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Sustainable Living- Toxic Lawns

Written by Shawn Dell Joyce, Creative Syndicate

Thursday, 11 June 2011

A farmer friend pointed out to me recently that homeowners in our community use more chemicals on their lawns than most farmers use on their crops. Sure enough, a little research turned up some really startling statistics behind the American obsession for the perfect lawn.

Pesticide application rates for farmers are 2.7 pounds per acre, while homeowners (and lawn-care companies) slather on 3.2 pounds to 9.8 pounds per acre. According to a recent Virginia Tech study, homeowners commonly use up to 10 times as much chemicals as farmers.

Each year, homeowners apply at least 90 million pounds of pesticides to their lawns and gardens, according to the Boston based Toxics Action Center. Homeowners represent the only growth sector of the U.S. pesticide market, as agricultural uses of these chemicals are declining.

This market trend was started by the pesticide industry in an attempt to establish new markets for old products. Most lawn pesticides were registered before 1972, and were never tested for many human health hazards like carcinogenicity, neurotoxicity and environmental dangers.

Lawn chemical companies are not required to list all the ingredients on their containers.

Many toxins are hidden on the product label by being classified as “inert.” Inert does not mean “inactive” and in the case of benzene and xylene, can be even more toxic than the listed chemicals.

Some of the listed chemicals include components of defoliants like Agent Orange, nerve-gas type insecticides and artificial hormones.

The blue meanies of lawn chemicals are 2,4-D, Captan, Diazinon, Dursban, Dacthal, Dicamba, and Mecocrop.

These chemicals were registered without a full safety screening. A combination of several of these toxins is usually found in on store shelves.

2,4-D is a hormone disruptor, Dursban concentrates in the environment, and Diazinon is an organophosphate that damages the nervous system. Some of these chemicals have been banned for use on golf courses and sod farms due to massive water bird deaths, but are still widely used on lawns and gardens.

Pesticides applied on lawns are harmful to humans who inhale them, ingest them or absorb them through skin contact. These chemicals also get tracked into our houses on our shoes and pets. An Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) study found outdoor pesticides loads build up in carpets and can remain there for years, where they do not degrade from exposure to sunlight or rain.

This leaves our pets and children most vulnerable, as they frequently play on lawns and carpets, and breathe in toxins. The Toxic Action Center report notes that “children’s internal organs are still developing and maturing, and their enzymatic, metabolic and immune systems provide less natural protection than those of an adult.” Researchers caution that children are most vulnerable in the fetal and adolescent stages when “chemical exposures can permanently alter future development.”

The EPA’s risk assessments indicate that home lawn care products account for 96 percent of the risk associated with using this chemical for women of childbearing age, and that anticipated doses are “very close to the level of concern.” EPA’s studies found that rats exposed to the most common lawn chemical, 2,4-D, in utero showed an increased incidence of skeletal abnormalities such as extra ribs and malformed ribcages. In rabbits, 2,4-D and its diethanolamine salt caused abortion and skeletal abnormalities, as well as developmental neurotoxicity and endocrine disruption.

Even though many lawn chemicals are legal, and widely available, that doesn’t equal “safe.”

Shawn Dell Joyce is an award-winning columnist and founder of the Wallkill River School in Orange County, N.Y. You can contact her at [email protected]This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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