VOLUME 30, NUMBER 30 THURSDAY, April 29, 1999

Flawless lawn could pose health risk, Mang says
"UB at Sunrise" audience hears professor speak on pesticides and the environment

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News Services Editor

Every year, while Americans spend more money on chemically treating their lawns, Thomas S. Mang says the incidence of certain types of cancers related to pesticide exposure also increases.

At the same time, he adds, by treating lawns and gardens with pesticides, Americans are ensuring that next year's bugs will be even harder to eliminate than this year's, a recipe for ecological disaster.

These and other disturbing facts were part of Mang's "UB at Sunrise" talk last week on "Dangerous Lawns: The Health Risks of a Flawless Lawn."

Mang, a clinical and research associate professor of oral and maxillofacial surgery in the School of Dental Medicine, served on the City of Buffalo Pesticide Management Board from 1991-98 and also sat on the Town of Amherst Pesticide Advisory Board.

He told his audience said that Americans continue to spend more money each year on chemically treated lawns, in spite of new information and studies published in prestigious, peer-reviewed journals. Those studies, he said, repeatedly have found that pesticides-which include herbicides and fungicides-are related to increases in certain types of cancers.

"Each year, there is a 5-8 percent increase in the use of lawn-care chemicals," said Mang, "and a 3-4 percent increase in non-Hodgkin's lymphoma."

While no direct correlation has been proven between those increases, he noted that non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a type of cancer that debilitates the immune system, has in many studies been linked to pesticide exposure.

For example, Mang said, individuals who handle pesticides in their jobs, such as farmers, are four times as likely to develop non-Hodgkin's lymphoma than are other people. He cited a recent study noting that in people who are exposed to pesticides for more than 20 days per year, there is a three- to seven-fold increase in the incidence of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Other studies, he said, have shown that in children, exposure to pesticides significantly increases their risk of developing leukemia.

Even pets, said Mang, are vulnerable, with dogs that have been exposed to pesticides demonstrating the same types of increases in these cancers.

Mang said that pesticides persist in the atmosphere, often for months at a time. He cited a recent Environmental Protection Agency study that found that 23 kinds of pesticides can be detected in the dust inside homes.

But it is not just current exposures to pesticides that are the problem, he said. Future generations, he added, are being affected, too, through birth defects linked to pesticide exposure and through infertility problems found in animals and now being seen in humans.

"A lot of pesticides are estrogen mimics and they persist in the environment," said Mang. These pesticides, he added, can have severe effects, and have been linked to increases in breast and testicular cancer, as well as to an increase in some very rare birth defects and in severe drops in sperm counts in human males.

But ironically, Mang said that at the same time that the scientific link between pesticides and cancer and birth defects has been growing, Americans have been spending more, not less, on these products. The public, he said, mistakenly is taking comfort in labels that say products are registered with the EPA.

"The Environmental Protection Agency is not a consumer-protection agency," he said. "It is a registration agency. All the EPA asks of a pesticide manufacturer, is 'Does it work against the target organism?' If the answer is 'yes,' that's good enough (for it to be registered)."

In fact, he said, it now is against the law in New York State for any pesticide manufacturer or applicator to say that pesticides are safe, even when used in a proper manner.

"We do not know enough about these substances," said Mang. "We don't know about their metabolic fate because it's not part of the testing procedure. We don't know how they interact with each other or with some medication that you may be taking."

But probably the most important reason not to use pesticides, said Mang, is that, ultimately, they cause pests to do more-not less-damage to lawns, plants and crops.

"We're creating a drug-dependent environment," he said. "We are killing the easy pests and selecting out for the tougher ones. We don't need to spray our ornamental bushes every year; we're just breeding a tougher bug."

Instead, said Mang, consumers should try non-chemical ways of controlling pests, such as integrated pest management (IPM), which advocates non-chemical and least-toxic solutions.

They include mechanical controls; physical barriers, such as caulking to keep pests from coming indoors, and chemical controls, such as fly strips that contain sex hormones that attract insects.

He noted that information on IPM is available from the state's Environmental Protection Bureau and its attorney general's office

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