Enjoy your own (healthy) lawn this summer
Many of us have had our summer plans upended by the coronavirus pandemic and are going to be enjoying our own yards more than ever. Having a healthy lawn is not only important for the health of you and your family, but for the health of wildlife and Lake Erie.
Weed-free, lush, green lawns. Many people strive for this; I tell my kids not to play on them and while walking I actively avoid lawns that have the little “chemical lawn application” sign posted. Why?
I have many reasons for avoiding “perfect” lawns. Lawn perfection typically comes at a high cost. A cost to Lake Erie, a cost to wild animals, and a cost to our health. It is estimated that more than a billion pounds of pesticides and herbicides are used by homeowners in the United States a year.
When chemical fertilizer is applied to lawns, the excess nutrients are carried away by rain waters into Lake Erie. Chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides contain nitrogen, and when too much nitrogen (and phosphorus) get into the lake, it causes an imbalance, which in turn can trigger an algae bloom. This is the cause of the toxic algae blooms we see in Lake Erie in the summertime, especially in the western Lake Erie basin.
The microcystin algae is not just gross looking and smelly, it is highly toxic to humans. When swallowed, it can cause nausea, fever, stomach pain and severe headaches. Further, when the algae die, they sink to the bottom of the lake, and decompose in a way that removes oxygen from the water, creating “dead zones” in which fish and other aquatic species can’t survive.
Seven million birds die a year from exposure to residential lawn chemicals. Seven million. When I think about that number, it blows my mind, and then I think, if it’s killing seven million birds a year, why would we ever think it’s not slowly killing us? Turns out, those chemicals are very dangerous to human health and most likely are killing us too.
The dangers of synthetic pesticide use have been known for decades. The National Coalition for Pesticide Free Lawns reports that of 30 commonly used lawn pesticides, 19 are linked with cancer or carcinogencity, 13 are linked with birth defects, 21 with reproductive effects, 26 with liver or kidney damage, 15 with neurotoxicity, and 11 with disruption of the endocrine (hormonal) system. Pesticides have also been linked to attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children. Yikes!
Poisons from lawn chemicals are absorbed through the skin, by the mouth, or by breathing sprays, dusts or vapors. If you or your children are present during lawn chemical application, you can be poisoned. If you walk on contaminated grass, your shoes and clothing can become contaminated, and risk bringing it into your home. The same goes for dogs and cats – if they walk on contaminated grass not only can they become poisoned themselves, but they can then bring the chemicals inside your home on their paws.
Children are at a much higher risk of poisoning because they are much more likely to put their hands in their mouths as they play on the grass with pesticide powders and granules. Children and pets are at higher risk for health effects from exposure to pesticides than adults because their internal organs are still developing and maturing. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in a study of 9,282 people nationwide, found pesticides in 100% of the people who had both blood and urine tested. The average person carried 13 of 23 pesticides tested.
Please do not think that when lawn chemicals have dried that they are safe. They’re not. Lawn chemicals can remain active from one month to a year.
Okay, I know you’re waiting for some good news – and I have some! Use organic lawn treatments. There is no reason you can’t obtain a weed-free, healthy lawn using safe alternatives to chemicals. A simple “organic lawn care” Google search brings up lots of how-to websites, including one titled “Organic Lawn Care for the Cheap and Lazy” (www.richsoil.com/lawn-care.jsp). That sounds good to me! However, my family takes the EVEN lazier approach by hiring a local organic lawn care company to service our yard. I am also proud of the clovers and other scarce weeds I find. It means that I’m doing my best to keep my family healthy!
And I tell my kids when they see those little signs that say “chemical lawn application” to steer way clear and to avoid those lawns in general whenever possible.