Posts Tagged ‘toxic’

Don’t Attack Your Lawn with Pesticides

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

By Shawn Dell Joyce

Who uses more pesticide, farmers or homeowners? According to a recent Virginia Tech study, homeowners commonly use up to ten times as much chemicals as farmers. According to the study, the pesticide application rates for farmers is 2.7 pounds per acre, while homeowners (and lawn care companies) slather on 3.2 to 9.8 pounds per acre.

Each year, homeowners apply an astonishing 90 million pounds of pesticides — at least — to their lawns and gardens, according to the Boston-based Toxics Action Center. In fact, 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. That’s because 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 still not required to list all the ingredients on their containers, which means risks still exist for home gardeners. 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 such as 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 on store shelves. 2,4-D is a hormone disruptor, Dursban concentrates in the environment, and Diazinon is an organophosphate which 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.

To be clear: Pesticides applied on lawns can be 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 study found outdoor pesticide 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 most 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 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, 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,” even though some lawn chemicals may advertise “safe” on the label. The EPA fined Dow Elanco for “failing to report to the agency information on adverse health effects (to humans) over the past decade involving a number of pesticides,” including Dursban.

The concern that certain widely used lawn chemicals can cause birth defects has prompted California to require that consumers are informed about these risks. California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment announced its intention to list the herbicide 2,4-D and related compounds as developmental toxicants under California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act. Ontario and other Canadian governments have moved to similarly ban toxic lawn chemicals.

How can you help avoid the risks?

  • Participate in the National Wildlife Federation Backyard Wildlife Habitat program.
  • Learn to love tall grasses, wildflowers, butterflies, and birds, creating habitats that are the aesthetic match of any manicured lawn.
  • Visit for a copy of their report and to sign the Refuse to Use ChemLawn pledge.
  • Try Integrated Pest Management strategies offer alternatives that work better and have less harmful effects.

Shawn Dell Joyce is the director of the Wallkill River School in Montgomery.

Picture-Perfect Lawns, at What Cost?

Friday, May 18th, 2012

By Shawn Dell Joyce
As the weather warms, the tranquility of the Wallkill Valley is punctuated by the calls of red-winged blackbirds and the constant drone of lawnmowers. We put a lot of effort into our perfect lawns, but is it really worth it?

We pour 10 times more chemicals on our lawns than farmers use in their fields, according to my friends at Soons Farm in New Hampton. This makes lawns toxic to wildlife, soil-microorganisms and earthworms, and polluting local water supplies. Up to a third of bagged household waste going to our landfills is lawn trimmings and leaves raked from our yards.

Traditional gas powered lawn mowers are responsible for 5 percent of our air pollution according to the Environmental Protection Agency. One gas mower running for an hour emits the same amount of pollutants as eight new cars driving 55 mph for the same amount of time, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. Even the innocuous Weedeater results in 21 times more emissions than the typical family car, while the leaf blower can emit up to 34 times more, according to

All this adds up to about 800 million gallons of gas burned each year in the quest for the perfect patch. But, about 17 million gallons of that fuel doesn’t quite make it to the mower tank and winds up spilled on the ground. That’s more than the Exxon Valdez spilled in 1989, and chances are that most homeowners do not clean it up. If that spilled fuel is left to evaporate into the air, it results in smog-forming ozone when cooked by heat and sunlight, and seeps into our water supply.

If your mower happens to have a two-cycle engine, it releases 25 to 30 percent of its oil and gas unburned into the air, along with particulate matter, carbon dioxide, and other ingredients of smog. This unhealthy soup we breathe contributes to cancer, and damages our hearts, lungs, and immune systems.

Want to lessen the environmental impact of your lawn?

The “greenest” thing you can do is convert your lawn to a vegetable garden and replace the turf with lovely raised beds of edible greens.

If that is too crunchy for your taste, how about trading in those gas guzzlers for the old-fashioned human-powered kind of mower? Reel mowers are easier to use, quiet, non-polluting. And you don’t have to worry about spilling gas. With the money you save on gas alone, you could buy a good pair of clippers for the bushes and a scythe for whacking weeds.

If you want to take the work out of lawn care, consider investing in electric mowers and weed whackers. Electric mowers range in price from $150 to $450, and the average cost in electricity to power the mower for one year is about five bucks, with no spilled gas and fewer emissions. Propane powered lawn equipment is a good choice when your lawn is the size of a golf course.

Use your brain instead of herbicides. If your lawn has dandelions, then your soil has a high pH level. Lower it with sulfur, or spot treat individual dandelions or poison ivy with a shot of vinegar.

Set up a compost pile, or buy a composter for leaves and lawn clippings. Use your composted yard waste and vegetable trimmings to build healthy soil on your lawn.

Shawn Dell Joyce is the director of the Wallkill River School in Montgomery.