Pesticides in the United States

Pesticides in the United States

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)



Atrazine is the most commonly used herbicide in the United States, 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 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.[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 over 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 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.[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 can 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) can 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 causally linked to congenital deformities in frogs such as eye, mouth, and limb malformations.[16] 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.[17]

Pesticide residue in food

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 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:[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 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.[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 & vegetables.[20]


The EWG list from 2014 is a "Dirty Dozen" and a "Clean 15" based on pesticide tests from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.[21]

Dirty Dozen

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

Clean 15

  1. avocados
  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


  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. ^ "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. 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. 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. 

External links

  • United States Environmental Protection Agency - Pesticides page
  • Centers for Disease Control - Compiled information on health effects of pesticides.
  • United States Department of Agriculture - Pesticide Data Program
  • Pesticide Residues in Food - Data and Summary reports from the USDA on pesticide residues in food sold in the United States.
  • Pesticides: Use, Effects, and Alternatives to Pesticides in Schools (pdf) from the United States General Accounting Office
  •, - US trade association representing the crop protection and pest control industry
  • 1997US Geological Survey's National Water-Quality Assessment Program pesticide use map - shows estimates of pesticide type and intensity of pesticide use by business of mass food production.
  • All Supporting Agro-Chemical Manufacturers a list of United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) pesticide labels for pesticides by trade name.* A Persistent Controversy, a Still Valid Warning - May Berenbaum, head of the entomology department at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign