RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—A common pesticide used to keep ticks and ants out of your garden may be increasing your risk of skin cancer. A new study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives found that rates of melanoma were higher among farmers whose pesticide exposure was equally high, leading the researchers to suspect that certain types of chemicals could be causing the deadly cancer.
THE DETAILS: The researchers collected data from over 25,000 pesticide applicators, who worked for a variety of businesses including farms, nurseries, and pest control companies, who were taking part in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Health Survey. Each participant filled out a questionnaire asking if they had "ever" or "never" used any of 50 pesticides, how those pesticides were applied, and whether any protective equipment had been used. Ten years after completing those surveys, the researchers followed up with each participant and found that 150 of them had developed melanoma. The strongest association between pesticides and melanoma were seen in people who applied carbamates, a wide-ranging class of pesticides used mostly on farms, but also in some lawn and garden pesticides used by homeowners. Twenty-six percent of the people with melanoma had been exposed to carbamates, a significantly higher number than melanoma sufferers who had been exposed to other classes of pesticides.
WHAT IT MEANS: This isn't the first study linking home pesticides to melanoma. A study from 2007 found that cases of melanoma were higher in homes where pyrethroids (a synthetic insecticide used in ant and roach sprays) and carbamates had been used for long periods of time. Like pyrethroids, carbamates are used to kill insects and wind up in both lawn and garden insecticides as well as indoor pest control products. The carbamate associated with melanoma in this study was carbaryl, which is sold under the trade name Sevin. In addition to being used in garden insecticide products, it sometimes crops up in flea and tick powders applied to dogs and cats.
Read on for tips on how to switch to an organic lawn care program.