Our Golden Retriever, Charlotte died several years ago of cancer and at the time she was diagnosed the veterinarian advised us that she likely contracted it from exposure over the years to lawn chemicals. She used to love rolling in the grass and sleeping in the flower beds before running back into the house. While we never thought about it at the time studies now show that residues from pesticides, weed killer and insecticides aren’t restricted to the outdoors. In fact, they drift in or are tracked into homes – by pets and people – where they contaminate air, surfaces and carpets and can expose children and adults to levels ten times higher than pre-application levels.
Today’s lawns, parks and ball fields often rely upon heavy doses of chemical fertilizers, weed killers and pesticides. Children age 6-11 who spend a lot of time playing on the nicely groomed yards and ball fields have higher levels of lawn chemicals in their blood than any other age category and because their organs are still developing at that young age, they are less able to detoxify those poisons. Alarmingly, some studies indicates the chemicals most commonly used on or around our yards are linked to birth defects, hyperactivity, asthma and behavioral disorders – many of the same conditions that have shown an inexplicable increase among our children over the last 20 years in particular.
The ‘experts’ in this area may disagree over the real or proven health risks related to these chemicals but while they debate their positions we can at least mitigate our exposure through these simple steps:
Follow the Directions and Heed the Warnings: The application instructions and related warnings for fertilizers and pesticides are clear, purposeful – and they matter. Remove shoes and clothes worn during the application before walking through the house and wash them immediately after use. Keep children and pets off the treated areas at least until the chemicals have been absorbed into the ground.
Explore Organic Alternatives: Non toxic or less toxic applications for lawn care and insect relief are being developed by large and small manufacturers alike. Even commercial services that spray lawns with liquid applications now provide organic alternatives.
Try Integrated Pest Management (IPM): A concept practiced for centuries protects natural enemies of lawn pests (most pesticides are designed to kill all living insects – even the good ones), nurtures lawns that naturally strengthen grass and control weeds and uses pesticides judiciously and only when needed.
Most importantly, we should continue to educate ourselves on the topic in order to make informed decisions on taking care of our lawns – and our families. The Environmental Protection Agency’s brochure “Healthy Lawn – Healthy Environment. Caring for Your Lawn in an Environmentally Friendly Way” is a great place to start.