Is your lawn dependent on chemicals?

Melissa McDonald

Although it is fairly common practice to use chemicals to maintain lawns, it may not be the healthiest option for your family, pets and neighbourhood wildlife.

Pesticide use (pesticides include herbicides, insecticides and fungicides) in urban settings has increased substantially in the last decade. As more and more people turn to chemical solutions to achieve the perfect lawn, more and more poisons are dumped into the environment. Should we be concerned?

The Ontario College of Family Physicians is concerned. Pesticides and human health is the topic of a recent newsletter issued to its members. The newsletter outlines the effects of acute pesticide poisoning but also alerts doctors to the possible effects of acute, low-level exposures to commonly-used lawn chemicals. Children and developing fetuses are particularly vulnerable because they are still developing and have a smaller body size in which to absorb the chemicals. As well, children are more likely to roll around in treated grass and then put their hands in their mouths, thus increasing exposure. Pets will also roll in treated grass and then track the residue into the house where it can remain for up to a year. Some studies show relationships between pesticides and increased rates of leukemia and brain cancer in children. There is also a possible link between pesticides and breast and prostate cancer in adults.

There is much debate surrounding pesticide use and health concerns with the opposition coming from the chemical companies themselves. The common retort is that there are no definitive studies showing these chemicals cause health problems. In fact, there are many studies showing possible links but it is virtually impossible to design an ethical study showing an absolute cause and effect.

However, this debate should not even be necessary since there is enough information to tell us we should be cautious. Pesticides are poisons that are designed to kill or maim living material. We, as humans, are also living material. Common sense would say that our bodies could be affected by pesticides. And if lawn-care chemicals are not absolutely essential, why use them?

A common response is: They must be safe if the government approves them. In fact, there are many shortfalls in the approval process. For example, safe exposure levels are estimated for healthy adult males only. Children, the sick, elderly, and pregnant women are not considered. Long-term effects and synergistic effects (combinations of chemicals together) are also ignored.

Chemical lawn care companies have the most to gain from our continued use of pesticides and therefore, will be quick to point out that the chemicals, if used properly, are safe. Our families have the most to lose if they are wrong. Why take that risk?

Toxin-free lawn care works.

Does giving up the use of chemicals mean giving up a beautiful yard? Not at all! There are many chemical-free alternatives.

The first option may be to consider a lawn cover other than the more fragile standard Kentucky blue grass. This may require a change in how you think a lawn should look and what you use it for. Artistic Landscape Designs Ltd. suggests a few hardy alternatives: thyme and lily-of-the-valley are two especially fragrant options. Other options include periwinkle and creeping juniper.

If youre not prepared to make the leap into a completely new lawn cover, then ecological lawn care is the answer. Appleseed Organic Lawn Care suggests the following tips:

With a little effort and forethought, toxin-free lawn care works. Achieving a beautiful yard that is safe for you, your family and your pets makes it well worth the effort.

For more information on lawn alternatives and ecological lawn care, contact Martha Robinson at the Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton at (613)724-4122 ext.3658 for an information package.