A few years ago, I met a man, an organic landscaper, who told the story of his next door neighbor. He was on his way out to his car one morning when he heard a hello. As he turned and waved to his neighbors, he noticed their 1 year old standing on the grass barefoot, his feet yellow from the fertilizer strewn all about the yard. Within that year the baby died of leukemia. The man never discussed the possible causes with the parents, but he had his suspicions based on what he had learned about fertilizer as an organic landscaper. He knew all about pesticide dangers; he knew they could kill.
For those who think that the leukemia couldn’t possibly have been from the fertilizer (much of which contain pesticides), think again. According to BeyondPesticides.org, a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute finds that household and garden pesticide use can increase the risk of childhood leukemia as much as seven-fold. AND studies show that children living in households where pesticides are used suffer elevated rates of leukemia, brain cancer and soft tissue sarcoma. This is scary!!!
These chemicals aren’t only being found on the outside of our homes; they are inside our houses as well. Scientific studies find pesticide residues such as the weed killer 2,4-D and the insecticide carbaryl inside homes, due to drift and track-in, where they contaminate air, dust, surfaces and carpets and expose children at levels ten times higher than pre-application levels (Rudel, Ruthan). Companies, like Scotts, will have you believe otherwise, claiming that their products are safe when used as directed. However, if you put a call into your State Department of Health Center for Environmental Health and ask the right questions, you’ll see this isn’t so. You can read about my conversation here: This is a Notice to Inform You… (It’s really eye opening).
So why am I so concerned when I don’t use these chemicals in my yard? Because come March/April, when I go walking with my kids in my neighborhood, I inevitably see the residue on the sides of the street, which means it is getting on the bottom of our shoes and on the wheels of the stroller and possibly entering my house. All it takes is 1 piece of residue to enter my child’s mouth for him to get sick and it can enter his body while he plays on the floor, puts a toy in his mouth that the particle stuck to, or when he puts his shoes in is mouth (As he did when he was one. Try as I might, I do not always see him doing silly things)! I also take my children to playgrounds, and to play at friends’, family and neighbors’ homes and I have seen pesticide and/or fertilizer residue at all of these places. I want my kids to jump in puddles and make mud pies, yet allowing them this fun means worrying about the runoff coming from the properties around me. In addition, “of 30 commonly used lawn pesticides, 17 are detected in groundwater, and 23 have the potential to leach”(Beyond Pesticides Fact Sheet). AND “Of the 50 chemicals on EPA’s list of unregulated drinking water contaminants, several are lawn chemicals including herbicides diazinon, diuron, naphthalene, and various triazines such as atrazine”(EPA).
And Here Are Some More Facts: (All information comes from Bee Smart LawnCare, via BeyondPesticides.org. You can see a full list of more facts here.)
Of 30 commonly used lawn pesticides 19 have studies pointing toward carcinogens, 13 are linked with birth defects, 21 with reproductive effects, 15 with neurotoxicity, 26 with liver or kidney damage, 27 are sensitizers and/or irritants, and 11 have the potential to disrupt the endocrine (hormonal) system. (Beyond Pesticides Fact Sheet)
Pregnant women, infants and children, the aged and the chronically ill are at greatest risk from pesticide exposure and chemically induced immune-suppression, which can increase susceptibility to cancer. (Environmental Protection Agency)
Children take in more pesticides relative to body weight than adults and have developing organ systems that make them more vulnerable and less able to detoxify toxins. (EPA)
The National Academy of Sciences estimates 50% of lifetime pesticide exposure occurs during the first 5 years of life. (National Research Council)
Studies show low levels of exposure to actual lawn pesticide products are linked to increased rates of miscarriage, and suppression of the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems. (Environ Health Perspect)
Exposure to home and garden pesticides can increase a child’s likelihood of developing asthma. (Environ Health Perspectives)
Studies link pesticides with hyperactivity, developmental delays, behavioral disorders, and motor dysfunction. (Beyond Pesticides)
Children ages 6-11 have higher levels of lawn chemicals in their blood than all other age categories. Biomonitoring studies find that pesticides pass from mother to child through umbilical cord blood and breast milk. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
Fertilizers made from hazardous waste byproducts may contain arsenic, lead, mercury, cadmium, and radon. (Bee Safe Lawns)
78 million households in the U.S. use home and garden pesticides.(Environmental Protection Agency)
Herbicides account for the highest usage of pesticides in the home and garden sector with over 90 million pounds applied on lawns and gardens per year.
Suburban lawns and gardens receive more pesticide applications per acre (3.2-9.8 lbs) than agriculture (2.7 lbs per acre on average). (National Research Council)
A Look at A Common Household Brand: Scotts Lawncare
Below are just a few of the chemicals used in Scotts’ pesticide products (from the Good Guide Scorecard):
Triforine – recognized developmental toxicant and suspected immunotoxicant.
Resmethrin – recognized developmental toxicant and suspected neurotoxicant.
Permetrin – suspected carcinogen and endocrine, gastrointestinal and reproductive toxicant.
Esfenvalerate – suspected endocrine toxicant.
Metaldehyde – suspected neurotoxicant.
Diazinon – suspected developmental and reproductive toxicant and neurotoxicant.
Bifenthrin – suspected carcinogen and neurotoxicant.
Phenothrin – suspected endocrine and kidney toxicant and neurotoxicant.
Tetramethrin – suspected carcinogen and neurotoxicant.
Acephate – suspected carcinogen and neurotoxicant.
Fenbutatin Oxide – suspected developmental toxicant.
Propoxur – suspected carcinogen, reproductive toxicant and neurotoxicant.
As seen time and again, these big corporations often operate as if they are above the law, without concern for the health of the people working with/using their products. “In November 2002, The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) took Scotts to court for failing to register two pesticides before selling and distributing them in New York State. The unregistered pesticides included a new formulation of Grubex that contained the active ingredient halofenizide. This product was subsequently denied registration, because of concerns about groundwater contamination, particularly in Long Island, which relies on a sole source aquifer for drinking water. During the course of the registration review, it was discovered that Scotts had sold Grubex to retail stores throughout the state, including stores on Long Island. Scotts was fined $300,000 and was required to pay $900,000 towards an Environmental Benefit Project for the disposable of old, unregistered, unusable or unwanted pesticide products. Carbaryl Carbaryl is an insecticide used in a variety of Scotts’ products, including Ortho Bug-Geta Plus – which the company claims is safe to use around fruit and vegetables; Ortho Bug-B-Gon Garden & Landscape Insect Killer Granules; Ortho Bug-B-Gon Lawn & Soil Insect Killer with Grub Control; and, in Australia, Defender Home Garden Grasshopper Caterpillar Carbaryl Insecticide. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, headaches, memory loss, muscle weakness and cramps, and anorexia are caused by prolonged low-level exposure to carbaryl resulting from cholinesterase inhibition. The chemical is also a suspected carcinogen and has been implicated in a variety of other health problems”(Corporate Watch).
Now that you know what to avoid, here’s how to minimize your family’s exposure and what you can use instead.
1. Be aware of just how dangerous these chemicals are.
2. Don’t use them on your own property.
3. Make those around you aware. You can even post a sign on your property stating that your lawn is Chemical Free, making others aware that there is something to think twice about.
4. Ask people to take off their shoes when they walk into your house – especially with spring right around the corner; these chemicals will be on the bottom of people’s shoes. Little kids are most at risk since they are the ones crawling around, playing on the floor, and putting toys in their mouths that have been on the floor.
5. Get involved in Creating a Toxic Free Community! One Mama had a vision – to eliminate them from her neighborhood. She did it and now she shares how, helping others to do the sale!
What to Use Instead
1. Water your lawn frequently, but do not over do it. Instead of spending the money on topnotch fertilizers, weed killers, etc. spend it on a sprinkler system. A sprinkler system allows for the lawn to be properly watered without under or over doing it. A well watered lawn often decreases weed invasion and allows lawn grasses to better tolerate insect and disease pressure”(Southern Exposure). However, too much watering can lead to problems as well.
2. Compost and use it in your gardens! Your old food scraps provide an excellent source of nutrients for your plants.
3. Use natural alternatives to herbicides; I find that a spray bottle of hot sauce mixed with water works well on many of my plants.
4. Read Lawn Care Without Pesticides by clicking on ‘FILE’ in the link. This is a great place to get information on organic lawn and garden care.
5. If you are going to buy seed, fertilizer, or any kinds of organic pesticides or herbicide, look at and research the ingredients. There are organic brands out there.
Extras: Dandelions are filled with healing properties! Here’s a great recipe for Dandelion Rosemary Shortbread!
Bee Smart – Bee Safe. “Startling Facts” Bee Safe Lawns. 2011. Web. April 2, 2012.
Beyond Pesticides Factsheet. 2005. Environmental Effects of 30 Commonly Used
Children and Pesticides Don’t Mix. BeyondPesticides.org. Web. January 4, 2012.
Lowengart, P., et al. 1995. “Childhood Leukemia and Parents’ Occupational and Home
Exposures,” Journal of the National Cancer Institute 79(1): 39-45;