Chemicals Found in Herbicides

Commercially available herbicides offer busy gardeners a quick and easy way to control most of the weeds and other unwanted plants that grow in their yards. One of the most popular herbicides for home use is Roundup, made by the Scotts Company in collaboration with the Monsanto Corporation. Other brands include Barricade, Image, Crossbow, Degree, Arsenal and a long list of other products. Many contain the same or similar major chemicals.

Glyphosate

This chemical is the active chemical ingredient in Roundup and many other herbicide products. It’s considered non-selective, meaning it will kill any plant on which you spray it. This can be good or bad: if you accidentally spray your petunia, it will likely perish. Product literature claims that Glyphosate breaks down quickly in the soil, but the Center for Ethics and Toxics (CETOS) claims that this chemical “binds to many soil types” and that it can wash into groundwater systems. The website Green Living Tips says that Glyphosate is “the lesser of the evils” of herbicides and that a generic version of this chemical can cost less than advertised products such as Roundup.

Atrazine

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved Atrazine for home and agricultural use since 2006. According to the Web site AtrazineFacts.com, many herbicide products include this chemical, including Basis Gold, Cinch, Breakfree, OverTime and Triangle. In 2004 the European Union banned products containing Atrazine because of implications that it can cause certain types of cancer and reproductive problems, such as the feminization of male frogs. Atrazine has appeared in the drinking water of some communities in the United States, prompting Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota to introduce legislation in 2010 seeking a ban on Atrazine use, according to Huffington Post.

Endothall

Weeds can and do occur in aquatic environments, where they can pose a threat of invasiveness to native aquatic species. Endothall is one of the herbicides used in controlling submerged aquatic weeds as well as those that grow in fields where root crops such as sugar beets and potatoes are grown. Aquathol K and Hydrothol 191 are the names of two products that contain Endothall. The state of Minnesota reports that Endothall can cause irritation of the skin and eyes, and that large concentrations of this chemical can result in respiratory failure and gastrointestinal bleeding, even after brief exposure. They also report that no substantive evidence exists that Endothall is carcinogenic.

Alachlor

The products Bullet, Lariat and Lasso contain this common herbicidal chemical, which is manufactured by the Monsanto Company. It is especially effective in controlling grasses that invade areas where crops such as corn, soybeans, bean and peanuts are grown. The website PesticideInfo warns that Alachlor can cause the eyes to become irritated and advises consumers to practice recommended hygiene when using this product and not to allow the dust to spread farther than the treated area.

Keywords: herbicides chemicals, Roundup Glyphosate, Atrazine Endothall, killing weeds

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.