By Suzanne Rosenblatt
July 11, 2005
For nine years my dog, Lilac, spent her days with me, running alongside my bike, napping near my feet, watching me cook dinner, and then she was dead, young, yet dead of cancer. That's when I learned that many dogs are dying young, especially if neighbors, or owners, use lawn pesticides. That was in 1992. Now I have five grandchildren in the Milwaukee area, and the lawns are more toxic than ever. As I read studies and articles, listen to lectures, hear people's experiences, I realize that pesticides are the 21st century equivalent of cigarettes. But more insidious. When someone blows smoke rings, then coughs, it's easy to make the connection. When someone sprays, if babies are born with birth defects, or sperm counts are down and infertility up, or if years later, people get Parkinson's, leukemia, breast cancer, brain tumors, or non-Hodgkin's lymphoma it's harder to determine cause and effect.
We walk on sprayed lawns and sprayed sidewalks, then walk on our carpets, and those carpets become the most toxic places in our homes. I once asked a ChemLawn employee to stop spraying the sidewalk. He replied, "If this stuff was dangerous, they'd never let me use it." Perhaps he didn't realize that lawn care companies don't have to prove safety; many chemicals were grandfathered in in the 1970's. Grandfathered, a cruel doublespeak, for grandfathers are protective of their grandchildren, yet grandfathering means removing protection to allow chemicals already in use to remain in use when safety standards become more stringent, chemicals innocent until proven deadly. Drug manufacturers must prove the safety of medications, yet even products that are tested, like Vioxx, Celebrex, Prempro, Bayacol, or Propulsid, may later prove dangerous. Often the manufacturers know it and withhold evidence. Now think of the chemical companies, who don't have to prove safety. What evidence are they withholding?
Here are excerpts from some web sites that have researched available studies.
"Pesticides ... harm beneficial insects, plants, and microorganisms...Exposure to many commonly used lawn pesticides has been associated with serious health problems in laboratory animals, including cancer, birth defects, reproductive problems, hormonal imbalance, gene mutations and nervous system, liver and kidney damage.
(Abrams, R., 1992: "Lawn care pesticides and safety - what you should know," New York State Department of Law Environmental Protection Bureau fact sheet dated 3/92.)
Studies have linked the use of lawn pesticides with a four-fold increase in the risk of children developing cancer of the non-bony tissue (soft tissue sarcoma) (Leiss, J.K. and D.A. Savitz,1995: "Home pesticide use and childhood cancer: a case-control study." Am J of Public Health, Vol. 85, No. 2, pp. 249-252.) and with two- to six-fold increases in childhood brain cancer... in homes where pesticides were used (Davis, J.R., et al., 1993: "Family pesticide use and childhood brain cancer," Archives of Enviro Contamination and Toxicology, Vol. 24 pp. 87-92).
A study of dogs exposed to the most frequently used lawn chemical, 2,4-D, found that when dog owners applied 2,4-D more than four times a year on their lawn the incidence of ...canine malignant lymphoma or CML, doubled. According to the National Cancer Institute, dogs with CML were 30% more likely to have lived in a home where the owners had applied 2,4-D or employed a commercial lawn company to treat their yard (Hayes, H.M. et al. 1991: "Case control study of canine malignant lymphoma: positive association with dog owner's use of 2,4-D." J Natl Cancer Inst., Vol. 83, pp. 1226-1231.)"
Here's are excerpts from another site http://www.healthyenvironmentforkids.ca/english/resources/card_file.shtml?x=606 about 2,4-D, which is also used in "weed and feed" products ...
Component of Agent Orange; Widely found to be contaminated with dioxin; Contaminates urban bodies of water, surface and ground water; Linked to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma..., to prostate cancer in farmers, ...Edocrine disruption, Reduced sperm counts and/or increased abnormalities in sperm. Found in residential carpet dust up to one year after application outdoors on lawns...Chlorophenoxy herbicides - which include 2,4-D - are classified in Group 2B (possible carcinogen) by International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).
Here are the protection specifications for people who apply 2,4-D: they must wear face shield, goggles or safety glasses, long pants, long-sleeved shirt, socks and shoes and chemical-resistant gloves. No protective equipment is suggested for passers-by, nothing for dogs and children.
Most people just don't know the risks, and don't know that herbicides, insecticides, rodenticides, and fungicides are all pesticides. I've had well-educated friends say, "We don't use pesticides, only herbicides." Even a lawn-care company owner spraying under my kitchen window snapped at me, "These aren't pesticides, it's weed-killer. We'd have to be licensed to use pesticides."
ChemLawn sprays a yard not far from our house, then two little girls bring out the sprinkler and prance on the grass. Later the family eats at a table on the treated grass. On a different corner of the same intersection lives another family with two daughters. Their lawn is textured with clover, lambs-quarter, chamomile, and dandelion leaves. Which lawn would you want your child to play on? Which would you want your dog to sniff?
If I rang the doorbell and spoke to the owners of the ChemLawn lawn, would I end up with an enemy on the block? It's happened before. Since the federal government doesn't do it, local governments could inform their citizens of the risks of lawn pesticides. When people complain about dandelions, governments could take the opportunity to educate about health risks and water run-off instead of letting ignorance rule. It might cost a little more at first to take care of public land in a safe manner. It would be cheaper in the long run.
Local governments could create an information packet for churches, day-care centers, apartment house and condo managers, business owners, and home-owners to inform them of risks, and suggest alternatives: native plantings, corn gluten, vinegar, ammonia, more frequent cutting, introduction of clover, over-planting of grasses to crowd out weeds, the use of specific species of grasses, mowing long so grass gets well-established, and the use of organic lawn-care companies. They can distribute information through schools and organizations, or attached to dumpsters on collection day.
My problem in writing this has been not a dearth of information, but a glut. There's a fact sheet, Health Effects of 30 Commonly Used Lawn Pesticides on the Beyond Pesticides web site. http://www.beyondpesticides.org/lawn/factsheets/30health.pdf X means "adverse effect demonstrated," and there are X's everywhere. Non-organic fertilizers often contain pesticides and high levels of toxic metals. If these were medications, the government might be investigating corporate Emails. But we don't pop them in pill form, we inhale them, we drink them in our water, we eat them in produce, our children lick them off their fingers.
Since I started my pesticide education group, Grass Roots, I've received Emails about dogs dying after neighbors spray, articles about pesticide studies, links to great web sites, and the more I read, the deeper the danger seems. A 2002 study showed that Atrazine, one of the most commonly-used herbicides in the world, makes hermaphrodites of frogs. "It's like a canary in the mine shaft sort of thing," said the lead researcher. A 2005 study says that Atrazine may serve as a risk factor for Parkinson's disease, schizophrenia, and attention deficit disorder, among other diseases. Yet 76.4 million pounds are still used annually in the United States, mainly on corn, which we eat. It is still available over the counter as a lawn pesticide. Why? And why are we still using 2, 4-D? Why, with so many hundreds, if not thousands, of studies world-wide showing links between pesticides and almost every possible disease, are we allowed to use them on lawns?
What are we doing to ourselves, to our children, to the earth?