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"Banned" Pesticide Still Commonly Used on Christmas Trees
(Beyond Pesticides, December 19, 2003) The Cooperative Extension Service of North Carolina, which is a top Christmas tree producing state, named chlorpyrifos (Lorsban) as the pesticide most commonly applied to conventional Christmas trees during the harvesting process, meaning trees may have been treated just weeks or days before they are hauled into people's living rooms. Chlorpyrifos was "banned" for home use (Dursban) because of its neurotoxic effects (particularly to children) by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), under a June 2000 agreement with Dow AgroSciences, the pesticide's manufacturer.

Chlorpyrifos belongs to the family of organophosphate pesticides. Organophosphates are a highly toxic class of pesticides that affects the central nervous, cardiovascular and respiratory systems. Symptoms of exposure include: numbness, tingling sensations, headache, dizziness, tremors, nausea, abdominal cramps, sweating, incoordination, convulsions, and fatality. A 1996 study of children exposed to chlorpyrifos in utero found that extensive and unusual patterns of birth defects, including brain, nervous system, eyes, ears, palate, teeth, heart, feet, nipples, and genitalia. Published literature and EPA documents contain reports that identify similarities in defects found in test animals and children exposed to chlorpyrifos.

Other chlorpyrifos uses still on the market today include: use on golf courses, in baits, for mosquito control, in agriculture and some indoor industrial uses, such as food processing plants. Existing home use stocks purchased before 2002 may be used indefinitely for any purpose specified on the label, even if that use has since been phased out. In 2002, EPA completed its Revised Organophosphate Cumulative Risk Assessment, which was supposed to take into account all possible routes of exposure to organophosphate pesticides. Unfortunately, the report neglected to include key chlorpyrifos uses still legal after the phase out. EPA’s Science Advisory Panel, established to provide scientific advice to the agency, criticized the report.

While there are many growers today that use sustainable, organic and IPM-based techniques, many hazardous pesticides are commonly used on most U.S. Christmas trees. According to the North Carolina Cooperative Extension, the following are the most commonly used Christmas tree pesticides: clopyralid, chlorpyrifos (Lorsban), disulfoton, esfenvalerate, glyphosate (RoundUp), oxyflourfen, sethozydim and simazine. Other pesticides used on Christmas trees include: abamectin, chlorothalinil, diflurbenzuron, dimethoate, imidacloprid, malathion, permethrin, propiconazole, spinosad and triclopyr. The pesticides listed above have been linked to cancer, reproductive effects, neurotoxicity, birth defects and/or endocrine disruption.

For alternatives to pesticide-laden Christmas trees, the Agricultural Resources Center and Pesticide Education Project in Raleigh, NC has compiled a list of organic and sustainable tree producers in North Carolina and Tennessee, including Nature's Own Farm of Marshall, NC, which ships pesticide-free Fraser Fir Christmas trees around the country.