Prior to today, I had never heard of a chemical called 2,4-D (2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid). I had heard of Agent Orange though as have most folks who have some familiarity with the Vietnam War.
Agent Orange was the name of a herbicide and defoliant used extensively by the U.S. during the conflict. By killing forests and vegetation on rural land, it deprived combatants of cover – but also civilians of their ability to farm in some cases.
The loss of tree cover also gave way to massive erosion and a loss of biodiversity, while providing some invasive species opportunity to flourish.
Agent Orange also severely affected the health of many people who came into contact with it. By far, the Vietnamese people were the worst afflicted, but also foreign troops on the ground. I remember a friend of my parents who did multiple “tours of duty” having severe and ongoing health issues he connected with Agent Orange exposure. Even more tragic – so did his child born after his service.
I was going to include some images of the consequences of Agent Orange exposure to highlight how dangerous it was, but they are quite disturbing, so I’ll refrain.
2,4-D was a component of Agent Orange, but unfortunately its use didn’t end with the Vietnam War. According to the NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), it is still used extensively in the USA in everything from weed and feed products for home gardens and lawns to large scale agriculture.
2,4-D is also used in Australia and the UK in agriculture; but I believe it has been banned in Canada (Ontario and Quebec for certain).
A staggering forty-six million pounds of 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid are reportedly spread and sprayed every year in the USA alone – 22,000 tons. 2,4-D is one of the top three herbicides sold nationwide says the NRDC.
2,4-D has been linked to cancer, severe hormonal disruption, reproductive problems and birth defects.
The NRDC is so concerned about the chemical, it filed a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in February 2012 for what it says is “their failure to respond to a 2008 petition to cancel all registrations and revoke all tolerances of this known neurotoxin and ingredient in Agent Orange.”
When researching for this article, I found there has already been a lot invested in seeing its continued and increased use, so it may be an uphill battle.
For example, according to Wikipedia, Dow has developed a genetically modified soybean with resistance to 2,4-D; which is “intended as an alternative to Roundup Ready crops due to the increasing prevalence of glyphosate resistant weeds”. Round and round we go with GMO’s – it’s a little like the story of the woman who swallowed a fly.
How the NRDC’s action plays out is anyone’s guess – but you don’t need to wait until the government finally bans it; at least when it comes to your own garden.
With more than a thousand products containing 2,4-D being sold in the USA, you’ll just need to be very careful when reading labels in order to avoid it.
If ingredients aren’t listed on the product you use or if the labeling is otherwise unclear, run a search on Google and/or ask the company. My article, “What’s In That Product?”, may also be of some use. If 2,4-D is in a product you use, aside from switching; write to the company and tell them why. If enough people do so, they may take note.
We’ve made such a mess of things on this planet that perhaps the use of some environmentally harsh chemicals (the lesser of the evils anyways) may be required in agriculture for a while to come yet – but we’re using damaging chemicals in far too large quantities and far too often improperly; so there needs to be more education.
Additionally, gentler and safer herbicides and pesticides need the necessary support from government and industry to bring them to market at competitive pricing. An example is Green Guard, a much safer product used for targeting locusts during plagues; but much more expensive than the more commonly used and far more toxic Fenitrothion and Chlorpyrifos; which are broad spectrum, organophosphate insecticides.
Keeping a thousand acres weed free is a much bigger challenge than doing the same in the home garden. If your weed situation isn’t severe, instead of immediately reaching for highly toxic chemicals; consider trying some of these cheap, earth friendly weed killer alternatives.
By the way – weeds are often useful plants; just perhaps growing in the wrong location.