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NC Christmas Tree Farms Show Overall Decrease in Pesticide Use
(Beyond Pesticides, December 8, 2004)
While there is a trend towards less pesticide use in North Carolina’s Christmas tree farms (NC is a top Christmas tree producing state), nearly every tree grown in the state is still treated with one pesticide or another. According to North Carolina State University’s Mountain Horticultural Research and Extension Center, glyphosate was the pesticide applied most commonly, having been applied to at 94.9 percent of all trees in 2000 (the year of the most recent data).

Symptoms following exposure to glyphosate formulations include swollen eyes, face and joints; facial numbness; burning and/or itching skin; blisters; rapid heart rate; elevated blood pressure; chest pains, congestion; coughing; headache; and nausea. A 1999 study, A Case-Control Study of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma and Exposure to Pesticides, (American Cancer Society, 1999), found that people exposed to glyphosate are 2.7 times more likely to contract non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.

The breakdown of the most commonly used North Carolina Christmas tree pesticides is as follows: glyphosate – 94.9, disulfoton – 49.6, oxyfluorfen – 43.8, metalaxyl – 42.2, simazine – 38.8, sethoxydim – 23.9, lindane - 23.8 (no longer manufactured for this use, but existing stocks may be used), dimethoate – 21.2, esfenvalerate – 16.6, clopyralid – 11.7, fosetyl-aluminum – 9.1, methyl bromide – 8.5, chlorpyrifos - 8.4, triclopyr – 7.8, hexythiazox – 5.4, 2,4-D – 3.1, and atrazine – 2.7.

Also of particular concern on the above list is atrazine, which is linked to causing hermaphroditic (both male and female sexual characteristics) frogs; methyl bromide, which is an ozone depleter 50 times stronger than now-banned CFCs and is linked to birth defects and brain damage; chlorpyrifos, which is so acutely toxic and of concern to children that its consumer uses were phased out in 2000; clopyralid, which had many uses restricted due to its long-term contamination effects; and, triclopyr, which is linked to breast cancer and genetic damage.

While the Extension Center informed Beyond Pesticides that it is rare for pesticides to be applied during the harvest process, some of these pesticides are registered for use during harvest and recommended for use during November and December by the North Carolina Cooperative Extension in an admittedly outdated (but still on the Extension’s website) factsheet written for growers.

But all hope is not lost. Organic Christmas trees are available. 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. This year, protect your family’s health and the environment and buy an organic Christmas tree.

To see Mountain Horticultural Research and Extension Center's report, which documents the overall decrease in pesticide use, as well as the amounts of pesticides still used and for which specific pests, is available here.