An early TV advertisement promised consumers that they would have "better living through chemistry."
Indeed, we were assured improvements in life were possible through the miracles of chemistry. In many ways, our lives have changed for the better because of advances made in the professional chemistry lab.
Without a doubt, chemicals improve our health, clean our houses and drive our cars. Within the last few decades, home gardeners began to embrace chemicals for the garden.
No longer was it necessary to pluck out weeds by hand. Most likely, a chemical was available to do it quicker and simpler with a quick spray or dab.
No longer was it up to the garden keeper to handpick garden pests off plants. A chemical could be purchased to do it.
No longer did it require hours of arduous labor toiling over the lawn. An application or two of chemicals magically turned weak, pale grass into healthy green turf.
Thus, in search of the most beautiful flowers, the healthiest grass or the most flawless vegetables, gardeners turned to chemicals to rid the lawn and garden of pests that nibble, gnaw, damage and kill desired plants.
Two of the most commonly used pesticides in the United States are Dursban and Diazinon.
Well, the chemical warfare against pests is about to change. Both of these chemicals, Dursban and Diazinon, have been linked to health risks in children.
So during a six-month period in 2000, the Environmental Protection Agency cracked down on these two pesticides. Last June the EPA announced a ban on Dursban and in December it announced a phaseout of Diazinon.
The restriction of these two chemicals comes on the heels of the 1996 Food Quality Protection Act, which requires the EPA to restrict or ban a pesticide if it poses a specific threat to children.
Dursban, the most-used pesticide in the United States, has been found in more than 800 over-the-counter products, including ant and roach sprays, wasp killers, lawn insecticides and flea collars for cats and dogs.
The EPA ban of Dursban stopped the production of the pesticide for over-the-counter use in homes last December. Products that contain the chemical can remain on sale only until the end of this year.
Diazinon, No. 2 for pesticide use, is currently listed as an ingredient in more than 2,000 home and garden products. Home owners commonly use some product containing Diazinon to kill insects around the home and grub worms in the lawn.
The EPA phaseout of Diazinon will stop all retail sale of the chemical for indoor household use by December 2002. The manufacturing of the product for lawn, garden and turf uses must stop by June 2003 and its distribution to retailers must end by August 2003.
Tide is turning
So, what's the trouble? Both Diazinon and Dursban are powerful organophosphates, a group of chemicals derived from the same family of chemicals as the sarin nerve gas developed during World War II.
Organophosphates interfere with the action of important enzymes in the nervous system, resulting in rapid twitching, followed by muscle paralysis.
Some common symptoms associated with Diazinon poisoning in humans include headaches, weakness, blurred vision, nausea, diarrhea and muscle cramps.
Armed with new health information and a collective environmental conscience, Americans are abandoning the chemical warfare they once adopted or at least giving the practice of using chemical thoughtful consideration. Often, they are turning to more natural, earth-friendly alternatives for their gardening practices.
"The tide is turning against chemical pesticides," said Niles Kinerk, chief executive officer of Gardens Alive. "People (are) making different choices about the products they use in their homes and yards."
Rest assured that organic pest control is not the practice of fanatical gardeners.
"Until the introduction of chemical pesticides and chemical fertilizers after World War II, virtually all farming was done organically," Kinerk said.
Next week, we will take a look at some alternatives to chemical pesticides.
Carol Boncella is education coordinator at Lawrence Memorial Hospital and garden writer for the Journal-World.