As the weather gets warmer and days grow longer, you could be focused on that neglected part of your yard. This week, we’ve enlisted our experts to discuss the details of gardening. Grab a trowel and your green thumbs, and start digging.
Gardening is good for your health, but it can pose some risks if you’re not careful. For example, you should use sensible protection against the sun to prevent cancer, a significant cause of death in Australia.
Further reading: The science is in: gardening is good for you
Gardening in Australia also requires, to varying degrees, depending on where in the country you are, pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. There is an enormous number of agents with multiple formulations, depending on what you are doing, what plants you are tending, the size of your garden, and the kind of soil.
The treatments for your garden are created to be specific and powerful, and therefore, they are able to be used less frequently and focus (mostly) just on what you would like to get them to do. Each of them – including those that are “natural” ones such as sulfur dust that control mildew and caterpillars – are chemicals, meaning they can pose health risks.
Even sulfur dusts contain chemicals and therefore pose a risk to health. Yates Tomato and Vegetable Dust website/screenshot of the product
Chemicals and their regulation
Although not completely safe, the safety of gardening products is monitored in Australia. This is the Australian Veterinary Medicines and Pesticides Authority. The body is responsible for regulating pesticide (a chemical that kills pests like insecticides as well as weeds) as well as herbicide (a chemical that kills the weeds) products available in Australia.
The AVPMA regularly evaluates products for safety issues. However, the reviews could be years from each other. It coordinates its activities with World Health Organisation bodies and its counterparts in Europe, Canada, and the United States.
With the vast array of formulations and compounds that are available, I cannot cover the safety of all chemicals, nor every group of chemicals. If you’re concerned about a particular chemical, then you can look up the AVPMA website for the ingredients that are in a specific fertilizer, pesticide, or herbicide.
This can be not easy, since some may not have a chemical label on them but just an industry name. However, all herbicides and pesticides that reliable companies manufacture will have an MSDS. (MSDS) that is included. It should provide you with the information you require to go through the AVPMA website.
There are many methods to combat pests. You can repel or smother them or even poison them. From shutterstock.com
There are three methods to handle insects (well, four if you take into account the laborious removal of them from your plants). They can be smothered, repelled, or even poisoned. Each of these could be harmful to people when exposed to large quantities. In urban gardens, the exposure to pesticides is usually minimal and of a limited duration.
Pesticides that smother pests commonly are such as petroleum oils, which are used to manage, for instance, citrus leaf pests or other pests in different situations. If you use these frequently and without gloves, it is possible to suffer skin irritation or irritation to the lungs when inhaling the spray. Be sure to follow the guidelines, including wearing gloves and spraying in a way that you don’t let the wind blast the jet back at your face.
Pyrethrums can be found naturally in chrysanthemum flowers. Source: shutterstock.com
Modern poisoning insecticides consist of pyrethrums that are naturally found in chrysanthemum flowers. Both the natural pyrethrums and synthetic pyrethroids pose no risk to humans, particularly in the dosages that are found in garden products. Regular use of insecticides containing pyrethroids is not harmful for humans if the directions are adhered to.
Neonicotinoids are insecticides made from synthetic chemicals that mimic nicotine, which can be harmful to insects. They can be used in pest control if applied with care and in a controlled manner. Contrary to pyrethroids, focus on a specific pathway of the insect nervous system that is shared by humans and may harm us.
When taken as directed, poisoning should not occur, and studies on animals suggest that exposure to humans should not cause adverse health effects. Neonicotinoids can be harmful to bees. However, Australia is not experiencing the massive bee collapse as seen in the US as well as parts of Europe.