Archive for the ‘Shawn Dell Joyce’ Category

Sustainable Seafood

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

By Shawn Dell Joyce
Ocean fish are the last wild creatures that people hunt on a large scale. We used to think of the ocean’s bounty as endless, but recently we have discovered its limits. Between 1950 and 1994, ocean fishermen increased their catch 400 percent by doubling the number of boats and using more effective fishing gear, according to Seafood Watch, a consumer awareness program at the Monterey Bay (Calif.) Aquarium.

In 1989, the world’s catch leveled off at just over 82 million metric tons of fish per year. We have reached “peak fish” and no amount of boats will help us catch more fish. Today, only 10 percent of all large fish – both open ocean species including tuna, swordfish, marlin and the large ground fish such as cod, halibut, skates and flounder – are left in the sea, according to research published in National Geographic.

“From giant blue marlin to mighty bluefin tuna, and from tropical groupers to Antarctic cod, industrial fishing has scoured the global ocean. There is no blue frontier left,” lead author Ransom Myers told National Geographic. “Since 1950, with the onset of industrialized fisheries, we have rapidly reduced the resource base to less than 10 percent – not just in some areas, not just for some stocks, but for entire communities of these large fish species from the tropics to the poles.”

“The impact we have had on ocean ecosystems has been vastly underestimated,” said co-author Boris Worm. “These are the megafauna, the big predators of the sea, and the species we most value. Their depletion not only threatens the future of these fish and the fishers that depend on them, it could also bring about a complete re-organization of ocean ecosystems, with unknown global consequences.”

Marine biologist Sylvia Earle says, “I don’t blame the fishermen for this. We, the consumers, have done this because we have a taste for fish and ‘delicacies’ such as shark-fin soup. Our demand for seafood appears to be insatiable…driven by high-end appetites. I’ve always believed that even when there is only one bluefin tuna left in the sea someone will pay a million dollars to be able to eat it.”

Earle, who is also an author and sustainability advocate, points out that “Most people also don’t know how bad it is for us to be eating so much fish, not only because of the destruction of an ecosystem vital to survival but also because the big predatory fish are full of the toxins and other pollutants that we cast into the oceans. It’s not as healthy to eat fish as most people believe.”

Three factors are responsible for the depletion of our oceans:

–Coastal wetlands are a fertile habitat for fish and shellfish, but also popular places for people. More than half of the world’s people live near a sea coast, placing most of our large cities next to the ocean.  Bay waters are polluted by sewage, oil, chemicals and agricultural fertilizer. Paved surfaces near wetlands and tidal areas increase storm water run-off.

–Trawling and dragging are fishing methods that destroy habitat by dredging up the sea floor. Some trawlers put rockhopper gear, including old tires, along the base of their nets to roll over rocky reefs, giving sea life no place to hide. Dredges drag nets with a chain mesh base through soft sand or mud to catch scallops and sea urchins, crushing other life on the sea floor and damaging places where fish feed and breed. Some scientists believe that fishing with rockhoppers and dredges harms the ocean more than any other human activity.

–According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, one in four animals caught in fishing gear dies as bycatch (unwanted or unintentional catch). Tons of fish are tossed out because they’re not what the fishing boat was after, have no market value, or are too small to sell. Bycatch often takes young fish that could rebuild depleted populations if they were allowed to grow up and breed. It is estimated that for each pound of shrimp caught in a trawl net, an average of two to ten pounds of other marine life is caught and discarded as bycatch.

Some seafood can be sustainably farmed. Clams are raised in special beds on sandy shores, where their harvest does little to disturb the ecosystem. Oysters and mussels are often raised in bags or cages suspended off the seafloor, doing little damage as they’re harvested. Many farmed fish, such as salmon, are grown in net pens, like cattle in a feed lot. This is as environmentally damaging in the ocean as cattle feed lots are on land.

Additionally, mangrove forests have been cut down and replaced with temporary shrimp farms that supply shrimp to Europe, Japan and America until the water becomes polluted.

How to Green Your Vacation

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

By Shawn Dell Joyce

How do you take a vacation and still protect the planet? Driving is the easiest vacation option, but it is getting more expensive and is one of the leading causes of climate change, generating almost 20 pounds of carbon emissions for every gallon of gas used.

Air travel seems more efficient, since more people travel for less time. However, a single transatlantic flight for a family of four creates more carbon emissions than that family will generate at home in a year.

Consumer Reports points out that a flight from New York to Los Angeles can produce from 1,924 to 6,732 pounds of carbon depending on the carbon calculator you use, and such variables as a plane’s fuel efficiency, passenger load, and air traffic. Air travel’s devastating effect on the environment is leading many conscientious passengers to resort to carbon offsets.

According to TerraPass, offsetting a flight from New York to LA would cost around $10. Your ten bucks is invested in clean energy and efficiency projects, such as wind farms, that result in verified reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

The most fuel efficient way to travel long distances is by train, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). In a recent report, the DOE states that Amtrak – on an energy-consumed-per-passenger-mile basis – is 18 percent more energy efficient than commercial airlines.

Here are a few ways to save fuel costs and emissions this summer:

–Take a local vacation and explore the places you haven’t been in your own community. Set aside a week of local family fun, and schedule a different museum, farm, or small town for each day. Plan your stops according to the route of a train or bus to maximize your efficiency.

–Explore the rail trails in your area by bicycle. Most communities have rail trail projects connecting larger towns and cities. Explore your area by riding five-mile segments each day.

–Stay in a green hotel when possible. If you strive to be green at home, why not on vacation as well? Check and

–Travel with friends, and share the costs and carbon of each car trip. If you carpool and then share a vacation rental, including meals, you form tighter friendship bonds, use less gas, and eat out less.

–Stay with friends or camp. Hotels are very resource intensive, from air conditioning, cleaning, and disposal of trash. When you stay with friends, you lighten the environmental and economic costs.

–Consider a working vacation and volunteer at an organic farm in a place you wish to visit. Many countries also have programs for whole families to spend a vacation working as part of a relief effort. and

–Indulge in roadside attractions by visiting the places near home you secretly always wanted to see, but never got there. You know, the ones advertised on giant billboards on major highways such as caverns, zoos or some other unique place you really should get to at least once.

Shawn Dell Joyce is an award-winning columnist and founder of the Wallkill River School in Montgomery.

Community Life Can Make You Healthier

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

By Shawn Dell Joyce

In his recent book Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell cites a study that proves a strong localized community actually improves your health.

The study is centered on Roseto, Pa., a small community comprised mainly of immigrants from a small Italian village also named Roseto. This village attracted international attention in 1950 when it was found to have the lowest rate of heart disease in our nation.

The study, led by physician Stewart Wolf, studied the entire population of 2,000 people and discovered that the death rate from disease was 35 percent lower than the rest of the country. Moreover there was no suicide, alcoholism, drug addiction, and very little crime. No one was on welfare, and no one had peptic ulcers.

The Wolf study found that Roseto residents ate pretty much what other Americans were eating, deriving 41 percent of their calories from fat, with many struggling with obesity. Many were heavy smokers. But the difference between the people of Roseto and virtually everyone else was not diet, exercise, or a genetic predisposition to good health. It had nothing to do with the land or the water, but had everything to do with the town itself.

What these immigrants brought with them to rural Pennsylvania – Roseto is about 50 miles south of Port Jervis – was an “old world” sense of community. Researchers found that the people of Roseto made the time to stop and chat with each other on the street. They cooked for one another in backyard parties, and held friendship as a high priority. Extended families lived under the same roof, with elderly parents commanding respect. There were 22 civic groups serving the small population.

Roseto had a healthy and prosperous localized community where everyone knew each other, and were all available to lend a helping hand when things got rough. Wealth was never flaunted, and those falling on hard times were never shunned. The villagers had woven a social fabric of interconnected relationships where each thread was valued and needed for the good of the whole.

As a result, individuals had a sense of belonging and well-being. Their efforts were valued, and all were considered equally important to the community whether they were the mayor or the garbage men.

Sound familiar? Yes, many of our Wallkill Valley villages and hamlets could pass for Roseto. We are blessed with strong local economies and a social fabric that is tightly woven with historic families, and the recently relocated. We have enough farms to feed our population, and a picturesque place to live.

When we look at individuals in our community, they are each unique and beautiful, but what really makes a work of art is seeing each individual brushstroke as part of a whole painting. As an artist, I often have to take a few steps back from my work to see the painting as a whole. As community members, let’s collectively regard the lovely tapestry of friends, neighbors, and small businesses, and ask, “What can I do to make it better?” Then realize that the effort you exert to build a stronger community is also good for your health, your family, and the well-being of us all.

The Brach Dairy

Saturday, July 7th, 2012

By Shawn Dell Joyce

There aren’t many men like Harrison Brach left here in Montgomery. In fact, there aren’t that many dairy farmers left in all of Orange County. According to Cornell Cooperative Extension, there are only 43 dairy farms left in this once mainly agricultural county.

Brach is a dedicated dairyman who, at 81, still gets up early every morning in all seasons and all weather to milk his cows. He’s been at it for more than 40 years.

Brach was born in Newburgh to an English mother and a father who aspired to be a dairyman on an estate farm. It was Harrison Brach’s father, in 1941 around the outbreak of World War II, who first purchased what would come to be called the Brach farm. Unfortunately, he later sold it, and his son Harrison had to buy it back – something he accomplished with a grand total of $400 in his pocket.

Brach tells me all this as we sit on lawn chairs outside his milking parlor on a day of 93-degree heat. He shows me a photo of a cute young boy with a big green tractor. It’s him at age 7. He leans close to me and cackles: “If you told me then that I’d be a dairy farmer now, I’d say no way. I never dreamt I’d be here.”

A fire in 1979 sealed his fate. The barns burned and all the old farm equipment was destroyed. Brach brought his children and wife Esther together to discuss what to do. The family committed to rebuilding and modernizing the farm, adding the milking parlor and several pieces of other machinery.

“If it wasn’t for my family, I wouldn’t be here,” Brach says of his brood of six children, 11 grandchildren, and 5 great grandchildren as he sits back contentedly. “I’ve been blessed.”

Indeed he has, as Brach’s Dairy became one of the more profitable farms in the area. The old dairyman chalks it up to the fact that he doesn’t feed corn to his cows. Instead, he feeds them mainly alfalfa, which results in healthier cows producing richer milk.

Brach’s daughter Dawn joins us, and wonders aloud why young farmers don’t come and study how her family has streamlined their operation. We agree that there really aren’t any young farmers interested in dairy.

Dawn notes that only she among her siblings showed interest in the farm. She worked beside her father for many years, hoping to take over the farm one day but found she couldn’t do it by herself.

What does the future hold? Harrison Brach suffered a mild heart attack two weeks ago and I can’t help wonder how long he’s going to keep up with the rigors of the job and how long Orange County will be home to the few dairy farms we still have.

“I’m going to work until the very end,” Brach says. “I don’t have to do this, I want to do this. This is the good life.”

Summer Driving

Monday, July 2nd, 2012

By Shawn Dell Joyce

We drive a lot here in the boonies. Everything we do seems to require a car trip and we rack up an average of 10,000 miles per year, per person (including non-drivers). Summer is an especially busy time for our cars as we head out on family vacations, and chauffeur the kids from place to place.

Here are a few simple tips to save you gas and money, and reduce carbon emissions as well.

–The U.S. Department of Energy notes that several short trips, all begun with a cold start, can use twice as much fuel as a single, uninterrupted trip that covers the same distance. Combining errands can improve gas mileage because your engine will be warm for more of the trip. It might also mean you travel fewer total miles. This one simple habit-change can save about 20 percent of your fuel and mileage, or about $260 per year.

–According to CNN, every 10 miles per hour you drive over 60 is like the price of gasoline going up about 54 cents a gallon. The most fuel efficient speed range is 45 to 55 mph for most vehicles. Accelerating quickly burns twice as much gas as keeping a slower steady speed. So does braking quickly as you lose all that momentum your car just worked so hard to generate.

–You save 1,200 pounds of carbon or the equivalent of 55 gallons of gas by implementing safer driving. That adds up to $130 per year you could keep in your pocket.

–When stuck in traffic, turn off the engine. You can lose up to one third of your fuel by idling.

–Keeping your car in top condition will save as much as 30 percent in fuel efficiency. Dirty spark plugs, or a clogged air or fuel filter will reduce your fuel economy. The Energy Department estimates that replacing a fouled air filter alone can increase your mileage by 10 percent, while replacing an oxygen sensor could result in a 40 percent improvement in fuel efficiency.

–Check the air in your tires and save up to 3.3 mph. You can find the proper pressure listed on the jamb of the driver’s side door.

–Clean out your car. Stop paying for all the extra gas needed to haul that junk around in the back seat and trunk.

–Cleaning the outside of the car reduces drag. Another way to keep the vehicle streamlined is to remove those roof and bike racks when not in use. They only add extra weight and drag.

–Of course, the best way to save gas and money is to park the car and get on your bicycle. More communities across the country are creating bike paths and bike routes to make bicycle travel easier and safer. Take your bike on vacation and enjoy getting around at a slower, healthier pace.

Shawn Dell Joyce is an award-winning columnist and founder of the Wallkill River School in Montgomery.

Making Orange County Bike-Friendly

Sunday, June 24th, 2012

By Shawn Dell Joyce

Bicycling is the lowest carbon-producing form of transportation (along with walking) that gives you exercise and a great view at the same time. Many larger cities are actively encouraging cycling as it helps alleviate traffic congestion and increases foot traffic in downtowns.

Using a code known as the “Five E’s,” the League of American Bicyclists rates bike friendly communities on such matters as Engineering, Education, Encouragement, Enforcement, and Evaluation & Planning. A community must demonstrate achievements in each of these five categories in order to be considered for recognition.

–For Engineering, a community needs to design a bicycle master plan using well-designed bike lanes and multi-use paths to accommodate cyclists on public roads, The community also must provide bike racks for secure parking.

–Education includes teaching cyclists of all ages how to ride safely in any area from multi-use paths to congested city streets as well as instructing motorists how to share the road safely with cyclists.

–Encouragement means a community promotes and encourages cycling through events such as “Bike Month” and “Bike to Work Week.” It also should produce local bike maps, route-finding signage, community bike rides, commuter incentive programs, and initiating a “Safe Routes to School” program.

–Enforcing laws that encourage safer cycling and road-sharing to help create a bike-friendly environment in the community.

–Evaluation and planning is simply determining ways to make cycling safer, and setting benchmarks to gauge success. Here the community is judged on its systems for rating current programs and on its future plans.

As more and more local residents park their cars and put on their bike helmets, it’s time for municipalities to create safer shared roads and employ other of the 5 E’s. As it stands, there are no 5 E communities in Orange County, but some municipalities, including Montgomery, are working on implementing parts of the program.

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



Maintaining Your Cool

Monday, June 18th, 2012

By Shawn Dell Joyce

As the mercury rises in Orange County, people from around the world offer low tech ways to stay cool:

Mexicans: Dampen a bed sheet and hang it in the window. The water evaporates in the breeze, cooling the room in the process. Another method is to place frozen two-liter bottles of water in front of a fan for instant a/c.

Egyptians: Again, dampen a bed sheet and use it as a “blanket.” Evaporation does the trick.

Chinese: Keep a bamboo mat between your skin and a hot or hard surface like a car seat or chair. The bamboo allows air to circulate, and keeps bare skin from sticking to hot plastic.

Bahamians: In humid climates people often dress down and get wet. Getting wet reduces your core body temperature by three degrees, and will last up to an hour. If you wear clothes that can get wet as well, the cooling effect will last longer. You don’t have to have a pool; a hose, faucet, or misting bottle will work.

Bedouins: You can actually stay cooler in hot climates by covering your skin. Picture desert dwellers in their turbans and flowing white garments; the white reflects the sun, and the natural, loose fabrics shade the skin where there is no shade. Bedouin cultures often wear two layers in the heat of the day. Skin exposed to direct sun is hotter than skin insulated by clothing. Turbans and bandanas shade the eyes, and soak up sweat from the head; this then evaporates and helps cool you off.

New Yorkers: Apartment dwellers in major cities often move bedding onto their fire escapes to sleep in the cooler night air. Rural counterparts can sleep on screened in porches or outdoors. Another trick: Fill your bathtub with cold water and take periodic dips. If you live on the top floor, turn on the ceiling fan (or attic fan) and open the windows to draw out the hot air. Turn off incandescent lights, which generate 90 percent heat and 10 percent light. Use compact fluorescents or LEDs instead.

Caribbean people: Spicy foods make you perspire more, which cools the body. Spices also help stop foods from spoiling as quickly, and give you an endorphin rush that feels good in any temperature.

Italians: Train grapevines over window trellises to provide shade in summer and let in light in winter. Slightly opening windows on the bottom floor, and fully opening upstairs windows maximizes Mediterranean breezes through your villa.

Southerners: Front porches are part of the cooling system of a southern home. Sitting in a lawn chair or rocker that has slats or openings (for air flow) on a shady porch with some iced tea is a tradition. You hold the glass of iced tea against your neck to cool the blood to your brain, and on your pulse points in your wrists. Blow into the iced tea and cool air will rush around your face and neck. In temperatures over 105 degrees, soak your clothes and sit in the lawn chair with iced tea.

Women: Always carry a folding fan in your purse. Dampen a handkerchief and tuck it into your cleavage. It is very cooling and keeps sweat from running down your chest. Southern women often spritz with rubbing alcohol then stand in front of a fan. Follow that with a sprinkling of baby powder at your pulse points and you’re cool as a cucumber.

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




Hungry in the Land of Milk and Honey

Friday, June 8th, 2012

By Shawn Dell Joyce

In their delicious book, Hungry Planet: What the World Eats, photographer Peter Menzel and writer Faith D’Aluisio document the weekly food budgets of 24 international families. They point out that a family of eight in Guatemala spends 573 Quetzales (the equivalent of about $75.70) on groceries each week. The average yearly income is around $4,000, making groceries the highest expense for that family.

Meanwhile, back in Orange County, a family of five can spend a whopping $242.48 per week on groceries out of an average income of $35,000 per breadwinner. While the cost sounds much greater, compared to our Guatemalan neighbors, we Americans eat the cheapest food in the world, and plenty of it.

Marion Nestle, author of Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health, writes, “Here we have the great irony of modern nutrition: At a time when hundreds of millions of people do not have enough to eat, hundreds of millions more are eating too much and are overweight or obese. Today…more people are overweight than underweight.”

In the U.S. 72 percent of men, and 70 percent of women are overweight. Cheaper food does not translate into healthier food. In fact, our current agricultural policy is to subsidize corn to the point where it is ridiculously cheap and ubiquitous in our food system. So cheap that we even burn corn as fuel for our automobiles, a crime against humanity when you consider that all starving people that could be fed with it.

Looking back at our Guatemalan family cited above, their weekly diet consisted mainly of potatoes, rice and beans, and vegetables from their garden. Meat was added to a meal less than once a week. While the Orange County family ate mostly processed foods like canned soups, frozen meals, packaged cookies, cakes, and crackers, and lots of meat. Another major difference is cooking.

The Guatemalans eat every meal at home and one person spends most of her time cooking, preparing, and purchasing ingredients for meals. Americans eat one out of three meals at home.
How can we curb our national eating disorder?

–Eat local. When we eat what is grown in our own region we eat healthier, and at the peak of freshness. This is better for our health and the environment, as well a boost to the local economy.

–Grow your own food. Victory gardens helped our grandparents survive the wars and Great Depression. Save money at the grocery store by skipping the imported produce and processed food.

–Eat lower on the food chain. Meat is a threat to our health and environment. Treat it as a condiment and purchase locally raised meats from farms you trust. Check or

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

Orange County Staycations — Try One!

Saturday, June 2nd, 2012

The Bear Mountain Inn.

By Shawn Dell Joyce

Instead of making pricey travel plans this year that damage the environment as well as your bank account, take a local vacation, or “staycation.” This is a chance to rediscover the beauty of the Wallkill Valley, and the rest of Orange County by taking the time to visit cultural attractions and natural places that you may be too busy to see in your daily routine. The month of June is Orange County Month according to the O.C. Tourism Office.

A staycation does not mean staying home and doing yard work, or addressing the list of jobs you’ve been putting off for the past year. “Instead,” suggests Pauline Frommer of Frommer’s Travel Guides, “become a tourist in your own hometown.” Plan to see tourist attractions and historic sites, take an art class, learn to swim, or enjoy a number of small adventures you always wanted to do if you’d had the time.

A fringe benefit of staycations is that you develop a deeper connection to your community and hometown. People feel more connected to a place when they experience its history and natural beauty firsthand. Try to see something different each day; a different spectacular view, a different museum, a new restaurant. At the same time, you benefit your community by pumping vacation money into the local economy.

Some staycationers even go camping locally to get away from the daily routine. If you are addicted to technology, and can’t imagine a day without email or internet, consider leaving the house and staycationing in a nearby campground or bed and breakfast. You’ll still save gas money and travel expenses, but you’ll feel refreshed after being away from the computer for a few days.

Here are a few tips for staycationing in Orange County:

–Explore the rail trail from Walden to Wallkill, or offroad from Wallkill to Gardiner/New Paltz. Or try Goshen’s Heritage Trail all the way to Monroe for a 20-mile bicycle ride. Find other rail trails at

–Check out the new Orange County Tourism Guide for local motorcycle rides, as well as for art gallery and museum listings.

–Spend a Saturday touring farms and farm markets in your region to find out what is grown locally, and get a fresh delicious taste of the local flavors. There’s plenty of useful information at and

–Pick an Orange County town and spend the day walking through it, antiquing, eating in local restaurants, and getting a real sense of the history and culture of the place. Try West Point, Pine Bush, or Warwick for quaint walkable downtowns with plenty to see.

–Take an art, music, or acting class. Wallkill River School offers outdoor painting classes on Orange County farms, historic sites and open spaces. Most of these are places off the beaten track and give you a sense of local color and flavor.

–Orange County has more park land than any surrounding county. Take the family to a new park each weekend. Some particularly beautiful and family friendly parks are Bear Mountain, with an indigenous zoo, historic hiking/birding trails, and Perkins Point, a Mecca for motorcyclists, and Silver Mine Park in Harriman with a rich history, and a beautiful lake.

–Don’t forget Orange County’s historic museums like Hill-Hold in Campbell Hall, and Museum Village in Monroe, where you can get a glimpse of colonial life live, and in real time.

–Orange County has several campgrounds nestled in scenic places like Winding Hills Park in Montgomery, and Black Bear Campground in Florida.

–If camping is out, try a local bed and breakfast like Borland House or Buck’s Homestead in Montgomery. Both are historic homes within walking distance of farms, quaint downtown shopping and antiquing. Plus, you feel pampered and have no dishes to wash.

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

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.