Poison Spring: The Secret Story of Pollution and the EPA by E. G. Vallianatos

Book Review by OCMGA Master Gardener Karen DesJarlais

9781608199143We’ve all seen him; the guy who is spraying chemicals on his lawn or sections of a yard dressed in flip flops, shorts and a tank top. Proper attire would be something closer to a hazmat suit. But this casual dress and the attitude it reflects toward the toxins is no less calloused than the agency which is charged with protecting our air, water and health–The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

We should shy away from blanket statements and generalizations but in this author’s view, well, just realize that the chemical companies run the EPA and they get what they want. The agency relies on industry “testing” to support junk science to avoid restrictions on chemicals. For decades the EPA has been complicit in allowing industry big profits from poisoning the planet. They intimidate scientists whose reliable studies show endocrine disruption or other toxicity caused by a chemical.

Author Vallianatos worked at the EPA from 1979 to 2004 in their office of Pesticides Programs and was able to save documents which give credibility to his premise of corruption at the agency. He says the EPA is really a polluters’ protection agency. His focus is mostly on pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals used on farms, in homes, lawns and forests. Diverting from the depressing anecdotes about the revolving doors from industry to EPA administrators and back, there are relevant eye opening facts that apply to gardeners. Maybe I’m the only one who thought that on any label, “inert” ingredients meant fillers like maybe sawdust, sand or other harmless stuff which were meant to make the active ingredients more effective or easier to use. Wrong. Inerts (about 1800 of them) can be up to 99% of an individual pesticide. They can include benzene, acetone, formaldehyde, naphthalene and the famous cancer causer, petroleum distillates. These poisons show up all around us and can be more toxic than the active ingredients.

If you needed any more urging to bring your reusable bags to the grocery store, realize that your paper grocery bags are contaminated with piperonyl butoxide, a carcinogenic inert. Atrazine (still used by 75% of corn farmers) aldicarb, dioxin, fracking chemicals, 2-4D, glyphosate (Roundup) Monsanto, Union Carbide, Dow Chemical; these are poisons we know and companies we know. All of them are guilty of poisoning life on this planet.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the USDA are no more responsible than the EPA in regulating the substances or the companies. Apparently risk is not measured by the harm to human or animal health but only the economic loss. The cost of illness is rarely included in an economic “assessment” when considering industry products.


The author introduces us to several competent scientists who issue warnings about overuse of chemicals and one of the more frightening ones is glyphosate. Heavily targeted is Monsanto who leads the way in genetic modification. Roundup ready corn and soybeans have a pathogenic virus which reproduces itself. It’s been found in livestock feed and has caused spontaneous abortions in pigs and cows. Evidence that glyphosate promotes soil pathogens and disease is well documented. So this calls for more chemicals. Sounds like an addiction doesn’t it?

Another scientist chronicles the inefficient and dangerous use of pesticides that reach only minute amounts of their targets. In bean fields, no more than 0.03 percent of the sprayed insecticides hit aphids. On cotton farms, an absurd 0.0000001 percent hits the heliothis caterpillars. The rest ends up elsewhere; on helpful insects, birds, fish, poisoning our soils and washing into our rivers, lakes and blowing in the wind. This is true of most of the hundreds of millions of pounds of agricultural poisons.

We’ve all heard about the startling decline in the number of pollinating honeybees. Parathion neurotoxins sprayed on farm crops are destroying hives. One example of this is a California beekeeper who drove his bees by the truckload south to pollinate a corporate farmer’s crops. “I’d return home always with a third of my bees dead. The farmer’s pesticides would kill my bees,” he sadly reported.

This book explains that neonicotinoid insecticides act by blocking receptors in an insect’s central nervous system. Any insect that feeds on the plant dies but bees and butterflies that collect pollen or nectar are poisoned. The damage is cumulative. With every exposure, more and more receptors are blocked. Worker bees neglect providing food for eggs and larvae and their navigational abilities breakdown. With just a small quantity of exposure, entire colonies collapse. You can thank Bayer and Dow Chemical for this and the EPA for letting them do it.

So here are my big questions. If chemical companies put profits before any health consideration and if the EPA has been aiding and abetting for decades this poisoning of the planet, what will they eat, drink or breathe? Don’t they have families and loved ones who will also be poisoned by their greed? Do they live in a protective bubble separate from the rest of us? Is there any wonder that there is a cancer epidemic in this country?

What to do? Read Poison Spring. Let the EPA know that you know and demand that they stop selling out to chemical industry bullies. Buy your food at the farmers’ market. Grow your own. Boycott these death dealing companies and their poisons. Let them know that you know. And try to stay healthy.


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