Monday, August 5, 2013

If It’s Designed to Kill, Treat it with Caution

For the past couple of weeks, I've tried to make the point that all products designed to kill something should be treated with caution. This week's example of "we didn't know this particular type of pesticide could do that" comes from a study reported in the American Journal of EpidemiologyThe authors note that pesticide exposure has been linked to an increased risk of depression, but that most research has focused on insecticides. The recent study focused on herbicides (weedkillers) and found that farmers who used them were more than twice as likely to be treated for depression as those who didn't. The study's lead author, quoted in an article in Digital Journal makes the point that "we should not be ignoring herbicides just because they're targeting plants." 

Fortunately, the dangers of herbicides and other pesticides are becoming more widely understood. Recently, Takoma Park Maryland passed the Safe Grow Act of 2013, which restricts use of cosmetic lawn pesticides on both public and private property. Banning or restricting the use of lawn chemicals is common in Canada, with at least 80 percent of the population living in municipalities with restrictions. Takoma Park's new law is said to be the first local ban in the United States, although some jurisdictions have restricted use of the chemicals around schools or in other public places.

Enacting restrictions in the United States is more complicated than might be imagined because of lobbying efforts by the chemical industry. A fact sheet on state preemption laws explains some of the challenge. None of us need to wait for laws to change, however, before we make healthy choices ourselves. An article entitled Chemical-free Lawn Care notes that more pesticides are applied around homes than on agricultural fields. All of us with homes and lawns get to make a choice. Are we going to contribute to the chemical problem or take a stand for better health in our own little corner of the world?


DebraSY said...

You know, I don't think I'm misremembering or romanticizing, but when I grew up -- late 60s early 70s -- no lawns were monoculture monuments to a single variety of grass. Early spring was punctuated with violets. Later, we enjoyed picking clover flowers from our yards and making bracelets and chains. We hunted amongst the greenery for four-leaf clovers too. And no one looked down on anyone for having a lawn like that. My dad did go after the dandelions with a sprayer filled with some kind of poison that he applied to each one individually. There were no mass applications, though.

Somewhere along the line, our society became rife with lawn snobs, and many of us started trying to make ours look like country club fairways.

My lawn is guilty now, too. True confessions. And convincing my husband to go for a more "natural" look would be a hard sell, since he is in competition with his dad.

Like most of the other issues in this blog, this is a more complicated problem than simply "just do the right thing." It requires courage and standing up to groupthink. In addition to convincing my husband to go more natural with our own lawn, this whole neighborhood, overseen by its neighborhood association, would need to agree that that is okay. The association sent us a notice demanding we paint our house. I wouldn't doubt that we'd get one for too many dandelions too. Hmmmm. We may need to wait till we move in 2017, then pick a place that is less constrained. Over time, if people do that, then neighborhood associations that demand uniformity may have to reconsider their positions.

One thing I'm grateful for now (over my childhood): No more municipal mosquito-sprayer vehicles. I remember we would run behind those and play in the "smoke." Wonder how many brain cells I lost.

Thanks for the thought-provoking post

Martha McLaughlin said...

I absolutely agree that community standards (i.e. peer pressure) can lead us to feel a compulsion or need to use chemicals we might not otherwise use. Changing our societal definition of a beautiful, healthy lawn would definitely be helpful. There are ways, though, to fight weeds and fertilize grass without toxic chemicals. Corn gluten is a pre-emergent weed killer. Vinegar or boiling water can be poured directly on dandelions. There are plenty of natural lawn care products, but unfortunately, they aren't as easy to come by as the toxic ones. They may have to be ordered. Some of the sites that come to mind that sell alternative lawn products are Eartheasy, Grow Organic, and Gardens Alive. I'm sure there are others. In some areas people can hire lawn care services that use natural products. Education is the first step. At this point, I don't think most people even realize that using lawn products that can be picked up at any home and garden store could be harming them, their family members, or their neighbors.