Bay Crossings Article

Tips for Staying Pesticide Free

Deb Self
From the November 2011 edition of Bay Crossings

Pesticides are one of the main contaminants to Bay Area creeks and the aquatic life that forms the base of the Bay’s food web. Future columns will discuss our efforts to reduce local governments’ use of pesticide. Read on to learn what you can do to stay pesticide free—for the health of your family and the Bay.

  1. Avoid anti-bacterial soap with triclosan. Washing your hands with regular soap is just as effective, according to research recently published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has found triclosan, a harmful chemical, in 75 percent of people tested (and 86 percent of pregnant women tested). Always check the label: Clothing, toothpaste and other items claiming to be anti-odor or to kill germs often contain the pesticide triclosan.
  2. Avoid nano-silver! Don’t buy a new washing machine with a nano-silver generator. This anti-odor technology impregnates your clothing with tiny toxic particles and contaminates the water you are sending into the Bay. Nano-silver is toxic to fish and may soon be registered as a pesticide by EPA. Nano-silver is now also being added to toothbrushes, clothing, counter tops and cutting boards.
  3. Say no to lawn chemicals and consider going turf free! Just don’t use lawn chemicals. Avoid herbicides to keep weeds down; they poison pets, kids and creeks. Even simple fertilizers contribute excess nutrients to creeks and the Bay, harming the ecological balance. Consider losing your lawn. Converting to drought-resistant native plantings can provide needed habitat for birds, butterflies and other wildlife. Download Bay-friendly landscaping guidelines at
  4. Avoid pesticides, even "safer" ones, in your vegetable garden. Available widely in pesticides products for home gardens, Pyrethrins are marketed as safe and natural, because they are derived from chrysanthemums. However, this pesticide now contaminates every Bay Area creek and has been linked with developmental delays in children who were exposed as fetuses when their mothers came in contact. Try physical removal of the pests, spraying down plants with water and squishing invaders instead. It’s just not worth exposing family, pets, frogs and fish to more pesticides.
  5. If you suspect you have a termite or other wood-foraging pest, consider baiting the termites yourself. You can stake PVC pipe near the foraging site, fill it with wetted cardboard for food, and seal it with cork (moistened toilet paper in a toilet paper tube also works). Check the cork weekly and when you see termites, add boric acid to the top of the food source. If you want professional help, be sure to hire a pest control operator who is well-versed in integrated pest management techniques. Forego perimeter spraying, which is unreliable, dangerous to pets and children and eventually contaminates creeks and the Bay. Instead, insist on identification of nesting/foraging areas so local bait stations using pastes and gels can intercept the pest. Learn more from the Bio-Integrative Resource Center at
  6. Ants appear in your kitchen and bathroom from time to time? Mostly they seem to be looking for water or trying to get out of the rain and will generally leave after a day or two. But if you have a more entrenched problem, boric acid will kill them by dehydrating them without the use of toxic chemicals. 
  7. Fleas in your home? Don’t bomb them with pesticides, which tend not to work that well and leave your home contaminated. Instead, use this tried-and-true method: Place a dish or glass of soapy water on the floor under a light bulb and leave it out overnight for a few days. Fleas will find the dish, hop in and drown.  
  8. Report pesticide spraying by public works departments to Baykeeper. If you see county or city staff spraying herbicides along roadsides, medians and waterways, let us know. We’re monitoring municipal practices under new storm water regulations. Send photos of pesticide spraying with location if possible. 1-800-KEEP-BAY or

Baykeeper Executive Director Deb Self is a member of the California Office of Spill Response Technical Advisory Committee, the San Francisco Harbor Safety Committee, the Coast Guard’s Area Committee and an advisor on oil spill response technologies to the Gulf of the Farallons National Marine Sanctuary. Baykeeper uses on-the-water patrols of San Francisco Bay, science, advocacy and the courts to stop Bay pollution.