Spring has sprung, and you’ve probably already started your backyard garden.
Chances are you may also be thinking ahead about what you’re going to do to get rid of weeds.
You may also wonder if it’s safe to use some of the weedkilling pesticides sold at your local store.
The answer to that question isn’t a simple one.
It depends on which scientific studies you believe, how often you use weedkillers, and how you apply the pesticides.
Glyphosate, the main ingredient in the popular weedkiller Roundup and more than 750 other pesticides on the market, is back in the news.
And the news isn’t exactly good.
Two California juries have recently awarded millions of dollars to workers diagnosed with cancer who blame the disease on the Roundup pesticide.
Last August, a San Francisco Superior Court jury awarded Dewayne Johnson $289 million in his lawsuit against Monsanto, the company that makes Roundup.
Johnson, a former school groundskeeper diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, had used Roundup extensively. A judge later reduced his award to $78 million.
Last month, a federal jury in San Francisco sided with Edwin Hardeman and awarded him more than $80 million. The jury concluded that the Roundup weedkiller he’d used on his property for more than 25 years was a substantial factor in causing his cancer.
Monsanto and its parent company, Bayer, have maintained that Roundup is safe. Lawyers for the company are appealing both verdicts.
But there are hundreds of other cases in the pipeline.
The recommendations and findings on Roundup’s possible cancer-causing properties have been all over the map.
The World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded that glyphosate was a probable cause of cancer in humans.
In February, a new scientific study suggested there’s a “compelling link” between exposure to glyphosate weedkillers and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The team of scientists concluded that people who are exposed to glyphosate at high levels have a 41 percent greater risk of developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma than people who aren’t exposed.
By midyear, the National Toxicology Program is expected to release the results of research it’s currently conducting on glyphosate.
Experts are also split on the safety of glyphosate.
Alex Berezow, PhD, is vice president of Scientific Affairs for the American Council on Science and Health, a pro-science consumer group.
“Glyphosate is safe to use, regardless of the brand,” Berezow told Healthline. “The people who are exposed to the highest doses are farmers. But studies show that farmers don’t have increasing rates of cancer despite the fact that more and more glyphosate has been used over the years.”
We also asked Kara Cook, MA, to weigh in. She’s the toxics program director for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a coalition of nonprofit organizations.
“At the current moment, there’s no commonly agreed upon safe level of glyphosate,” Cook told Healthline. “We’re asking the EPA to do a new evaluation of glyphosate that’s based only on independent studies and science while taking the WHO’s determination that glyphosate is a probable carcinogen into account.”
With so many pesticides containing glyphosate, consumers are left with lots of questions.
Is it safe to use pesticides? If so, how much pesticide can be used? How often? Is it safer to wear goggles, a mask, gloves, or shoe covers?
We reached out to the National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC) at Oregon State University for some answers. The NPIC provides science-based information.
The words “safe” and “dangerous” are misleading, according to the NPIC. Any chemical can pose a risk. Your risk depends on your exposure and the chemical’s toxicity.
The organization says if you decide to use a pesticide product, reduce your risk by minimizing your exposure to it.
Here are some tips from the NPIC:
- Read and follow the label instructions.
- Keep children and pets away from the area where you’ll be using the product.
- Wear protective clothing and equipment.
- If your garden is near your house, close the doors and windows and turn off the air conditioning.
- Don’t use a high-pressure spray setting. The particles will linger in the air.
- If you walk in the treated areas, take your shoes off before going back inside your home.
- When you’re done, wash your hands, face, and clothing.