The last thing I expected during my recent trip home to mark Dear Old Mom’s 96th birthday was a toxic waste dump in the basement. But there it was inside a cabinet in my Dad’s old workshop. I opened the door and beheld a rogue’s gallery of garden pesticides banned long ago.
The star of the show stood right in the middle – a bottle of Chlordane. Chlordane was the most effective and widely used treatment for termites, because it worked really well and lasted forever. I remember as a kid spraying the lawn with Chlordane to kill Japanese beetle grubs. To this day, I’ve never found another beetle grub. Unfortunately, Chlordane causes cancer; it was banned in 1983. But if you ever used any around your house, chances are it’s still there.
To its immediate right as you look at the photo is Reximator. Active ingredient: DDT. Back in World War II, DDT was hailed as the miracle solution to malaria-carrying mosquitoes infecting U.S. troops in the tropics. As a kid, I remember running though white clouds of it belched from the back of a tank truck driving down the street to kill mosquitoes and gnats in the summertime. Everything seemed hunky-dory until Rachel Carson published her landmark book, Silent Spring, in 1962, that showed that DDT built up in the food chain of wildlife and caused bird eggs to break before they hatched. Bald eagles verged on extinction. DDT was banned in 1973.
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Next, we come to Lindane. My Dad used it to spray for borers and leaf miners, as its label indicates he was supposed to. But do you know that it was also used in medicinal products to treat head lice and scabies in people? Sounds like a great idea! Its persistence in the environment led to its being banned as an agricultural chemical in 2007. However, it can still be used in shampoos! (Remember to rinse well and use conditioner.)
OK, moving to the other side we see Borgo Bark Penetrating Borer Killer. Apparently, borers plagued my father. Its active ingredient is dieldrin, developed as a successor to DDT. Like DDT, it persisted in the environment. Linked to human cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and damage to nervous and reproductive systems, it was banned in 1987.
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Lastly, we come to Ammate weed killer. Its active ingredient is Ammonium sulfamate. Dad used it to kill tough woody weeds like poison ivy and brambles, as well as stumps. It’s still sold in the U.K., but I haven’t run across any in the U.S. in years, as it’s been supplanted by Roundup and Brush Killer.
What to Do with Banned or Old Pesticides
You might think the safest solution is to seal them inside plastic trash bags and put them out with the trash. That’s a no-no. These materials are considered hazardous waste, just like lead car batteries and mercury. Regular waste removal services won’t touch them. If you’re callous enough to pour them down a storm drain, they’ll probably wind up in your tap water.
To solve this conundrum, many enlightened municipalities provide venues for disposing of hazardous materials. My city of Hoover, Alabama holds a Hazardous Waste Day every spring. People unload car batteries, pesticides, old paint, solvents, oil, cleaners, and other hazardous waste. The city safely disposes of them for free.
They don’t have a Waste Disposal Day where my mother still lives in Baltimore. But with a little digging on the internet, we found someone to take them. When they’re gone, everyone at the house will breathe a bit easier.