Katherine von Stackelberg is principal of E Risk Sciences and a research manager at the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis. E Risk Sciences specializes in developing risk-based modeling tools to support environmental decision making. Much of her work has focused on incorporating quantitative uncertainty analysis (e.g., analytical, probabilistic and fuzzy methods) into the risk assessment process and she has been at the forefront of the effort to promote uncertainty analysis and methods for communicating uncertainty to support environmental decision-making.
The first study focused on bifenthrin, a synthetic pyrethroid and a known neurotoxicant to insects. It has biochemical origins in the natural insecticide pyrethrum, an extract of Chrysanthemums and is a commonly used insecticide on turf, in homes, and for agricultural applications. In this study, von Stackelberg reviewed the health effects and exposure data for bifenthrin and found no evidence for adverse health effects when used as directed. Similarly, the U.S. EPA released a cumulative risk assessment in 2011 for synthetic pyrethroids as a class and found that typical uses were not associated with potential risks. Given the clear benefits of bifenthrin use (a highly effective termiticide)
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A third study was recently completed by von Stackelberg reviewing the potential health effects of MCPA and 2,4-D, which are pesticides/herbicides used to control and eliminate broad leaf weeds. In presentations last fall at two scientific conferences, von Stackelberg indicated that these products are also ones which do not raise undue levels of concern. The full results of this study have been submitted for publication to a peer reviewed scientific publication and EHRF will release the full study when it has been accepted for publication.
“Significant research has been done on these products,” von Stackelberg explained, “and the weight of evidence indicates very little potential for adverse health effects associated with environmental exposures.” The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency carefully monitors and approves lawn care products for use. Over the years, it has eliminated questionable products from use on lawns. As part of the pesticide registration process, U.S. EPA evaluates and in some cases conducts independent research to evaluate potential risks and define acceptable uses. They have determined there is little or no health risk associated with exposure to bifenthrin, azoxystrobin, and MCPA—when the products are used as directed.
“Green space, particularly in urban areas, offers significant health benefits, which are described in the Environmental Health Research’s review of the literature. Maximizing these benefits may require the use of products to ensure a healthy, thriving green space, and the goal is to use products with the greatest efficacy and the least potential for risk,” stated von Stackelberg.
The Environmental Health Foundation has a report available online which reviews all of the literature on the benefits of green space. With this report, EHRF produced a comprehensive bibliography of current university and governmental research which outlines the importance of healthy lawns. From erosion control to water and air purification to carbon sequestration to increasing home values the research shows that healthy lawns provide important environmental benefits as well as help create the kind of ideal play surfaces that can help stem the problems associated with the growing epidemic of childhood obesity.
To see the full reports on bifenthrin and azoxystrobin, go to http://www.ehrf.info.
About Katherine von Stackelberg
Katherine von Stackelberg has spent more than twenty years developing risk-based approaches to support sustainable decision making. An emerging focus area for von Stackelberg is developing tools and methods to evaluate ecosystem service tradeoffs associated with environmental management decisions. She serves on the U.S. EPA Board of Scientific Counselors, and is a member of the Scientific Advisors on Risk Assessment for the European Commission in Brussels. She is also a Research Manager at the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis and is the Co-Director of the Superfund Research Translation Core. von Stackelberg received an A.B. cum laude from Harvard College, and a Sc.M. and Sc.D. from the Harvard School of Public Health in Environmental Science and Risk Management. She also serves as a consultant to the Environmental Health Research Foundation.
The Environmental Health Research Foundation (EHRF) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan scientific research foundation seeking to improve the analysis and communication of health and environmental science. Its goal is to further the understanding of science related to health and the environment, and especially the interaction between the environment and human health. EHRF Executive Director John Heinze, PhD brings over 20 years of research, management, and communications experience to the EHRF. In addition to his expertise in microbiology, molecular biology, genetics, and toxicology, Heinze has authored over 35 scientific papers and presentations to international conferences and workshops. Since 1995, Heinze has served as a senior science adviser on health and environmental issues, including the communications aspects of such issues. A particular focus has been on communication of health and environmental safety information including activities ranging from those focused on single substances to broad issues affecting numerous materials.