(Beyond Pesticides, December 10, 2008) Most families don’t realize that they might be bringing more than holiday cheer into their homes this Christmas season. Families celebrating this holiday season with the time-honored tradition of a Christmas tree can choose to go green and avoid the toxic chemicals that are typically used to grow it. Beyond Pesticides recently launched a Christmas Trees and Pesticides web page to help inform consumers this holiday season.
Of the pesticides that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has registered for use on Christmas trees, most are linked to one or more adverse effects, including cancer, hormonal disruption, neurotoxicity, organ damage, reproductive/birth defects, asthma, environmental effects and more. Their use results in exposure to workers, wildlife, and waterways. Beyond Pesticides has compiled a list of 25 pesticides commonly used or recommended for use by state agricultural extension services, including: 2,4-D, bifenthrin, chlorpyrifos, diazinon, esfenvalerate, glyphosate, simazine and more.
Oregon, North Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Washington, New York, and Virginia are the nation’s top Christmas tree producing states, and together account for more than half of the trees grown in the U.S. The Cooperative Extension Service of North Carolina reports that glyphosate -a pesticide linked to increased risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and other health issues- was applied to nearly 90 percent of the state’s trees in the 2006 season, the most recent data collected by the state.
Because of concerns about household exposure, Christmas tree growers have been advised by North Carolina officials to use only pesticides “labeled for spraying in the home” after the trees have been harvested. However, the law establishes no such restriction and these pesticides are linked to respiratory and neurological effects. Many of the pesticides registered for Christmas trees have been banned or have always been prohibited in residential settings. While continuing to be used on Christmas trees, chlorpyrifos (Dursban), for example, was taken off the market in 2000 for home use because of its neurotoxic effects.
There is some good news! Some growers today are using organic techniques. Beyond Pesticides recommends purchasing an organic Christmas tree or wreath from a local grower, if possible. Links to organic Christmas tree growers are available on Beyond Pesticides webpage. If there isn’t a local organic tree farm in your area, Beyond Pesticides encourages consumers to talk to growers about the pesticides they use and encourage them to go organic.