Smarter Living: Chemical Index

2,4-D is one of the top three largest selling pesticides in North America today, despite dozens of scientific studies linking it to lymphoma, cell damage, hormonal disruption, and reproductive problems. In 2008, NRDC petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ban the dangerous chemical, which was an ingredient in Agent Orange. The agency refused, and pesticide companies are now petitioning the USDA to allow them to sell genetically modified crops that would dramatically expand the use of this dangerous pesticide.

Health Concerns

Over the past 40 years, dozens of studies have been published on the links between 2,4-D and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, as well as soft-tissue sarcoma in humans. In 2010, approximately 65,540 people in the United States were diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The rate of this disease in the United States nearly doubled since the 1970s, even when adjusted for population size and age. It is reasonable to conclude that 2,4-D is likely a contributing factor to cases of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Studies have also shown that 2,4-D enters maternal milk and even semen. Dozens of peer-reviewed studies show that 2,4-D exhibits hormone-disrupting activity, including estrogenic, androgenic, and anti-thyroid effects. The studies show that 2,4-D affects progesterone, which plays a role in the female menstrual cycle, and prolactin, which plays a role in lactation. 2,4-D also affects the function of the neurotransmitters and hormones dopamine and serotonin. Interference with these hormones can cause serious and lasting effects during fetal and infant development, including birth defects, neurological damage in offspring, and changes in reproductive function such as suppression of sperm production.

2,4-D contaminates our air and water, and finds its way into our homes tracked in by shoes and pet paws. Young children who crawl on carpets or play on the floor are most at risk for exposure to 2,4-D by hand-to-mouth ingestion, skin absorption, and inhalation of household dust. Residues of 2,4-D on children’s hands and in their urine have been shown to correlate closely with the levels of 2,4-D in carpet dust, demonstrating that the contamination from dust is how this chemical enters children’s bodies. Nationally, the levels of 2,4-D detected in the urine of children ages 6 to 11 is higher than in any other age group. Children are at particular risk because their brains are still developing, and their hormone systems are vulnerable. Recent work by California toxicologists indicates that carcinogens are generally three to ten times more potent in infants and children compared to adults.


Once a chief ingredient in Agent Orange, 46 million pounds of 2,4-D are still used every year in the United States alone, applied to lawns, playgrounds, and golf courses, as well as millions of agricultural acres.

Once it is tracked indoors, 2,4-D can remain in carpets for as long as a year, barely degrading because it is not exposed to direct sunlight. 2,4-D was found in 83 percent of household dust samples in North Carolina and 98 percent of homes sampled in Ohio in a 2008 study of 135 homes, despite the fact that only one homeowner in the study reported recent use of the pesticide.

Anyone who applies 2,4-D, or is in contact with lawns or surface water where 2,4-D was applied, may be at risk of exposure to the pesticide. Numerous studies have shown that 2,4-D is absorbed through the skin. Although under normal conditions, less than 10 percent of 2,4-D that comes in contact with skin is absorbed, there is extensive evidence that absorption of 2,4-D is doubled or tripled when there is sunscreen or DEET (a common insect repellent ingredient) on the skin. The effects of alcohol ingestion and sunscreen application are multiplicative, resulting in very substantial increases in skin absorption of 2,4-D.

2,4-D has been found as a contaminant in our lakes and streams, and has also been detected in groundwater, according to the United States Geological Survey. More concerning for people however, is that 2,4-D has been widely detected in drinking water.

Stay Safe

1. Label check: Avoid buying lawn-care products that contain 2,4-D, including ”weed and feed” combinations.
2. Shoes off at the door, please: Have a no-shoes policy in your home to prevent toxic chemicals such as 2,4-D tracked onto your carpets; place a rough doormat outside and encourage everyone to use it before entering your home.
3. Dust-bust weekly: Vacuum carpets weekly with a vacuum cleaner that has a HEPA filter; it filters out small particles from the exhaust.
4. Play safe: Check with your child’s school and the local parks to make sure they don’t use 2,4-D products on athletic fields, playgrounds, or lakes where people may swim. If they do, encourage them to switch to safer alternatives, or to stop using weed killers altogether.

Take Action

Tell the Obama administration to say "No" to corn that will increase dangerous pesticide use before the April 27th comment deadline. The Department of Agriculture has proposed allowing the unrestricted sale of genetically modified corn that would increase the use of 2,4-D, a pesticide in Agent Orange, meaning more of this toxin in our air, water and food. Urge the Agriculture Department to deny Dow AgroSciencesÕ petition to deregulate 2,4-D resistant crops.

last revised 2/22/2012

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