Lawn Chemicals Make For A Dangerous Backyard

By Bill Kohlhaase, Planet Natural

The most important reason to keep an organic lawn? The health of your family. The second? The health of your planet. If you think those two reasons are one and the same, you’re right. Traditional lawn care products that use synthetic fertilizers and chemical herbicides not only put your family and pets at risk but endanger the world at large. That’s something we all want to avoid.

Stories about the dangerous consequences of lawn chemicals abound. Nearly 50 school children in Ohio developed symptoms of poisoning after herbicides were sprayed near their school. A professional skater makes a claim in Newsweek that her health was “destroyed” after exposure to pesticides sprayed on a neighbor’s lawn (her dog died the same day). Seven dogs die (PDF) after eating paraquat herbicide in Portland, Oregon park. A noted soil scientist warns the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture that a popular dandelion spray may cause infertility and spontaneous abortion.

You want to make your lawns and gardens — the places where your children play — as safe as possible. Our selection of organic, effective weed killers will guarantee you’ve created the healthiest and best-kept outdoor environment possible. Need advice? Our Weeds Blog provides the ideas, information and practical experience you need to get the job done right.

While the anecdotes are non-scientific, science backs them up. Study after study links the use of pesticides and herbicides to a host of cancers, nervous-system disorders and other illness. The evidence shows these dangers are particularly acute for children. Add to that the overwhelming scientific evidence of the damage synthetic fertilizers do to the environment and we have to ask: why do we continue to dump tons of these products in our backyards year after year?

In the American canon, lawns rank with mom, baseball and apple pie. It’s the place your children romp and wrestle, your friends and family gather for picnics and summer holidays, the place your dog loves to play go fetch. Babies learn to crawl in the grass and children love to run barefoot through the backyard. With this kind of contact, doesn’t it make sense that we make our yards as safe as possible?

Those of us who buy and raise organic produce for our families need also consider the impact of the chemicals we spread in the name of lawn care, some 50 thousand tons a year, the vast majority of it herbicide and pesticide. Reducing our use of fertilizer through organic methods and eliminating the use of chemical pesticides and herbicides can go along way towards saving the planet. Added bonus: organically cared-for lawns can actually be healthier and more attractive — not to mention cheaper to maintain — than those dependent on expensive, regularly-administered chemical fixes.

Green History

Archeologists believe that the human love affair with grass lawns goes back to prehistoric times when our ancestors lived on the short-grass savannas of Africa. Grazed down by vast herds of game, the savannas gave those early humans an abundant source of food and a wide-ranging view towards predators. Historians trace the rise of lawns to the 17th century when European royalty used green expanses to showcase their castles and country homes. It’s no surprise that the American Golf Association joined with the U.S. Agricultural Department to push for the establishment of residential lawns in the early 1900s. Prior to 1900, the invention of the push mower went a long way towards influencing the middle class to plant grass around its homes.

Now the lawn is sacrosanct and common place, its appearance crucial in the race to keep up with the Jones-es. What’s acceptable in a lawn has become even more rigidly defined in the last several decades. Fifty years ago, it wasn’t uncommon — indeed it was thought attractive — to find clover in the family yard. Today, a host of broadleaf herbicides has sent clover down the same path as the television antennae.

While an entire movement is devoted to replacing lawns with native plants and water-wise gardens, many of us, especially those with children, barbecues and badminton sets, favor all-American grass. And there’s no reason that a well-cared for, health-conscious organic lawn can’t be just as weed-free and water-wise as the heavily fertilized, regularly herbicide-doused yards that, sadly, are the American standard.

Pour It On

Some 3 million tons of inorganic fertilizer are applied to American lawns each year. Much of it — nitrates, phosphorous and potassium — is produced by mining or synthesized from oil products. While nitrogen, as all gardeners know, is necessary for plant growth (as are phosphorous, potassium, sulfur and other minerals), the nitrogen used in synthetic fertilizers is commonly processed from ammonia. Often, to facilitate slow-release lawn fertilizers, ammonia is mixed with urea and formaldehyde, or it’s encased in sulfur or a synthesized polymer, some of them suspected endocrine disruptors. Think your kids don’t track something bad in from the yard every time they come indoors? Think again.

While the EPA has said such fertilizers are safe if used as directed, some experts have their doubts. And, in an effort to grow a thicker, greener lawn untold numbers of homeowners use far above recommended limits. Overuse of synthetic, nitrogen-laden fertilizers has been associated with methemoglobinemia or “blue baby syndrome” a condition that starves infants of oxygen and can lead to coma and even death.

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