2,4-D is one of the most widely used herbicides and is applied to agricultural crops, grasslands used for cattle grazing, and along roadsides and railways. It is also found as an active ingredient agent in herbicides used in home and garden applications. 2,4-D was also used as a major component of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.
How am I exposed?
A person is exposed to 2,4-D by breathing in air contaminated with the chemical and/or by direct contact with 2,4-D during manufacturing, application, or with contaminated plants and certain crops that are sprayed like wheat, rice, and corn. People are also exposed by drinking water or eating food contaminated with 2,4-D.
Why should I be concerned?
Exposure to high levels of 2,4-D can damage the nervous system in humans, and in some instances, can cause death. Long-term exposure to high levels of 2,4-D can cause damage to the nervous system, kidneys, liver, and blood in humans. Human exposure to lower levels of 2,4-D can cause severe eye and skin irritation and gastrointestinal problems, including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Some studies have linked 2,4-D with an increased risk of birth defects and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the white blood cells, in humans. Crop workers and pesticide applicators, particularly those who are pregnant, are of great concern due to their frequent contact with 2,4-D and other pesticides. The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified 2,4-D as a moderately hazardous pesticide and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has termed it a possible human carcinogen.
What can government and business do?
- To eliminate exposure to 2,4-D, EPA should take action to phase out 2,4-D and other pesticides that can cause cancer, hormone disruption, reproductive problems, and learning disabilities.
- At the state level, the legislature can eliminate their own use of toxic pesticides on public property, and educate residents about replacing pesticides with healthier practices in the home and garden.
- Businesses have the opportunity to take advantage of alternative methods for controlling agricultural pests to reduce the need for herbicides such as 2,4-D. Such methods include, integrated pest management (IPM) and organic farming, gardening and residential pest control. IPM relies on using multiple non-chemical and chemical means to prevent and eliminate weeds.
How can I reduce my exposure?
- Buy USDA certified organic produce. If you are on a limited budget, look for organic choices for the produce that you eat the most of. Check out the Environmental Working Group’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce.
- If organic isn’t an option, make sure to thoroughly wash your fruits and vegetables before eating.
- EPA strongly encourages people to learn more about their drinking water, and to support local efforts to protect and upgrade the supply of safe drinking water. Your water bill or telephone book’s government listings are a good starting point. Your local water supplier can give you a list of the chemicals they test for in your water, as well as how your water is treated. Your state Department of Health/Environment is also a valuable source of information.
Lowell Center for Sustainable Production: 2,4-D Fact Sheet
EPA: Consumer Factsheet on: 2,4-D
Environmental Working Group: Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce