Dangers of Herbicides

It's tempting--and easy--to reach for a spray can of a product that will quickly kill your weeds and other unwanted plants. Manufacturers of such products claim that they are safe to use, around both humans and animals, and that some products do not remain in the soil after you use them. But herbicides are chemical products, and some of their ingredients have proven to be harmful to people, plants or animals.

"Feminization" of Frogs---and Humans---Can Occur

Atrazine is a common chemical used in commercial herbicides and can harm frogs that dwell in ponds and areas that receive agricultural runoff, Tyrone Hayes, a biology professor at University of California, Berkeley, said during the Artist Lecture Series in Wichita, Kansas, in 2008. This chemical reduces an animal's immune functions and can "chemically feminize" wildlife such as frogs, turning males into hermaphrodites. These results have been noted in the wild as well as in laboratory rodents. The same danger exists for humans, based on cell and tissue studies, Hayes said.

Herbicides Can Cause Cancer

Atrazine has been linked to human cancers, such as prostate cancer in men and breast cancer in women, Hayes said. Low fertility rates have also been reported among those who are involved in the making of Atrazine and others who use it as a part of their daily yard maintenance businesses. Atrazine continues to be sold in the United States, but it is banned in all European Union countries.

Glyphosate Is All Around Us

Glyphosate is the active ingredient in the weed killer Roundup, which many homeowners rely on to control weeds and other unwanted plants. Glyphosate can adversely affect placental cells, according to a study by professor Gilles-Eric Seralini, a biochemist at the French University of Caen. According to the study, which appeared in "Environmental Health Perspectives" in March 2005, statistics from Ontario, Canada, farms document "late spontaneous abortions" in animals that graze where Glyphosate is heavily used. The study also showed that Glyphosate is deadly to human placental cells.

Herbicides Can Kill "Good" Plants

If you're not careful, the herbicide you spray on your unwanted plants can affect your desirable plants. Always be sure to follow label directions closely whenever you use a chemical product such as an herbicide, and refrain from using it on windy days. Never allow children to get near your garden chemicals, and discard unused chemicals and their containers in a safe, approved manner.

Keywords: weed killers, herbicides toxicity, Roundup glyphosate, Atrazine frogs

About this Author

Barbara Fahs lives on Hawaii island, where she has created Hi'iaka's Healing Herb Garden. Fahs wrote "Super Simple Guide to Creating Hawaiian Gardens," and has been a professional writer since 1984. She contributes to Big Island Weekly, Ke Ola magazine, GardenGuides and eHow. She earned her B.A. at UCSB and her M.A. from San Jose State University.