How to Reduce Your Exposure to Pesticides

It's a good idea to mimimize your exposure to pesticides. But you might be surprised to find out where they are (and aren't) lurking.

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
4-minute read
Episode #284

Eating organic may not directly reduce your health risks due to pesticide exposure, but organic farming practices are still worth pursuing. Reducing agricultural pesticide use protects wildlife and farm workers, and makes for a healthier environment for all of us.  But even if our food supply were to magically become 100% organic tomorrow, we'd still have a pesticide problem. 

Hidden Sources of Pesticide Exposure

We also use pesticides and herbicides to kill bugs and weeds in our homes, yards, and gardens, parks, workplaces, schools, shopping malls, hospitals, grocery stores, and other public places. Although they are not being applied to our food, they still wash into our water supply and vaporize into the air we breathe. Pesticides also get into our bodies through our skin. Without even knowing it, most of us are constantly handling things that have been treated with pesticides, walking on surfaces that have been treated with them and tracking them into our houses. 

While we can't clean up the whole world, we can clean up our own backyards - and that would have an enormous impact.

In fact, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports that consumers - that's you and me - use 10 times more pesticides per acre than farmers do.  And I can tell you from personal experience that many of those household and garden pesticides are being applied by people who think it's essential to buy and eat organic food.  It doesn't add up.

One of the reasons that consumers use so many chemicals is that we don't use them very carefully. We apply more than needed or use them more often than necessary. We use broad-spectrum chemical cocktails that promise to kill everything when a specific problem might be controled with a more conservative approach. We ignore safety measures and don't take the time to dispose of containers properly.

Consumers use 10 times more pesticides per acre than farmers do.

So before you get out that weed killer this weekend, ask yourself if a few dandelions are really the end of the world.  Investigate non-toxic methods of controlling pests. Consider turning some of your yard over to native plantings that require fewer chemicals to maintain.  Here are some more ideas from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on how to turn your garden into a chemical-free haven for the birds and the bees.

(In case you haven't seen the news lately, our bees and pollinators could especially use a break!)

And if you absolutely must use chemicals to control pests - and as someone whose house is built on an anthill, I can certainly sympathize - be sure to use them exactly as indicated, or call in a professional who can advise you on how to get maximum control with the most conservative measures.

Then, sit back and enjoy your organic (or non-organic!) lunch, knowing that you've done something meaningful to reduce your pesticide exposure!

Farmer spraying pesticides image courtesy of Shutterstock.


About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show. 

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