Guest Blog: A Chemical Reaction Review
A Movie Review, by John Valentine
It is hard to believe that a subject like lawn care would find you awake after a ninety minute film, but it does. This past month, I had the privilege of attending a screening for the documentary A Chemical Reaction. It is the story of an organization called SafeLawns.org whose ultimate goal is to eliminate the usage of harmful pesticides and other chemicals commonly used to treat and maintain lawns. The film details the beginnings of this non-profit as well as the story of a Canadian town named Hudson who is credited with the beginning of the anti-pesticide movement in North America.
On an entertainment level, the storyline was highly engaging and held the attention of the audience from start to finish. Documentaries are usually informative, but sometimes struggle to be interesting due to the factual backgrounds from which they are created. They can border on the tedious because they are trying to convey a message and sometimes do not realize that one of the most effective ways is to entertain the viewer. However, this is not the case with A Chemical Reaction as it not only conveys the message, but illustrates it in a way that makes it exciting and suspenseful. Individuals involved in the history such as Dr. June Irwin are as charismatic as they are passionate. An eccentric person with an unorthodox manner of getting her message across, she is one of the many reasons why this film will keep your attention.
Although entertaining and interesting, the documentary was obviously not made with those two things at the top of its list of priorities. Its main goal is to get the message out that what people accept as the normal practice for lawn care is actually harmful to the environment and even their own families. The companies are the biggest ones in denial. The blatant disregard for the health complications caused by their own products is incredible to me and should shock every viewer of this film. ChemLawn actually sued the town of Hudson in court in an appeal to the pesticide ban because this was certainly the start of major sales losses for the company. However, every one of their products has warnings on it to keep away from ingestion and skin contact, the people who apply it wear large rubber boots and gloves to protect themselves, and there are flags placed on the lawns to warn people to stay away from that treated lawn. With these things in mind, the corporation still argued their products were completely safe for children and animals to play on the grass.
In many ways, it makes the chemical companies look a lot like the tobacco companies in the sense that they have seen the studies of the damage their products are doing, but refuse to change them because they are making money from what they already produce and sell. They would rather partake in deception than trying to look out for their own customers. Instead of seeking other safer methods to eradicate weeds from household lawns, ChemLawn took the time to change its name to TruGreen to further confuse and fool its loyal customer base. When asked about the harmful nature of their products, the executives simply lie and deny any allegations that what they sell is dangerous to the public.
The fact that a connection like that can even be made between two entirely different industries is frightening. Although the film highlights the struggle against lawn chemical companies, it really speaks volumes of the corporate social responsibility all companies should make a number one priority when managing their businesses. Money and profit seem to be the only goal of many companies and the Machiavellian approaches often made to achieve that goal is careless. If an irresponsible individual can have a relatively large impact on this planet’s well being, imagine the damage an irresponsible company can do. There is a significant difference between one gas guzzling car on the highway and an entire fleet of trucks polluting the air we breathe. Someone forgetting to turn the light off in their living room and wasting electricity is greatly overshadowed by a major factory that is not streamlined to use the least energy possible. More often than not, the administration is aware of the damage being done, but refuses to fix the problem until they are forced to do so. Is there any reason the government should have to make laws demanding companies clean up their acts? These executives live on the same planet as the rest of us, but they must forget that when they are sitting behind a desk.
This story is proof of just one more complication for environmentalists as well. The chemicals can harm the individuals who come in contact with them, but they are also destroying the natural habitats of many other animals that reside nowhere near the yard in question. The runoff of the groundwater under those lawns eventually reaches a river, stream, lake, or the ocean. Do you think fish enjoy the taste of a good pesticide or that humans would sacrifice their health to have the lakes they swim in to have no weeds? I doubt even the executive boards of the chemical companies could answer yes to those questions.
In the film, the previously mentioned damage is shown in numerous examples. A stream is shown where all of the wildlife has perished due to the runoff of groundwater. Various statistical studies provide the numbers to show a correlation between pesticide use and various forms of cancer and other diseases. Dr. June Irwin is a dermatologist and saw the effects firsthand in her office. Mr. Paul Tukey, the founder of SafeLawns.org and the man who is followed throughout the film, also mentions his direct experience with lawn pesticides. As the owner of a landscaping company, he often used those chemicals and would get headaches after a day of work. He is now facing other more permanent and long-term health complications because of the many years he worked with pesticides.
It does not matter whether you are a homeowner or not. If you have stepped on a lawn at any point in your life, you should be concerned at the effects of these pesticides and take the time to watch this documentary. It will open your eyes to an issue that most probably never even knew existed, but you will find yourself very concerned right after. I encourage anyone to see this and spread the word about an issue that should not even exist.
John Valentine is with Northeastern University in Boston, Ma.