By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now
Spring has sprung, or is springing. And with the season come the chemicals, raining down upon lawn and garden centers everywhere
Ah, I love the smell of Atrazine in the morning. Let us celebrate the beginning of new life –and the end of beneficial insects, pure water, live soil and natural processes!
It is amazing that with our vast knowledge of how chemicals contaminate ecosystems, pollute waterways and boomerang back in food and drink with verifiable carcinogenic and endocrine-disrupting effects, we collectively buy tons of these synthetic chemicals every spring, summer and fall.
But does our need to control crabgrass, dandelions and clover — the pursuit of perfect turf — have to supersede common sense?
I have theories about why we hold onto these chemicals. First, we’re stuck in a rut. Killing the weeds is just something we do. It’s a rite of spring. Like watching the Oscars or visiting a tanning salon. In addition, there’s plenty of social pressure to jump on those unsightly pop-ups in the yard. Namely, the neighbors. And killing the offenders (the weeds, that is) with chemicals is swift and effective — on the surface. Poof! No more social ostracization.
Carbaryl, Glyphosate, Pronamide, Pendimethalin.
Even for people who suffer a guilty twinge for turning their yards over to this promenade of unpronounceable pish-posh, there are roadblocks to change. They may minimize their use of yard chemicals, only to discover that without a full organic program, Mr. Lawn remains resistant to their prodding, a woebegone testament to half-knowledge. Believe me. I’ve been there. Switching to organic requires some know-how, and not only are we a couple generations away from the relatives who could have taught us how to manage the land naturally, we’re also starting with lawns and gardens that have been rendered sterilized wastelands from previous chemical applications.
A lot of these folks who have a foot in the organic doorway, who really would rather not continue their personal chemical assault on the environment, are betwixt and between. They would like to change their program, but they don’t know enough about where or how to start. So they rationalize that a few toxic applications won’t hurt. But of course, if everyone continues to use “a little bit” of poison on their little plot of land, then we’ll have a great many chemicals coursing through the water system, causing algal blooms in lakes and contamination of drinking water. (Thank God that’s not happening!)
HOW BAD IS IT OUT THERE?
The Washington-based Beyond Pesticides group thinks that Americans’ annual application of more than 100 million pounds of toxic chemicals on their lawns and gardens is horrifically environmentally damaging. Worse, it’s taking a clear toll on humans. Beyond Pesticides (BP) has compiled a page of facts and figures to show where they think the damage is occurring and to whom. Quick, guess the group with the highest concentration of pesticides in their blood? If you guessed 6-11 year olds, you’re right. Fortunately, it’s not all your fault for chemically treating your lawn. These days we know better, silly. Some of these chemicals are delivered to children in utero and via breast milk. In other words, they’re born with a starter dose of chemicals. Sweet.
People are waking up to this problem that’s in our children, and on our lawn. In Canada, the cosmetic use of pesticides on lawns has been outlawed in most provinces, and weed-and-feed products are being phased out. Homeowners must find organic alternatives. In Europe, some of the most dangerous herbicides, such as Atrazine, have been banned for household use.
But Americans’ pursuit of the “perfect lawn” via chemicals continues. If these poisons somehow vanished as they slid down the storm drain — out of sight, out of mind — the matter might not merit much concern. But these chemicals persist in the environment – maybe not as tenaciously as DDT, which still turns up in human breast milk 40 years after being banned — but they do linger. And studies show that exposure to them correlates to health effects: Cancer, infertility, birth defects, endocrine disruption, childhood leukemia, asthma, hyperactivity.
Sure, we can blithely ignore all this until more studies show ironclad proof that X chemical produces X effect.
Or we can take a precautionary approach and find ways to create a slab of green turf, if that’s what we want, without poisoning the soil and water. It can be done. There are countless sources ready to help those who want to reinvent their yard by going organic or even replacing their turf with native grasses and vegetation.
It might seem paradoxical to Americans, who’ve come to associate lawn care with sweat, brute effort and endless chemical coaxing, that native lawns are the easiest to tend. They require less water, less mowing and no chemicals.
Sometimes following the path of least resistance can be the wisest course.
Want to know more?
- Visit SaferLawns.org to see videos of how to cultivate a chemical-free lawn.
- See the documentary movie A Chemical Reaction.
- See SaferLawn’s series of blogs on “low-work” yards.
- Retailers with a focus on natives are available locally across the U.S. Two online include High Country Gardens and Native American Seed.
Copyright © 2011 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network