Commercial farms are often blamed for the vast array of contaminants that find their way into water supplies and the soil itself. But home-gardening enthusiasts may also be contaminating water and soil through the use of pesticides.

Data from Green-NetWorld, an environmental advocacy group, indicates Americans use approximately 2.2 billion pounds of pesticides every year. Pesticide use is a prolific problem. More than 100 active pesticide ingredients are suspected of causing cancer, gene mutations and birth defects. In addition, a growing list of pesticides may disrupt the immune and endocrine systems and have long-term impacts on infants and young children. Research indicates that many pests targeted by pesticides will eventually develop resistance to these pesticides, rendering the chemicals useless.

One way to reduce chemical pollution at home is to find alternatives to pesticides.

· Investigate reduced-risk pesticides. The United States Environmental Protection Agency is examining pesticides that pose less risk to humans and the environment than existing pesticides. Homeowners concerned about pesticides can visit to learn more about reduced-risk pesticides.

· Use biopesticides. Biological products, also known as biopesticides, can play a role in a more sustainable food chain. These control agents include fungi, bacteria or viruses and can be applied like chemical pesticides but do not leave toxic residues. Furthermore, they are relatively inexpensive to produce.

· Look to the kitchen. Dish soap can be an effective pest killer. Fill a spray bottle with soapy water and spray around the exterior of your house and on plants that have a pest problem. The soapy water can kill ants and roaches. It also can coat the wings of small flying insects. Catnip is another natural pesticide. Planting catnip in a garden can repel mosquitoes.

· Use epsom salt. Sprinkling this salt on the leaves of plants in the garden can keep away animals, such as deer or groundhogs, that would otherwise devour plants. Epsom salt also can repel beetles, slugs and snails.

Before homeowners turn to chemical pesticide applications, they can explore many natural remedies to keep unwanted pests at bay. If all else fails, call the experts.

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