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Why Ban Lawn Pesticides? The List of Reasons Keeps Growing

With several states and additional Canadian municipalities considering bans on synthetic pesticides used to maintain landscapes, we’re often asked to summarize all the reasons why we advocate for legislation that makes certain products illegal.

Here’s the primer:

LAWNS AND SAFETY

The industry that manufactures and applies synthetic chemical pesticides (weed-killers, insecticides and fungicides) hides behind EPA blessing of its products, suggesting that such approval by the Environmental Protection Agency is proof that their pesticides are safe when used as directed. The reality is that EPA approval is NOT a finding of safety, but rather it is a risk-benefit analysis of health and environmental risks weighed against economic benefits. In most cases, those risks and benefits are borne by differing members of society. In other words, the chemical companies and applicators get the money and the homeowners, ponds, lakes, rivers, oceans etc. bear the risks. The EPA approves some incredibly dangerous products, most of which have never been fully tested for safety — and only real testing is done by the manufacturers themselves. The EPA needs to receive loads of complaints about a product before it engages in its own testing.

LAWNS AND HEALTH

Seventeen of 32 (53 percent) of the most commonly registered and utilized lawn pesticide products in the United States include ingredients that are likely carcinogens, as defined by the EPA and the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
Thirteen of 32 (41 percent) of the approved lawn pesticide products include ingredients that are banned or restricted in other countries due to their health and environmental impacts.

According to the Material Safety Data Sheets of the most commonly used lawn pesticides, the products can cause irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat; burning, stinging, itches, rashes, and blistering of the skin; nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea; and coughing, wheezing, headache, and general malaise. Because these symptoms are similar or identical to those caused by other illnesses, acute pesticide poisoning is often misdiagnosed.

Pesticide exposure occurs through numerous pathways, including the skin, eyes, ears, nose and mouth — all areas where children are particularly sensitive.

The National Academy of Sciences estimates that one in 7 adults suffers acute symptoms of pesticide poisoning (such as those symptoms listed above) — most of which are not diagnosed.

Exposure to pesticides is also linked with chronic illness, such as cancer, behavioral impairment, reproductive dysfunction, endocrine disruption, developmental disabilities, ADHD, Autism, Parkinson’s Syndrome, learning disabilities, skin conditions, and respiratory diseases such as asthma.

A National Cancer Institute study states that, “although research is underway to characterize the risks of childhood cancer associated with pesticides and identify the specific pesticides responsible, it is prudent to reduce or, where possible, eliminate pesticide exposure to children, given their increased vulnerability and susceptibility. In particular, efforts should be focused to reduce exposure to pesticides used in homes and gardens and on lawns and public lands, which are major sources of exposure for most children.

A number of studies have linked lawn pesticides to childhood illnesses:

a) A University of Southern California study showed that children whose parents used garden pesticides were 6.5 times more likely to develop leukemia.

b) According to EPA’s Guidelines for Carcinogen Risk Assessment, children receive 50 percent of their lifetime cancer risks in the first two years of life.

c) Children with brain cancer are more likely to have been exposed to insecticides in the home.

d) Children in families that use professional pest control services are at higher risk of developing leukemia than children in families that don’t use pesticides.

e) A 1990 study by the US Congress Office of Technology Assessment concluded that “in general, [human health] research demonstrates that pesticide poisoning can lead to poor performance on tests including intellectual functioning, academic skills, abstraction, flexibility of thought, and motor skills; memory disturbances and inability to focus attention; deficits in intelligence, reaction time, and manual dexterity; and reduced perceptual speed. Increased anxiety and emotional problems have also been reported.”

A US EPA study found that residues from outdoor pesticides are tracked in by pets and people’s shoes, and can increase the pesticide loads in carpet dust as much as 400-fold. These pesticides, intended for outdoor use, will persist for years indoors because they are sheltered from sun, rain and other forces that can degrade them.

Another study, published in November 2003 by the Silent Spring Institute, which was funded by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, showed that residents may be continuously exposed to dangerous levels of pesticides in their home decades after application.

Recently, an “inert” ingredient in the most common lawn pesticide product known as Roundup was found to kill human cells. The French government sued the manufacturer of Roundup for making improper safety claims about Roundup.

LAWN TRENDS

Canada has announced it will ban weed ’n feed nationwide by the end of 2012. This ban was seen as a compromise between Health Canada and the pesticide industry, which agreed that weed ’n feed products put excess amounts of pesticides in the environment.

More than 80 percent of the Canadian population has banned “cosmetic” herbicides used to kill dandelions, clover etc. on lawns. Most major Canadian retailers including Home Depot have stopped selling herbicides and have committed to selling alternatives.

The states of New York and Connecticut banned the applications of lawn pesticides around schools and daycare centers.

More than 35 municipalities in New Jersey have enacted bans of synthetic lawn pesticides on public property.

In its 9-0 landmark decision, the Supreme Court of Canada invoked “The Precautionary Principle” with regard to pesticides. The Precautionary Principles means that, even in situations where there is not absolute proof of harm in all cases, precaution should be taken to protect the environment and human health.

The National Gardening Association data shows that 10 percent of consumers are currently utilizing exclusively organic products; that total is expected to grow to 50 percent of the marketplace by 2014.

ORGANIC ALTERNATIVES
The efficacy and understanding of organic products has increased dramatically in the past five years; several new organic products have entered the market in just the past three years, including a natural “selective” herbicide that can replace the most toxic chemicals.

Canadian landscapes that have been grown without pesticides for years are still beautiful. Mayors and town managers have reported a reduction in costs for mowing, watering, fertilizing and pesticide applications.

LAWNS AND THE ENVIRONMENT

All 32 of the most common lawn pesticide products include ingredients that pose threats to the environment, including: threats to water supplies, birds, fish, other aquatic organisms, and non-targeted insects.

The National Academy of Sciences estimates that homeowners utilize 10 times the amount of fertilizer and pesticides per acre of lawn and landscape than do farmers.

In 2001, the Environmental Protection Agency completed a nationwide survey of pesticides in wells that provide drinking water. It showed that more than half of the 94,000 community water system wells and rural wells tested contained nitrates from fertilizer. Nearly 15 percent of residential wells contained lawn pesticides.

A Cornell University study led by Dr. David Pimentel concluded that 99.5 percent of pesticides do not hit the target pest when applied. The bulk of the pesticide hits or drifts to non-targeted plants, animals, water and soil.

The chemical mostly commonly used for grub control in lawns, known as imidacloprid, has been blamed for Colony Collapse Disorder in bees in France, Germany, Israel and many other nations. Many scientists and beekeepers in the U.S. have now reached the same conclusion.

COST

For years, the biggest limiting factor in lawn care was price; organics was typically 20 to 100 percent more expensive on action. These days, with the rising price of synthetic products tied to the fuel index, as well as the lowering cost of many organic products, the playing field has tipped in favor of organics — especially over time.

NOTEWORTHY

The New York Board of Pesticide Control estimates that 8 of 10 homeowners do NOT fully read the label on pesticide containers.

Dozens of health care organizations, including the Canadian Cancer Society, the Ontario College of Family Physicans and the Canadian Association of Physcians for the Environment, all endorse the Canadian bans on lawn pesticides.

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.

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