Marion Moses' Designer Poisons: How to Protect Your Health and Home from Toxic Substances, Pesticide Education Center, San Francisco, 1995. 416 p. Paper, $19.95 from Pesticide Education Centre, P.O. Box 420870, San Francisco, CA 94142-0870, Phone: 415-391-8511.
It's like playing Russian roulette. You pull the trigger and the gun doesn't go off, so it must be safe to pull the trigger again. ——Feynman, in Designer Poisons
Marion Moses is a physician specializing in occupational and environmental medicine with many years of experience investigating and diagnosing pesticide-related illnesses, especially in farm workers and their families. In 1988, Dr. Moses founded the Pesticide Education Center, a non-profit organization devoted to educating the public about the hazards and health effects of pesticides, and the availability of non-toxic alternatives. Her concern about "designer poisons" led her to write this book. "Designer poisons" are pesticide products sold over the counter for indoor, outdoor, pet and human or personal use. The term also refers to the commercial use of pesticides applied by professional pest control operators. Many of the urban uses of these poisons are cosmetic and non-essential, but continue to be used because designer poisons are a big business. Consider the following US indicators:
- 73% of households use pesticides annually; in 1993 consumers spent $1.2 billion in purchasing 71 million pounds of home pesticides.
- 20% of all households use the services of a pest control company each year.
- There are about 350,000 "certified" commercial applicators in the non-agricultural sector.
- One estimate places the dollar value of the turfgrass industry alone at $25 billion (cited in Bormann, et. al., 1993, Redesigning the American Lawn).
Dr. Moses points out that many people consider designer poisons as posing no health risk. It is the experience of this reviewer that too many environmental activists regard designer poisons to be a low priority issue or non-issue. With regards to their safety, Dr. Moses produces the following findings:
- The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) essentially ignores chronic toxicity testing (testing for cancer, reproductive and genetive damage) in the regulation of over-the-counter pesticides.
- Regulatory agencies have failed to allow adequate review for the unique vulnerability of children when registering pesticides and setting standards.
- Nearly all designer poisons are well over 50% "inert" ingredients-ingredients not requiring testing, not listed on the label, but which may be more toxic than the active component.
- 33% of the pesticides surveyed are known or supected carcinogens, 29% known or suspected reproductive toxins, and 25% known or suspected to cause genetic damage.
- Epidemological studies indicate that children's exposure to designer poisons increase their risk of various cancers (leukemia, brain cancer, lymphoma, bone cancer) by a factor of 3 to 11 times.
- Animal studies suggest that exposure of the fetus and the very young to neurotoxic chemicals in amounts that do not cause acute poisoning can nonetheless permanently damage the brain and nerve cells.
In response to these facts, Dr. Moses declares "the state of pesticide regulation continues to be a national joke."
Particularly relevant in Designer Poisons is the specific information about brand name over-the-counter products for indoor, outdoor, pet and human use. The book presents an analysis of survey findings on their effects, followed a discussion of non-toxic alternatives. Brand name pesticides are classified according to their use, formulation, inert ingredients, active ingredients and potential helath effects.
The book also briefly analyzes pesticide laws and regulations, like the USDA, EPA, FIFRA, California Proposition 65, reviews the shortcomings of regulatory agencies, and offers recommendations for change. These recommendations include new labeling requirements, prohibitions on certain products, and the development of a new category of pest-control operators trained in non-toxic or least toxic methods. Future research on this issue should also include specific focus on those vulnerable to designer poisons-children, the elderly, and those with multiple chemical sensitivities), and expand the discussion on the effects of designer poisons on immunotoxicity, neurotoxicity, and endocrine disruption. An expanded discussion on ecoscaping-living ground covers, naturalized environments, and edible foodscaping-is another topic that merits inclusion.
Kudos to Dr. Moses and the Pesticide Education Center for a most impressive contribution-the first book length work on the much neglected issue of the urban, cosmetic use of pesticides. This primer will serve well those seeking more "ammo" for anti-pesticide campaigns. Designer Poisons deserves a wide readership.