It's that time of year when many of us are outdoors, doing our lawns and other yard work. Naturally, pesticides usually join the scene. I suggest that you use pesticides very carefully, in strict accordance with the instructions on the label.

In the old days, pesticides largely consisted of metals such as arsenic. These metals weren't readily absorbed by the groundwater and therefore, caused very little threat, or risk, to our drinking water supplies.

That changed several decades ago when more complicated kinds of pesticides became involved. Many of those pesticides, such as DDT, have since been banned. Which resulted in a newer, man-made pesticide.

The more recent kinds of pesticides are produced from synthetic organic material. Synthetic organics aren't normally found in nature but rather, are man-made.

We know that some of these synthetic organic pesticides can be dangerous to humans if there is an acute exposure. This means they can be dangerous if a person is exposed to a large quantity.

What we don't have a lot of information on, is the risk from exposure when persons are exposed to these pesticides for long durations of time, at relatively low doses.

Since many of these pesticides are water-soluble, they can find themselves in our drinking water. Since many persons may be drinking low levels of these pesticides, the fact that we don't necessarily understand the risk involved with long-term exposure, at fairly low doses, should be of concern to all of us.

This reinforces the need for us to be very careful in how we use these products. Make sure that you use only the amount of pesticide that is specified on the package label.

Too much pesticide will result in a run-off of the product which will ultimately end up in the streams and surface waters.

In addition, try to use the least harmful pesticide possible. Indeed, there are natural pesticides, often available, that represent minimal risk to humans.

Consider using these relatively safe products when possible. Even many commercial garden centers have these safer products available for sale.

If you have a well and obtain your drinking water from the well, you'll need to take special care.

First, find out whether any neighbors have detected pesticides in their well water. If so, there is a greater likelihood that you also suffer from pesticide contamination.

Second, make sure that your well is built in the manner that provides sufficient protection. This means making sure that the casing is adequate and that the well is sufficiently deep.

Finally, try not to use pesticides in upgradiant areas that are likely sources of recharge for your well. Groundwater flows in a definite direction; using pesticides downhill from your well may be safer than pesticide use in the immediate uphill vicinity of your drinking water well.

The government is going to have to evaluate the long term risks associated with exposure to these newer pesticides. As is frequently the case, it seems like there are a lot of questions that remain unanswered.

Whether or not it's just a coincidence, it seems to me that a lot of people who are in the landscaping business, and have prolonged contact with pesticides, seem to become ill. I think scientists will have to determine whether these individuals have a greater likelihood of becoming ill and if so, whether the pesticides are the cause. We may all learn a lot from answers to these questions.

In the final analysis, remember that pesticides are designed to do one thing: kill pests. Thus, it is clear that they are intended to pose some level of harm.

Therefore, we need to use these products with care and try to limit the harm to ourselves, our neighbors and the groundwater. For now, I think there are too many unanswered questions that will need to be answered.

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