Home and Garden

Pesticides are widely used in our homes and gardens, from sprays for ornamental plants that are toxic to birds and bees, to rat poisons that sicken raptors and kids. It’s a mistake to assume these products are safe simply because they are for sale.

Horned Lark by Ashok Khosla

Horned Lark, Ashok Khosla

Neonicotinoid Insecticides

Neonicotinoids—now the most widely used insecticides—are found in hundreds of products including insect sprays, seed treatments, soil drenches, tree injections, and veterinary ointments to control fleas in dogs and cats. Shockingly, concentrations of insecticides sold for residential use on ornamental plants contain as much as 30 times the chemical load allowed in the agricultural sector.

As our 2013 study revealed, neonics are toxic to birds and invertebrates, even in small quantities, and they persist in soils for months and even years. These insecticides are so pervasive that our 2015 study found neonics in more than 90 percent of the food samples tested from Congressional dining halls.

These chemicals have the potential to affect entire food chains. They are persistent in the environment, infiltrate groundwater, and have cumulative and largely irreversible effects on the invertebrates that form the basis of the ecological food chain. The elevated levels of these chemicals in many surface waters are already high enough to kill the aquatic invertebrate life on which so many birds, bats, and other pollinators depend.

Beneficial terrestrial invertebrates such as earthworms are also killed by the neonicotinoids at extremely low doses. The insecticides are killing the diverse wildlife that pollinates our crops and controls our pests for free.

Unfortunately, even many who think they are neonic-free may be unknowingly using these products in their gardens. ABC collaborated on a recent Friends of the Earth study that found that more than half of the seedlings purchased at Lowe’s and other retailers are contaminated with neonic pesticides. (Here’s an easy-to-use list of products containing neonics.)

Thanks to heavy pressure from consumers and a consortium of organizations, including ABC, retailers including Lowe’s, Home Depot, and BJ’s Wholesale Club are now taking steps to label plants treated with neonics and ultimately to remove these chemicals from their plant production altogether.

(You can help! Tell the EPA and Congress that it’s time to get serious about neonics.)

Great-horned Owl, Ralph Wright

Rat Poisons

The nature of pesticide-induced bird mortality appears to be shifting along with the changing pesticide marketplace. In recent years we have been seeing more of the slow-motion hemorrhagic poisonings from rat poisons, for example, and fewer of the falling-out-of-the-sky-type deaths from acutely toxic organo-phosphorous pesticides.

Poisons like d-CON cause fatal hemorrhaging in eagles, hawks, owls, and other wildlife. In fact, these poisons are killing off the very predators that help us keep rats and mice in check.

They also harm pet dogs and cats—and children. More than 10,000 families call poison-control centers each year due to children’s exposure to rat and mouse control products.

We played a lead role in forcing the Reckitt Benckiser company to remove the worst of these chemicals from retail shelves.

For information on how to control rats and mice, see our coalition website, SafeRodentControl.org.

American Goldfinch, Owen Deutsch

Weed Killers

Common chemicals used to control weeds in home gardens and on lawns, such as 2, 4-D and glyphosate (used in Round-Up) are now known to be toxic to wildlife and aquatic organisms.

Glyphosate was found in 2015 to be a probable human carcinogen. In addition, the surfactant chemicals (transport agents) added to formulations of these herbicides can also be toxic.

When they infiltrate soils, these chemicals can result in groundwater contamination problems.

Common Grackle, Glen Tepke

Bird-killing Agents

Avicides are poisons used by homeowners, hotels, and other establishments to control “nuisance” birds such as pigeons, blackbirds, House Sparrows, and Starlings.

Unfortunately, the widely-used product Avitrol (4-aminopyridine), promoted as a “flock frightening agent” or “repellent,” is a nervous system toxicant that causes convulsions and death in birds, mammals and other animals.

In 2007, U.S. EPA issued its Re-registration Eligibility Decision (RED) for the avicide, outlining the mitigation measures that would be required to protect birds. Unfortunately, when the new label went public in 2014, it failed to include the agreed-upon safeguards. (Read our letter to the EPA.)