Since I had my first child nearly fifteen years ago, I have been worrying about my yard. Like any normal toddler, George wanted to be outside whenever possible, stumbling around on the grass, examining flowers and bugs, and helping me weed the garden. Today, he’s joined by his siblings and our dog, Mike, all of whom spend hours every day being kids (and a dog) outdoors. The lawn is their second home, whether it be behind our house, at school, or at the park. My question has always been and remains: Is it safe?
I started doing my research and decided it wasn’t, and isn’t. To my neighbors’ chagrin, I eliminated all chemical treatments on my own lawn, but I ran up against a wall when I tried to initiate changes at school and in our local community. In both cases, I was given handouts on the chemicals being used and phone numbers to contact the people supplying them.
The know-nothing yard companies with the big contracts tell you whatever they need to in order to get you off the phone. “Yes, yes, our products are all organic.” “We’ve been using these products for years, and they are safe.” “Yes, the chemicals have been tested and government-approved.” This last one really irks me. Government approved? Isn’t the government busy propping up agribusiness and subsidizing the corn and soy crops that are poisoning our food supply?
So, after years of worry and ineffectiveness at creating change beyond what I could view off my back patio, I was extremely gratified to see Dr. Diane Lewis’s NYT article, “The Toxic Brew in Our Yard.” Finally, an educated, serious authority is making waves. I recommend that you peruse it, but here, briefly, are the basic issues:
1. The most common landscape chemicals, including glyphosate, carbaryl, malathion and 2,4-D, are now known to increase risk for hormone disruption, Parkinson’s, and cancers such as prostate and lung. Farm workers, who are exposed to these toxins all day, are sadly the canaries in the coal mine.
2. You are not in the clear if you avoid rolling around in greener pastures. These chemicals have leeched into our water supply, and ordinary homeowners have actually been found to use more of them per acre than farmers. Water cleaning and filtering does not remove them, and bottled water is not immune.
3. The chemicals do rub off on your children and pets.
4. Though we have always been told that the amounts of these products used create an acceptably low risk, only now has it dawned on scientists to consider their cumulative effect, and, indeed, longer-term studies are finding that decades of exposure substantially increase our chances of endocrine disruption. The endocrine system, as Dr. Lewis explains, is “made up of glands and hormones that control almost every aspect of our bodies’ functions.” On top of that, there are now known links to the obesity and diabetes epidemic.
I refer you to Lewis’s article and website for suggestions on greener, non-toxic lawn and yard care, and will leave you with her wise reminder: “We need to see a perfect lawn not as enviable, but a sign of harm.”