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Earth Matters

Earth Matters: How Lawn Pesticides Impact Health and Environment

Earth Matters focuses on conservation, sustainability, recycling and healthy living.

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by Addison Chappell

Landscapers often use pesticides to produce perfect, bright green lawns for their clients. But what exactly are they spraying? Is it safe? These are questions homeowners should be asking.

Beginning in spring, and continuing through fall, legions of landscapers and lawn services move into action. It is estimated that in 2019, the lawn care industry generated a combined total revenue of just over $99 billion, with each household spending an average of $503 on lawn care and gardening activities (Mazareanu).  Pesticides account for about $6.8 billion of that amount. In the US alone, more than 70 million pounds of pesticides are dumped on some of America’s 30 million acres of lawns each year.

Many of pesticide companies promote their lawn products as “green” or “environmental”. The truth may be the opposite. In March 2020, a Washington DC non-profit group, beyondpesticides.org, whose mission is to work with allies to protect public health and the environment by transitioning to a world free of toxic pesticides, sued one of the biggest lawn care companies, TruGreen, for misrepresenting the safety of the toxic chemicals it uses. 

Under New York state law, the pesticide company is required to notify you in advance whenever a pesticide application will be applied to your neighbor’s lawn. Companies are also required to put up small signs for at least 24 hours that indicate a lawn has been sprayed. This notification lists all the chemicals that are used on the lawn. Many of these chemicals are dangerous. They include carcinogens such as Talstar (Bifenthrin), reproductive and developmental toxins such as Barricade 4FL (Prodiamine), and endocrine disruptors such as Sevin (Carbaryl). A sizable number of these chemicals are banned in other countries.  

The impact on the environment is also profound. Pesticides can contaminate soil, water, turf, and other vegetation. In addition to killing insects or weeds, lawn pesticides can be toxic to a host of other organisms including birds, fish, beneficial insects, pets, and other non-target plants.

What can you do:

Here are some things you can do to avoid these toxins:

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  1. Leave it alone! Your lawn is an ecosystem that supports a wide variety of plants and insects. Let them thrive naturally and see what happens. You can still achieve a green lawn!
  2. Convert it! Use some of that lawn space for a vegetable garden. Growing your own food is both rewarding and healthy. If that’s not for you, convert some of that grass into a flower bed with native plants that attract pollinators.  
  3. Use Nature! Find a certified natural alternative that is proven not to be harmful to your health or the environment. Sometimes this means adding another native plant to the mix to discourage pests, or it might mean changing the pH balance of your lawn slightly to dissuade certain plants from thriving.
  4. Get involved! Help to educate your neighbors on the use of pesticides in lawn applications. Demand meaningful legislation from lawmakers to outlaw these toxic substances and to encourage the industry to move to more organic and healthful alternatives.

We need to rethink the importance of perfect green lawns. We should be asking ourselves: What impact are we having on the environment? Are there better ways to maintain our lawns? Are pesticides worth the risk of endangering both human health and the environment?

Read More:

To learn more about the risks of pesticides, check out some of the articles below:

Addison Chappell is an Upper Nyack resident and a member of the Upper Nyack Green Committee

Earth Matters is a weekly feature that focuses on conservation, sustainability, recycling and healthy living. Read Earth Matters every Wednesday on Nyack News And Views, or sign up for the Earth Matters mailing list.


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