Picture this. You need something to take care of a problem in your yard. You go to the garden center. You find yourself standing in the middle of the lawn and garden pesticide aisle, surrounded by a myriad of bottles of different shapes and colors. You notice other customers confidently putting bottles into their baskets. You wonder which bottle you should buy to do the job.
After a few minutes you notice an unpleasant chemical smell wafting around you. That smell increases your uneasiness, and makes you wonder about the safety of what is inside all those bottles. Which product will work? Is it safe? Should you use one of the “natural” or “organic” products? Are those really any safer? It can be really confusing.
The good news is that there is a way to get a sense of how safe a pesticide is. The products you find in the lawn and garden section can be very useful tools. Some are very safe. However, some products can pose real risks to you, your family, your pets and the environment. Here’s how can you tell which products are the safest.
Knowledge is power. The way you can get a good sense of a product’s risk is by looking up its Environmental Impact Quotient, or EIQ. So far, the EIQ is the best tool available to make pesticide-related decisions. The reason I’m explaining this is because I want you to be as informed as possible about safety when selecting a pesticide. All of my product recommendations include the EIQ of the active ingredient(s). At the same time, you also need to understand it so you can make your own decisions.
The Environmental Impact Quotient, or EIQ, is a standardized way to measure a pesticide’s potential to hurt people and the environment (including animals). It’s a useful tool to evaluate both natural and organic products, as well as those synthesized in laboratories or facilities. The benefit is that the EIQ rating helps you choose the safest product for you, your family and the environment. All pesticides, including weed killers or herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides, are all rated.
How is the EIQ produced? Researchers measure the risks of chemicals and integrate those risks into one number. They gather the risks posed to the entities in the list of bullets below. Then, they use a standard calculation to produce the total risk associated with that product. They also integrate how long a product will remain on the surface of the plant.
- Pesticide applicator
- Picker (if it’s applied to food crops)
- Potential to leach into ground water
- Toxicity to fish
- Toxicity to birds
- Toxicity to bees
- Toxicity to beneficial insects
The EIQ of a product is reported as a number between 1 and 100. The higher the number, the more dangerous the product potentially is. The safest products have EIQ’s around 10. The most dangerous have EIQ’s around 100.
How do you know which EIQ ratings are safe? According to Dr. Jeff Gillman, a professor of horticulture at the University of Minnesota and author of The Truth About Organic Gardening, a pesticide with an EIQ of less than 20 is a pretty safe option. Products with an EIQ above 30 should be thoughtfully considered to see if the benefits outweigh the risks.
Let’s take a look at two examples. First, the EIQ of glyphosate, the active ingredient in “Ace Hardware’s Lawn and Grass Killer” is 15. Pretty safe! That’s well below 20 and should not pose serious risks. On the other hand, the EIQ of lindane, which is an old insecticide people used to treat trees for mountain pine beetle, is 85. Thank goodness it’s not on the market any more. That was dangerous stuff!
Unfortunately, the EIQ is not listed on the product label. To find the EIQ, look on the product label for the list of the “active ingredients.” Then look up the name of the active ingredient in Table 2, “List of Pesticides” posted at the following website. It can give you a pretty good sense of how dangerous the product might be before you buy it. Note that this table is sorted by mode of action in column 3. That means all the fungicides are grouped together, then the herbcides, and so on. Keep scrolling down the whole table if you don’t see it right off the bat.
Once you find a product in the table, you can see the various components that make up the total score. If a product has a higher rating, you can see if that’s because it poses risks to applicators, consumers, the environment, or all three entities. One cool thing about this approach is that you don’t have to rely on the term “organic” and hope it means something is safe. You can use this knowledge to evaluate all different kinds of products yourself.
Once you choose a product, be sure to use it according to the label to make sure you are applying the product in a safe manner. I hope that this information will help you make informed decisions about lawn and garden chemicals.