NC State Extension

FAQ: Health Concerns About Pesticide Use in Christmas Tree Production

Are there increased risks of getting cancer by living in areas of Christmas tree production?

Rumors have spread through western North Carolina for years that pesticides used in Christmas tree production cause cancer. One county extension agent in a mountain county even tells of a woman coming into his office and telling him a Christmas tree grower bought the property next to her, and she demanded to know what kind of cancer she was now going to die from.

In reality, cancer rates in NC mountain counties are for the most part lower than other counties in North Carolina. This has been true since the 1990s. The following tables show cancer rates by type for various Christmas tree producing counties compared to other counties in the state. These data are taken from: 2011-2015 Cancer Incidence Rates by County for Selected Sites per 100,000 Population Age-Adjusted to the 2000 US Census

2009-2013 North Carolina Cancer Incidence Rates per 100,000 Population Age-Adjusted to the 2000 US Census

Colon/Rectum Cancer: NC Average = 36.6
County Rate Rank from Highest to Lowest
Highest ranking county: WASHINGTON 61.4 1
MITCHELL 41.2 31
ASHE 40.9 32
JACKSON 40.3 36
AVERY 39.3 42
ALLEGHANY 32.6 62
WATAUGA 32.0 90
lowest ranking county: POLK 25.2 100
Lung/Bronchus Cancer: NC Average = 67.4
County Rate Rank from Highest to Lowest
Highest ranking county: PAMLICO 89.6 1
MITCHELL  76.8 26
ALLEGHANY  71.3 42
ASHE  64.2 79
AVERY 60.2 84
JACKSON  57.9 87
WATAUGA  54.7 95
lowest ranking county: CLAY  43.1 100
Female Breast Cancer: NC Average = 157.1
County Rate Rank from Highest to Lowest
Highest ranking county: PASQUOTANK 181.0 1
AVERY 161.1 23
WATAUGA 160.8 26
MITCHELL 146.1 56
ASHE 144.5 64
ALLEGAHANY 139.6 73
JACKSON  127.5 73
lowest ranking county: GATES  90.4 100
Prostate Cancer: NC Average = 115.5
County Rate Rank from Highest to Lowest
Highest ranking county: SCOTLAND 158.4 1
JACKSON 97.3 72
MITCHELL 93.9 81
ALLEGHANY 93.1 83
AVERY 91.6 85
WATAUGA 87.0 92
ASHE 70.2 92
lowest ranking county: GRAHAM 58.7 100
All Cancers: NC Average = 466.7
County Rate Rank from Highest to Lowest
Highest ranking county: DAVIE 537.2 1
MITCHELL 480.6 27
ASHE 463.9 43
WATAUGA 439.7 74
ALLEGHANY 438.7 76
AVERY 428.7 83
JACKSON 422.1 88
lowest ranking county: GATES 342.7 100

Should I be concerned about pesticides in my well water?

Residence near a Christmas tree farmOne of the herbicides used in Christmas trees and other crops in western North Carolina, Simazine, was found at high levels in a well associated with a tree farm in the 1990s. This prompted widespread well sampling in which Simazine was found in only a handful of other wells. The only other pesticides found were Atrazine, a herbicide similar to Simazine, and Lindane, an insecticide. These are all older pesticides. Lindane is no longer being manufactured and sold. Atrazine is no longer used by the industry. And once one of the mainstays of weed control in the Christmas tree industry in North Carolina, the use of Simazine (also sold as Princep) continues to decline. Grower surveys through the years indicated the Simazine was used on 72 % of the Fraser fir Christmas tree acreage in 1994 and only on 6 % of the acreage in 2013. Other pesticides are not likely to get into groundwater as they are not as water soluble.

Prepared by Jill Sidebottom, Ph.D.
Area Extension Forestry Specialist, Mountain Conifer IPM
NCSU College of Natural Resources
N.C. Cooperative Extension Service

Written By

Photo of Dr. Jill SidebottomDr. Jill SidebottomExtension Specialist (Mountain Conifer IPM) (828) 684-3562 jill_sidebottom@ncsu.eduForestry & Environmental Resources - NC State University
Page Last Updated: 9 months ago
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