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Cut Your Use of Pesticides & Other Toxic Chemicals
You might think otherwise, but most pollution from pesticides and harmful chemicals arises from household use of these substances. And some of these chemicals -- ordinary products that many of us buy at neighborhood groceries and hardware stores -- can be dangerous if overused, misused, or in some cases used exactly as their labels instruct. Here's how to avoid using chemicals and pesticides unsafely.

Steps toward reducing toxic-chemical use

  • Use fewer chemical fertilizers and pesticides. When rain washes over lawns and gardens, the chemicals we apply on them are washed into gutters and, eventually, into the Bay Area's waterways. Cut down on your use of insecticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers and you'll cut down on pollution in the bay. If you do use pesticides, use them only for an actual problem -- never to avert one. Unnecessary "prevention" is a huge source of pollution. And use baits and traps instead of sprays -- the more localized the poison is, the better. For more information on pesticides, consult the Pesticide Action Network's website. For alternatives to pesticides, visit the Bio-Integral Resource Center site.

  • Reduce your use of other toxic chemicals. Don't buy or use toxic household cleaners. Toilet-bowl deodorizers, cleaning solutions with lye, and many spot removers contain harmful solvents. Substitute baking soda and vinegar, which are great all-purpose cleaners. Instead of permanent-ink markers, use water-based markers and paints. And be very careful about glues, paints, paint thinners, furniture strippers, and varnish removers. With the exception of water-based products, these can be quite hazardous to health and the environment. If you do use them, be sure to wear gloves and to work in a very well ventilated area. Finally, be aware that the solvents used in dry cleaning are hazardous. Consider using a "wet cleaner" -- a nontoxic water-based alternative to dry cleaning -- instead. Several are in business in the Bay Area. To find a nearby wet cleaner, see a nationwide list from Greenpeace or download the Environmental Finance Center Region IX's "Pocket Guide to Bay Area Professional Wetcleaners" (pdf files: part one, part two, part three, part four).

  • If you have pets with a flea problem, avoid flea bombs, flea dips, and flea collars. Consider regular bathing, flea combing, and vacuuming carpets. If the problem persists, ask your vet to prescribe a monthly pill. See NRDC's question-and-answer guide to avoiding harmful pet products.

  • Dispose of pesticides and chemicals safely. Never pour pesticides, paint thinner, oil, or other chemicals down the sink or toilet; they'll end up in the bay. To find a location to safely dispose of these products, call (800) CLEANUP. Be careful with thermometers too -- many contain mercury, and glass mercury thermometers can break, contaminating the home. New digital thermometers are safer for the environment. Contact your local fire department to learn about safe mercury disposal in your community.

  • Buy organic foods. Not only will you reduce your ingestion of chemicals, you'll support safer farming practices. Organic production protects groundwater and other water sources. Organic foods can cost more. If you have limited resources, prioritize the organic foods that you buy. According to the Environmental Working Group, these are the most contaminated foods in the United States (in descending order): strawberries, green and red bell peppers (tied for second place), spinach, U.S. cherries, peaches, Mexican cantaloupe, celery, apples, apricots, green beans, Chilean grapes, and cucumbers. Learn more about the benefits and methods of organic agriculture, and get more tips on locating and supporting organic growers.