Year 2005. USDA. Retrieved 2007-09-15.
  17. ^ FoodNews (2006), Test Results: Complete Data Set. Environmental Working Group, Retrieved on September 15, 2007.
  18. ^ a b c "EWG's 2012 Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce™". Environmental Working Group. Retrieved September 5, 2012.
  19. ^ a b c Blatt, Harvey (2011). America's Food: What You Don't Know About What You Eat. The MIT Press via Look Inside. pp. 35, 65. ISBN 0-262-51595-4.
  20. ^ Ellis, Camilla (2007). The Body Objective: Gives You The Body You Deserve. Ecademy Press via Look Inside. p. 146. ISBN 1-907722-10-6.

External links