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Is Your Lawn Toxic?
by Vanessa Behrens
If you aren't ready to get rid of your lawn altogether, at the very least, you need to be aware of the inherent dangers of commercial lawn care products and their effects on your health. The information in this article is courtesy of The Happy Gardener website and local Happy Gardener consultant Vanessa Behrens.
Organic gardening requires a completely different approach to traditional, chemical-based gardening techniques. As more and more gardeners throughout the country become aware of the harmful effects of chemical use on our families, communities, and environment, the more educated we must become on alternative methods of plant and lawn care, pest control, and sustainable agriculture.
Even though we don't eat the grass growing in our yards, one of the biggest dangers to our health is related to how we care for our lawns. The U.S. Center 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.
Here are some common lawn pesticides and their effects on human health:
Organophosphate poisoning symptoms include excessive sweating, salivation and lacrimation, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramp, general weakness, headache, poor concentration and tremors. In serious cases, respiratory failure and death can occur.
Carbamate poisoning symptoms include excessive urination, nausea, vomiting, muscle spasms, convulsions, and in severe cases respiratory failure. Carbamates are possible carcinogens according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA).
Phenoxy and benzoic acid herbicides like 2,4 D, MCPP, and MCPA affect the central nervous system. Acute symptoms of exposure include involuntary twitching, loss of sensation, vomiting, abdominal pains, diarrhea, weakness, fatigue, dermatitis, and aching muscles. Chronic symptoms of exposure include reproductive effects, birth defects, cancer of soft tissues, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and negative effects on the liver and kidneys.
Pyrethroids are rated as possible carcinogens according to the USEPA and affect the central and peripheral nervous systems. Poisoning symptoms include asthma-like reactions, sneezing, headache, nausea, lack of coordination, convulsions, tremors, facial flushing and swelling, and burning and itching sensations.
Organochlorines are a chemical class that includes other well-known toxic compounds, such as PCBs, tetrachloroethylene, aldrin, chloroform, DDT, dieldrin, and heptachlor. Immediate and long-term effects include, but are not limited to convulsions, nausea, hypertension, cancer, central nervous system damage, lung damage, and anemia. Organochlorides are suspected teratogens and mutagens. Organochlorines are very persistent in the environment and they bioaccumulate in plants and animal tissues.
Children & Pets
Children and pets are two of the most heavily impacted populations from lawn pesticides. A child's behavior outdoors or in the home brings them in contact with the ground more than an adult, potentially exposing him or her more directly to pesticides when playing on grass and carpets. Children are at a higher risk for health effects from exposure to pesticides than adults because their internal organs are still developing and maturing. Their enzymatic, metabolic, and immune systems provide less natural protection than those of an adult.
There are "critical periods" in human development when exposure to a toxin can permanently alter the way a child's biological system develops and operates. 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. A University of Southern California study showed that children whose parents used garden pesticides were 6.5 times more likely to develop leukemia.
Pets can eat or lick up lawn care chemicals while rolling in the grass or cleaning themselves. A Purdue University study found that Scottish terriers were four to seven times more likely to develop bladder cancer if they had been exposed to lawn chemicals. A National Cancer Institute study reports a positive association with an owner's use of the popular crabgrass killer 2,4-D and their pet dog's chances of getting cancer.
What Can You Do?
Caring for your lawn properly is just a small part of healthy gardening. The following general suggestions are some cheap and easy ways to promote healthy living for you, your family, wildlife, and the environment.
Use alternative lawn care: Chemical lawn care systems leach into and contaminate water supplies. Choose alternative lawn care that contains all-natural and environmentally friendly weed control and fertilizing components. Want a green, healthy, weed-free lawn but don't want the dangers of chemicals? You'll never need those little flags warning kids and pets to stay off your treated turf again. With the growing awareness of natural and organic living, alternative methods for lawn care are now being offered. Look for products that are safe to use around children and pets and that keep water supplies clean.
Grow healthy, chemical-free fruits, veggies, herbs: With the increasing awareness of harmful effects from chemical residue intake, it is wise to provide your family with organic and home-grown foods. It does not matter if you have acres of land to plant on or just your deck you can grow wonderful healthy food using organic compost, and chemical free products. There are companies who know how damaging the products found in most stores are and offer a wide range of environmentally safe products to choose from. Your plants will thrive and so will your children and pets without the worry of being poisoned unwittingly as you plant and grow a healthy garden.
Condition the soil: Adding an all-purpose soil conditioner to your flower, vegetable, herb beds will ultimately save you time and money! Feeding the soil with natural nutrients allows the soil to feed the plants, as it was meant to do. The plants draw nutrients from the soil as needed, so you don't have to do it every week/month. By conditioning you have a healthier environment for growth giving the plants the ability to grow longer and healthier root systems which will give them the ability to withstand hot summers and cold snowy winters.
Compost: Collect kitchen scraps (coffee grounds, egg shells, fruit/vegetable scraps), grass clippings, debris (leaves, twigs), and add them to a compost pile. You will be amazed at what nutrient-rich compost will appear... like magic. Use it in your garden and experience the wonderful results!
Use alternative methods of pest control: Provide an open invitation to your garden for birds and bats -- they are natural pest controllers and they don't charge you for their services!
Vanessa Behrens an Independent Garden Consultant for "The Happy Gardener," visit her web site.
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