by Helen Venada, SJC Hazardous Waste
Garden and yard chemicals used by San Juan Islanders are likely to reach some water body in the islands within 48 hours due to our geology of thin soils over rock.
This startling statement was made by Russel Barsh, local water quality researcher, who recently spoke to an appreciative audience of San Juan Island gardeners about the potential impacts to marine life of using pesticides here; a similar talk was presented earlier to Orcas and Lopez gardeners and farmers. Russel is a former University of Washington professor and consultant to United Nations environment and development agencies.
I found the information (based on the San Juan Islands-specific research being done at the Lopez-based KWIAHT laboratory) so insightful that I want to share some of it with other islanders. Hopefully, it’ll spark your interest and you’ll want to attend Russel’s next series of talks on chemical herbicides (weed killers) this fall.
Basically, the research involved chemical products available in our local garden supply stores; it looked not only at their ingredients’ relative toxicity to humans but also helped Russel to develop his own “Sick Salmon Index,” an indication of a product’s acute toxicity to, specifically, rainbow trout (which are in the same genus as Chinook and sockeye salmon). Fish, after all, are much more exposed and sensitive to chemicals released into water since they swim in it and constantly “ingest” it through their gills.
When you use a pesticide, it not only affects the offending “pests” in your immediate environment, it can also impact other organisms as it migrates either through air drifts, surface run-off, or soil/groundwater infiltration.
Casual or uninformed use of over-the-counter pesticides containing, for example, pyrethrins, organophosphates, carbamates (found in Raid and Bug Max, Lilly Miller Systemic Rose Care, Ortho Bug-B-Gone, Sevin, respectively) can result in unintentional death to honey bees and other pollinators, as well as to juvenile Pacific salmon, forage fish, and marine plants.
Personally, I practice organic gardening to the largest extent possible. I believe in the precautionary principle, otherwise known as “Being safe, rather than sorry.” Russel advocates what is probably a more realistic approach: Buy and use fewer (and least-toxic) pesticides, use them very selectively (only on the target pest), and DO NOT USE them near water bodies or right after a rain. DON’T water your garden or lawn soon after pesticide application. Don’t use aerosols when the wind could carry the spray over water. And, please, READ product warnings on labels! They’re designed to protect humans and all other life.
Russel Barsh can be contacted at email@example.com or P.O. Box 415, Lopez, WA 98261.
Hope to see you at the herbicide talks in the fall!
Helen Venada is the San Juan County Hazardous Waste Coordinator.