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Guest Blog: A Mom’s Guide to Pesticide Activism

Kim Barletta of Freeport, Maine, is a home schooler and avid outdoor adventurer.

RESPECTFUL PRODDING CAN GO A LONG WAY TOWARD PESTICIDE REDUCTION

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Spring is on its way, and I wanted to write to you about pesticide applications at health care facilities (and any other public place where folks go and don’t want to be exposed to chemical pesticides). For several years now, I have been doing what I can to help educate the facilities about safe lawn care and I share this with you in hopes that you might disperse this idea to others. I truly believe that change will only happen through a combination of education and the political climate moving toward safe practices. That is, if it’s a pain for these places to put down crap, because they’ll have to hear about it from ten, twenty, thirty, or MORE people with EVERY APPLICATION, then maybe then they will stop. And if it’s done respectfully, with a focus on education and stewardship, then it will truly be furthering the cause of shifting public awareness.

I avoid places that apply chemical pesticides and fertilizers. But I do need to access health care from places that apply these toxins. I do what I can to get them to stop, rethink it, and at least have to explain to me their reasoning for it:

I call and ask to be connected to the Manager of Grounds. I have pen and paper ready, and I have listed out all my questions with room for her or his responses. The questions are:

WHAT? (is being applied)? (I make sure to get a complete list of everything being applied. I ask for brand names, product names, active ingredients, if there are “inert” ingredients. Most people are not aware of the toxicity of inert ingredients.

WHEN?

HOW? (How is it applied? It’s important to establish if applications are always posted and when those postings are taken down.)

HOW OFTEN? (i.e. what is the maintenance plan through spring, summer, and fall?)

WHERE? (I want to know if it was applied around the foundation, if it was applied to the small patches of grass by the entrances, the small patches of grass on the parking lot islands. How close to walkways and entrances? I want to know everywhere it was applied.)

WHO? (who applied it? I especially want to know if they are licensed and if they were wearing the proper protective gear when applying it, or if they were out there in shorts. I believe it should look like something toxic is being applied and that the lawn care companies are doing something to protect employees.)

WHO? (Who decides how to maintain the lawn and grounds? Who decides if you “need” to apply these chemicals? Who authorizes it? Who places the order?)

WHY? (Why was there a need? What bugs? What weeds? What damage? Is the need based mainly on aesthetics?)

HOW LONG? (how long have the grounds been maintained this way?)

I am very calm, kind, and rational through all of this. It is not adversarial at all. It is about getting all the information, getting a feel for the person on the other end, and conveying to that person that I am in fact calm, educated, rational, and non-adversarial.

The results are really very interesting. Most of the time the person does not know what was applied, why it was applied, who identified the problems, or who ordered it. I’ve been tossed around a bit from this person to that person. The Grounds Manager says its the Facilities Manager and vice versa. Most of the time they have to contact the lawn care company and get back to me. Most of the time it takes several calls to get all of my questions fully answered. But through all the phone tag, and all the follow up, the Grounds Manager usually becomes sympathetic to my concerns, understands that I’m not going to accept easy open-ended responses, and appreciates the educated, non-adversarial approach. I will spend the time on it. I won’t let myself get worked up about it, even if the person I encounter is adversarial with me.

But, most of the time it is a good experience.

This quadrant of the National Mall was renovated three years ago utilizing all natural techniques and products.

This quadrant of the National Mall was renovated three years ago utilizing all natural techniques and products.

I give them resources. I tell them about SafeLawns.org, organic lawn care companies, organic lawn care practices (have you ever seen a health care facility with 3′ grass?), the ingredients list at BeyondPesticides.org I tell them about local communities that manage their grounds without pesticides. I tell them about your lawn management around the National Mall.

I tell them about the paradox of exposing my kids to pesticides and other chemicals when I bring them to the doctor. I tell them about all the good PR they could get from having signs posted all over toting safe lawn care practices. I tell them I’m not the only one that looks around hopefully for crabgrass and dandelions.

As you may guess, these are long conversations. I avoid these places as much as I can, but when I can’t this is what I do. I owe it to my kids. And it does help me, because I at least get a list of when they will be applying chemicals, so I can schedule around it.

I will be calling the hospitals, doctors’ offices, and dentist we see soon to check in on their current lawn care practices (it’s also good to check in about pesticides and chemicals applied within the facilities) and determine when I can more safely schedule appointments. I hope I’m not the only one doing it. If people had to go through all this trouble with lots and lots of kind, compassionate people, I really believe it would be easier for them to just not apply the crap.

About The Author

Paul Tukey

An international leader of the green movement, Mr. Tukey is a journalist, author, filmmaker, TV host, activist and award-winning public speaker, who is widely recognized as North America's leading advocate for landscape sustainability and toxic pesticide reduction strategies.

Number of Entries : 1023
  • http://thelawncareblog.com thelawnblog

    Having worked in the commercial lawncare industry for a long time in the past. I can tell you that the people you are speaking to are either thinking you are nuts or are so scared to give you the wrong answer that they will bend over backwards to give you the answer thinking you may be working for the EPA undercover or worse. Please continue to do what you’re doing. This will send a clear message to the folks you are talking to.

  • Michele

    Thanks for the article. I have been trying to do some of the same things in my Michigan neighborhood and it’s surprising to find out how many people and businesses just go out and buy a bag of something or hire a service because they don’t want to think about it or don’t have the time. They all assume that if it’s sold in the store or applied by a business that it’s safe and many don’t read the ingredients or precautions. I have a 3 yr old with allergies and we stopped the once-a-year Spring treatment we used to do a year ago. We were one of those people who applied granular per the instructions but had no idea what the active ingredient was or how it worked. My assumption was that the government was there to protect us and wouldn’t allow any harmful chemicals to be out on the shelf. How naive I was before I became a parent. Now that I’m paying attention, the lawn application signs are up everywhere! Including my neighbors behind us, across from us and kitty-corner. I told my husband that you can’t even leave the windows open all day anymore like we did 40 years ago because the VOCs are so obnoxious. It’s become either gently educate everyone (as I grit my teeth in frustration) or move in hopes of finding a nturally greener community.

  • Bill Peregrine

    What beautiful activism! Would we go to the doctor and ingest substances into our bodies without knowing what it is? And yet we do it in our backyard all the time. Unfortunately, the “professionals” are caught up in someone else’s game. If the chemical industry is so intent on pushing their products why don’t they apply it themselves and leave the well-intentioned but poorly misguided landscape contractor out of it? Thank you Kim Barletta for giving me the specifics on how to do this myself!

  • susanne hawkins

    This past year I have found myself in the position of trying to influence the city of Augusta Maine in developing a policy for application of pesticides /herbicides.Two year ago we awoke to seeing a lawn care truck spraying a 5 ft wide swath along the curbs.. NEIGHBOR WAS WALKING HER DOG BEHIND THE TRUCK..I subsequently found out it was Roundup! Maine has 2 green towns..Camden and Castine, both with very good policies.An ad hoc group is researching for Augusta city hall and Paul Tukey is on the agenda for April 11. I am fortunate to have our state house in the same town and have started networking there. I am always surprised by the ignorance but also encouraged by people that finally get it .Would encourage all to examine Camden Maine’s policy .I never went onto this with the thought of being an activist, but after researching the effect on children,pets, effect on reproduction and international warnings I thing my time spent is so worthwhile.

  • Margot Mann

    Your “grass roots” approach is brilliant and much appreciated as is your calm, rational, and educated questions to those that blindly believe they are doing something good for their business.
    Thank you for being so brave and smart in challenging those that can be, and should be more aware.
    This lucky Ontario Canadian with legislated pesticide bans in place fully supports your initiative and believes you will succeed.
    Courage!

  • Denise

    What a wonderful approach! I’m just about ready to go door-to-door in my neighborhood with photocopied hand-written notes explaining our concern (my husband and I) with the application of all these toxins on our lawns. We will be concentrating on homes with children and pets, because I truly believe that many people just don’t get the connection between what they’re doing with their lawns – and the health of their family. Thanks for a very specific approach. I may just start doing that at health care places, etc.

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