What Are You Putting On Your Lawn?

The Wellesley Townsman – February 28, 2001

What Are You Putting On Your Lawn? By Sarah Little

The ice and snow are still on the ground, and the big snowplow piles will be for some time to come, but bits of grass are peeking up around the edges of yards. And what does this portend? Spring! Well yes, and lawn care, with pesticide trucks coming down the streets to apply their toxic material to the grass, sidewalks and streets of our neighborhoods.

Spring pesticide applications seem like such a mundane and common occurrence in Wellesley. Are pesticides really dangerous? The answer is a resounding yes. Lawn care chemicals are much more than just synthetic fertilizers (problematic enough in themselves). They include toxic pesticides, herbicides and fungicides that can make you sick. These are broad-spectrum biocides, which simply means they are poisonous to many kinds of life. That includes you and your family (and children are particularly at risk), your neighbors, your pets and wildlife. The Environmental Protection Agency has stated that ” no pesticide can be considered safe, ” and that EPA registration on a label for a pesticide product does not assure safety. Federal law prohibits manufacturers from labeling any pesticide ” safe when used as directed. “

What are you putting on your lawn? I urge you to find out because not knowing is downright dangerous. We all need to make an informed choice before deciding how to treat our lawns.

We all need to know that the National Cancer Institute has indicated that children are as much as six times more likely to get childhood leukemia when pesticides are used in the home or garden. We need to know that 95 percent of the pesticides used on residential lawns are considered probable or possible carcinogens by the EPA. We need to know that 2,4-D (found in over 1,500 lawn care products) was a component of Agent Orange. We need to know that organophosphates are designed to act as nerve toxins. We need to know that the EPA banned the use of Diazinon on golf courses and sod farms after massive bird kills were linked to application. It remained available to the home gardener and continued to kill countless thousands of birds until this year, when the EPA decided to phase it out of home use.

On the other hand, there are other studies which show some of these same pesticides to be unlikely carcinogens, to have relatively low toxicity, and to degrade within a few weeks in the environment. In the face of such conflicting evidence, it is important to ” stress how limited scientific knowledge is and how difficult it is to determine with certainty which chemicals are harmful and which are not ” as quoted of Joel Tickner of the Lowell Center for Sustainable Production in last week’s Townsman. This is especially true of the mixtures of chemicals to which are bodies are continually exposed in modern life. Virtually no studies have been done on the combined effects of toxic chemicals on human health. The Wellesley Cancer Prevention Project supports the Precautionary Principle, which emphasizes precaution in the face of scientific uncertainty. The Precautionary Principle as it applies to pesticides suggests the use of non-toxic methods and materials for lawn care.

But you want a green lawn? Well, that’s OK, because the good news is that none of these chemicals are necessary. Our grandparents and great-grandparents had lawns too, and they were green, long before the advent of the billion dollar agri-chemical industry. And there are many alternatives to the chemical money-go-round approach to lawn care. An ecological approach to a healthy lawn seems to me to be the very essence of Yankee common sense: safe, practical and effective.

You want to learn more? Great, because the Wellesley Pesticide Awareness Campaign is here to help you. We have a new informational brochure promoting lawns without pesticides, books to recommend, Web sites to visit, lawn-care tips, organic landscaper lists, sources for discount organic material, and future programs on organic landscaping. To get started, visit www.ci.wellesley.ma.us/nrc/pesticide, pick up a free brochure from the Library, Town Hall, Bread and Circus, Strata, or the Needham Garden Center, e-mail nrc@ci.wellesley.ma.us, or call the Natural Resources Commission at 431-1019 x294.

There is so much to be gained from learning about alternatives to pesticides, and so much to lose if we don’t. Here is an opportunity for you to begin right here and right now. Spring is almost in the air. Pesticides needn’t be.

Sarah Little is Wellesley’s Pesticide Awareness Coordinator. This column was submitted on behalf of the Wellesley Pesticide Awareness Campaign and the Wellesley Cancer Prevention Project.