The former members of the 9/11 commission said recently that the U.S. Congress and the White House have done a miserable job protecting the country from another terrorist attack. Especially harsh criticism was leveled against Congress for not securing chemical plants. Surprised? Why? The industry has been buying politicians for years, as well as deliberately misleading the public.
One of the national lawn care companies states in its sales brochure that it's got chemicals for early spring to deal with "winter stresses." In the early summer it has chemicals to help you "prepare" for the nasty summer. In the early fall the candy man has the elixir to help your sensitive mono-turf recover from the "stresses of summer." And of course they promise winter protection for your lawn's "winter survival." How did nature survive before humans developed all these chemicals and tools to create and protect our precious, artificially induced neighborhood turf? If it talks like a snake oil salesman....
It's legitimate to ask what did they know and when did they know it, as far back as the end of World War II. After the war the chemical companies reworked the original formulas. Lower doses were created to kill insects instead of people. The toxicity to humans, however, did not suddenly vanish. What did become more difficult was establishing cause and effect and the connection between symptoms and exposure. But fifty years later we've learned a lot about the cumulative and possibly long lasting effects of these toxins on the environment, on animals, and on people.
For many researchers and scientists it has already talked like a duck. A number of commonly used lawn pesticides may have links to cancer, kidney and liver disease, birth defects, and neurological disorders, to name just a few possibilities. Pesticides have been found in groundwater, and are toxic to birds, bees, fish and aquatic organisms.
DDT, the pesticide that was banned back in 1971, still turns up in animal tissue more than thirty years later, along with PCBs, chlordane, dieldan, and a host of other synthetic chemicals. A Canadian study sponsored by Environmental Defense, examined blood and urine samples of volunteers living in different parts of the country. All the volunteers had high levels of assorted chemicals, which included pesticides. The Center for Disease Control in the United States has also conducted similar studies and has come up with similar results.
The chemical fertilizers we pour on our lawns, and golf courses--a disturbing story all its own, are "stimulants." They wash away and increase concentrations of nutrients that can end up intensifying algae growth and decreasing dissolved oxygen in water.
We Americans clearly love our poisons. By some estimates at least 90 million pounds of pesticides are tossed on our lawns and gardens. We also tend to apply them more intensively than farmers do on their crops. Agriculture averages about 2.7 pounds per acre, while homeowners average somewhere between 3.2 to 9.8 pounds per acre for lawns.
The Audubon Society has estimated that a "typical" lawn might receive as much as 20 pounds of fertilizer and 10 pounds of pesticide a year. Finally, a one-third acre lawn could consume 170,000 gallons of water in a summer!
The Environmental Protection Agency has listed lawn mowers as an important source of ozone-causing pollution. In fact, the EPA found that lawn and garden equipment in metropolitan areas (where most of us live) increases air pollution in some cases by more than 20 percent. A member of the California Air Resources Board once said that using a gasoline-powered lawn mower for one hour is like "driving a minimum of 10 cars." This person also added it could be "up to 30 or 40" if you're using an old lawn mower.
Want a lawn that's fairway smooth? Sam Snead's voice whispers from the past. Well, not as much as we once did, Sammy ... fortunately. But we're still poisoning ourselves and our children to death. But don't worry. Trust us. Be happy.
There are plenty of alternatives to "plastic" lawns, as well as ways to change stupid laws. Just a few places to begin:
Wild Ones: www.for-wild.org
"When Cities Grow Wild": www.for-wild.org
National Coalition for Pesticide-Free Lawns: www.beyondpesticides.org
EPA, "Lawn and Gardens": www.epa.gov
Refuse to Use Lawn Chemicals: www.ghorganics.com
Lawn Mower Pollution: www.greengrasscutters.com
Pesticide Action Network North America: www.panna.org
SourceWatch: www.sourcewatch.org A good place to find out about industry "front" groups.
About your friendly chemical industry:
Environmental Working Group: www.ewg.org
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility: "What is CHEERS?" www.peer.org
Chemical/manufacturers top recipients: www.opensecrets.org
AlterNet, "Open to Attack" 10/29/03 www.alternet.org