Spring is in the air and grass is sprouting from the ground. To spray for weeds and insects, or not to spray, that is the question for some this time of year. Many who use pesticides in or around their homes do not fully understand the inherent dangers of these widely-used chemicals. Pesticides, which include chemicals that kill or deter various plants, insects, animals and fungi, are toxic – that is their purpose. According to the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, 10 of the 12 most dangerous and persistent organic chemicals are pesticides. And in many cases, pesticides are used excessively or incorrectly.
These chemicals are generally broad or wide-spectrum, meaning that they cannot target just one type of organism, but usually harm many other species. These chemicals are mixtures containing toxins that can be dangerous in even small amounts, with some components merely listed as “inert” that can be even more toxic than the listed chemicals. Some of the chemicals in pesticides can break down into chemicals more toxic than the parent chemical. Also beware of pesticides labeled as “organic” – this has little meaning in the pesticide industry beyond containing carbon and hydrogen.
Humans, as well as our pets, take in most pesticides through our skin or by breathing in the chemicals. According to the EPA, 95% of the pesticides used on residential lawns are possible or probable carcinogens – that is, they can cause cancer. For example, in 1989, the National Cancer Institute reported that children develop leukemia six times more often when pesticides are used around their homes. There are many human health studies, many cases of death or injury, which have been linked to pesticides, including the increasing incidence of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Beyond human health concerns, these pesticides adversely affect waterways and natural areas, and kill off wildlife.
Do not assume that because a pesticide is on the market, in your local store, that it is safe. Very few pesticides have undergone safety screenings or been fully tested for human health hazards. If testing is done, it is usually performed by the chemical manufacturer, not the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The federal pesticide registration program is not a consumer safety program – registration does not ensure safety. The EPA does not have testing or assessment guidelines for lawn use of pesticides.
There are alternatives to pesticides and manufactured fertilizers, such as recycling of grass clippings and use of other natural fertilizers, native grasses and backyard wildlife habitats, natural insect repellant recipes, and encouraging beneficial insects such as ladybugs. A “green” lawn that is not addicted to chemicals has often been shown to be more resilient to pests and other problems. Useful sources of information on pesticide affects and alternatives include the National Pesticide Information Center and the Pesticide Action Network North America.
Which is better, peace of mind or a piece of pimped out lawn?