Rose, Art Thou Sick?
by P.W. McRandle
National Geographic Green Guide
For the guy who doesn't do sonnets, flowers can be the most straightforward expression of love on Valentine's Day. But if you're going to let your bouquet do the talking, be sure it's saying the right thing. About $200 million worth of roses sold in the U.S. are grown out of the country, mostly in Central and Latin America, where over-fumigating with toxic pesticides is common, protective equipment scarce and exposed workers risk getting asthma. In Ecuador, 35 out of 72 children tested by the Harvard School of Public Health had been exposed to organophosphate pesticides in the womb while their mothers worked for flower companies. These children showed both higher blood pressure and poorer spatial ability than children without prenatal exposures. And they may continue to be exposed through contaminated food or home pesticide use, causing significant increases in reaction times to stimuli.
"Exposures to very small amounts [of pesticides] can result in huge changes in the ability to learn," says Elizabeth Guillette, Ph.D., an anthropologist at the University of Florida who has studied children in a pesticide-ridden community in Mexico. Guillette notes that other dire consequences from maternal exposures include increased numbers of stillbirths and deaths within a month after birth. And prenatal exposure to the organosphosphate chlorpyrifos (phased out of residential use in the U.S.) has been linked with low birth weights and smaller head circumferences by researchers at Mount Sinai and Dr. Frederica Perera at Columbia University.
What You Can Do
Take care with conventional flowers: "All of these cut flowers and plants are heavily treated with pesticides," says Guillette. "It's important to avoid touching the blossoms and to handle them as little as possible, and then be sure to wash your hands."
Choose organic: USDA-certified organic flowers, grown without pesticides, can be ordered from Organic Bouquet ($49.95/dozen roses; www.organicbouquet.com, 877-899-2468), Manic Organics Flowers ($79.95/two dozen red roses; www.ManicOrganicsFlowers.com) and Diamond Organics ($13/5 organic tulips; www.diamondorganics.com, 888-674-2642). Organic proteas make an exotic alternative ($49.95/15 stems; www.californiaorganicflowers.com, 530-891-6265). Or try locally grown greenhouse and dried flowers; check your farmers' market and see www.localharvest.org.
So, pick a healthy bouquet and, if inspiration strikes, garnish it with a ditty all your own.
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