Lawns shouldn’t take our breath away

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Back in the summer of 2012, I became alarmed when I saw yellow pesticide application signs on the edge of Pinkney Park in Rowayton because it’s situated along the Five Mile River, which provides habitat for aquatic organisms, fish, songbirds, amphibians, and small mammals.

It is also the site of many community events, such as Shakespeare on the Sound, where families and children sit directly on the lawn.

I learned from the lawncare company it used Quinclorac for weed and crab grass control. I then reached out to the national organization Beyond Pesticides to get more information about the product and found out that the chemical is a potential groundwater contaminant and considered toxic to aquatic animals.

I worked with commissioners to make Pinkney Park an organic showpiece for the community in 2013, and other public land areas such as the Community Center property, the Rowayton Dog Park and Bailey Beach all are now pesticide free.

Last summer, Norwalk’s Common Council passed an ordinance banning toxic pesticides and assuring that pesticide-free management would be implemented on all public spaces throughout the city. Their land management pan embraces an organic systems approach to land care, including preventive practices that eliminate pest-conducive conditions.

But Norwalk will not truly be pesticide free until residents stop using toxic chemicals in their own yards. The pesticide free movement is encouraging residents to go pesticide free one lawn at a time.

Of the 30 most commonly used lawn pesticides, 17 are possible or known carcinogens, 18 have the potential to disrupt the hormonal system, 19 are linked to reproductive effects and sexual dysfunction, 11 have been linked to birth defects, 14 are neurotoxic, 24 can cause kidney or liver damage, 25 are irritants, 19 are detected in groundwater and 20 have the ability to leach into drinking water sources. Likewise, 30 are toxic to fish and other aquatic organisms vital to our ecosystem, 29 are toxic to bees, 14 are toxic to mammals and 22 are toxic to birds.

Without bees, butterflies, insects and birds there would be no ecosystems; there would be no us.

Roundup, the most popular weed killer in the world, has as its most active ingredients glyphosate and 2,4-D, which are particularly dangerous. A few years ago, a jury awarded a couple $2 billion in damages after concluding that sustained exposure to Roundup led to their cancer diagnoses.

The truth is there is no official scientific standard for how long people should stay off a lawn after it is treated. One size does not fit all because different populations — young children, pregnant mothers, the elderly and those who may be immunocompromised — are more sensitive to pesticide exposure.

A 2013 study that tested dogs found that they had lawn pesticides in their urine for at least 48 hours after sprayingA 2001 study also found that a week after lawn treatment, 2, 4-D was found on all indoor air surfaces after wafting in through various openings in 13 homes.

Even if the active ingredient in a pesticide is gone, it may still leave behind breakdown products that can be even more toxic than the active ingredient, according to Beyond Pesticides, a D.C. based nonprofit. One notable example is the neonicotinoid thiamethoxam, which is registered for home lawn use to treat grubs and is found in the product Meridian 25WG.

All of this data is inconvenient to the greedy pesticide industry, which pushes the “keep off the grass for 24 hours” yellow warning signs that mislead the public into thinking pesticides aren’t as deadly as they are.

The good news is it has never been easier to go pesticide free as organic lawncare has become mainstream.

The first step is testing your soil to determine what organic supplements you should add to make it healthy. If your soil is hard, compacted and full of weeds or bare spots, aerate it. Use grass seed on bare spots to crowd out weeds. Apply corn gluten meal as a pre-emergent for weed prone areas. And instead of using toxic herbicides, weeds can be pulled by hand or sprayed with horticultural vinegar.

Norwalk residents can be role models for other communities by going pesticide-free one lawn at a time. These unprecedented times have taught us our lives have more meaning when we rescue ourselves and model the leadership and initiatives we hope to see across the state, nation and globe.

Priscilla Feral


4 responses to “Lawns shouldn’t take our breath away”

  1. Jalna Jaeger

    The hazard of chemicals increases when they are tracked into enclosed spaces,your home! It is dangerous to spread poison where you walk. Every chemical you apply ends up in Long Island Sound.

  2. Diane Lauricella

    Thank you for your leadership and writing this important and informative article.

    I pray, though, that our community systems , such as neighborhood associations, condo boards, public health departments, and local government boards and commissions “go wide” with risk communication and understand the need to spread the facts to consumers because life is short.

    Also, we should support the environmental advocates and groups who have presented these ideas for years and years.

    Many such groups, such as the Pollinator Pathway, Garden Clubs, River Associations and Land Trusts want and need all of us to help them spread the facts about health and environmental risks and offer real alternatives that work!

  3. Johnny cardamone

    I became an organic Gardner in 1970!
    What’s taking so long for the city to catch up!?!

  4. Tysen Canevari

    That’s wonderful that people choose to be organic at their property. However, at my property I choose to have a nice yard and I embrace using chemicals approved for use by the DEP in the United States and applied by a licensed applicator. I hold a state license to apply pesticides and herbicides and apply them according to the labels and use as needed. What is alarming is anyone can walk into Home Depot and buy what they please and put it at their home with no real restrictions. The yellow signs are required by law to be put out for 24 hours. The organic approach to commercial lawn care just doesnt work or all of the lawn care industry would use it. Honestly, for someone who has owned a business for 25 years in the area I am used to landscapers being singled out. First chemicals then blowers. Whats next? But, i ask the same question to all the activists that want to save lives. Do you picket the stores that sell cigarettes or liquor? I suppose not! Their pockets are just too deep for you to handle. They kill a lot more people than some fertilizer on a lawn.

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