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
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.
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.
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.