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Lawn care chemicals: how toxic are they?

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The benefits of using lawn care chemicals are easy to see, but the effects they may have on your family’s health and the environment are less obvious.

By Greg Seaman Posted Jan 28, 2009

A lush, thick lawn is an ideal natural playground, as well as a practical ground cover for yards. Growing the ‘perfect’ lawn is something of a suburban quest, a neighborly challenge for some. For the rest of us it’s an obligation assigned the LPE (least possible effort) to maintain a semblance of green lawn. Either way, it’s all too easy to reach for a packaged solution – lawn care chemicals which are quite effective at killing weeds and helping establish a beautiful lawn..

Some 100 million pounds of pesticides are used by homeowners in homes and gardens each year, and concern is growing about the potential hazards associated with their use. Studies show that these hazardous lawn chemicals are drifting into our homes where they contaminate indoor air and surfaces, exposing children at levels ten times higher than preapplication levels.

The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in a study of 9,282 people nationwide, found pesticides in 100% of the people who had both blood and urine tested. The average person carried 13 of 23 pesticides tested.

What are lawn care chemicals?

They include more than just fertilizers. Chemicals that kill weeds, insects and a variety of diseases are sold separately and in combination with fertilizers such as ‘weed and feed’. These formulations may include organophosphates, carbamates, phenoxy and benzoic acid herbicides like 2,4 D, MCPP, and MCPA, pyrethroids and organchlorines.

Do lawn care chemicals pose a health threat to my family?

Yes. Pesticides used in controlling weeds, insects, etc., are toxic. These chemicals have been created to kill pests and most are broad-spectrum biocides. This means they are poisonous to a wide variety of living organisms, including garden plants, wildlife, pets, your neighbors, your family and you. Inert ingredients, which may comprise 50 to 99% of a pesticide formula may actually be more toxic than the active ingredients.

Of 30 commonly used lawn pesticides, 19 are linked with cancer or carcinogenicity, 13 are linked with birth defects, 21 with reproductive effects, 26 with liver or kidney damage, 15 with neurotoxicity, and 11 with disruption of the endocrine (hormonal) system. Of those same pesticides, 17 are detected in groundwater, 23 have the ability to leach into drinking water sources, 24 are toxic to fish and other aquatic organisms vital to our ecosystem, 11 are toxic to bees, and 16 are toxic to birds.

How are we exposed to lawn care chemicals?

Poisons are absorbed through the skin, by the mouth, or by breathing sprays, dusts, or vapors. You or your children can be poisoned if you apply or are present during application of the chemical. Also if you touch contaminated grass, shoes, clothing, lawn furniture, etc., or put contaminated objects (toys, golf tees, blades of grass etc.) or fingers in the mouth.

Children and pets are at higher risk for health effects from exposure to pesticides than adults because their internal organs are still developing and maturing. Children are often more exposed to pesticides than are adults because they play or crawl on grass or floors where pesticide powders and granules normally settle. A recent government report states, until new guidelines for conducting exposure studies are developed, the EPA will not know how much exposure is associated with lawn care pesticides and associated health risks, especially for children.

Why doesn’t my doctor diagnose pesticide poisoning?

Pesticide manufacturers are not required to release health information to the medical profession. Doctors are not knowledgeable about pesticide poisonings and often misdiagnose these symptoms as allergies, flu, or some other illness. Doctors often state that the symptoms are psychosomatic. They are also afraid of a large chemical company taking them to court over a pesticide poisoning diagnosis – taking a toll on their time and finances.

Are lawn chemicals safe when dry?

No. Many chemicals remain active from a month to over a year. During this time, they can release toxic vapors. Breathing these vapors, even from neighbors lawns or while playing on or mowing contaminated grass, can cause illness.

What are the symptoms of lawn care pesticide poisoning?

They are deceptively simple and similar to those of other illnesses. Pesticides attack the central nervous system and other vital body centers. Some symptoms include: sore nose, tongue, or throat, burning skin or ears, rash, excessive sweating or salivation, chest tightness, asthma-like attacks, coughing, muscle pain, seizures, headaches, eye pain, blurred or dim vision, numbness or tingling in hands or feet, nausea, vomiting, cramps, diarrhea, tissue swelling, anxiety, suicidal depression, irritability, angry outbursts, disturbed sleep, learning disabilities, fatigue, dizziness, unexplained fever, irregular heartbeat, elevated blood pressure, stroke, death.

Even without apparent symptoms, exposure may still be harmful. Long term problems may include: lower male fertility, miscarriage, birth defects, chemical sensitivity, immune suppression, cataracts, liver and kidney dysfunction, heart disturbances, and cancer.

Is the government allowing unsafe chemicals on the market?

Yes. The EPA makes no claims to protect us from harmful pesticides. In fact, it is a violation of federal law to label any pesticides as “safe”, “harmless”, or “non-toxic to humans or pets”. The US Congress states, 90% of pesticides in current use lack health and safety tests required for registration, yet they continue to be sold and used. Of the most widely used products on lawns, most are lacking health and safety data required for registration.

Can lawn care chemicals contaminate my drinking water?

Yes. Pesticides and fertilizers can and do leach into private and public wells and water supplies. Unfortunately, there currently is no program to monitor our drinking water for this type of contamination. Many of the most widely use lawn care chemicals have been detected in ground water (e.g., 2,4-D, Sevin, Diazinon, and RoundUp).

Are there alternatives to toxic lawn care chemicals?

Yes. Natural landscape maintenance programs can achieve a healthy, pest-free landscape using the latest scientific developments in organic agriculture and horticulture. For example, corn gluten is a natural pre-emergent weed killer and fertilizer now available to home owners. Lawns can be enriched naturally by thin spreading of compost in the spring and fall. Also, natural lawn care practices will lead to a healthy vigorous lawn which resists pests and disease.

References:

Organic Landscape
National Coalition for Pesticide-free lawns
Environment and Human Health

Posted in Healthy Home Tags , , , , ,
  • http://intensedebate.com/people/albertwigs albertwigs

    Poisons are absorbed through the skin, by the mouth, or by breathing sprays, dusts, or vapours. You or your children can be poisoned if you apply or are present during application of the chemical.Initially lawn are not at all toxic but as soon as the chemical fertilizers increased to be proceed , the toxicity of the land increases which results into dampen land.I agree with one of the review that 30 commonly used lawn pesticides, 19 are linked with cancer or carcinogenicity, 13 are linked with birth defects, 21 with reproductive effects, 26 with liver or kidney damage, 15 with neurotoxicity, and 11 with disruption of the endocrine (hormonal) system.

    Organic Fertilizer

  • http://www.acnedietsreview.org Anthony Vanwhy

    I had always thought most of these were fine after they were soaked up, but to have a half-life of up to a year is pretty crazy. It sounds like it's about as good an idea as spraying uranium on your lawn.

  • Pingback: Would you Expose your Family to Neurotoxins for a Greener Lawn? | Eartheasy Blog()

  • Buffalogal1

    Our dog died from nasal lymphoma. She did not grow up in a polluted area or around smokers. Her oncologist was, nevertheless, fairly certain the cause of her cancer was environmental, more specifically, lawn pesticides. I have since met others who have lost their dogs to nasal cancers and they too point to lawn pesticides.

    • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

      Interesting. Thanks for passing on this information. Sorry about your dog.

    • riverdivine

      I’m so sorry to hear about your dog, and YES- this link between lawn chemical/fertilizers (such as SCOTT, that you can get at your neighborhood Home Depot, or the stuff that your run of the mill ‘landscapers’ use on your lawn so that it will look more green and ‘lush’) and canine and human cancer has been proven. Do all living beings a favor (not to mention, the dangers to wildlife, marine life, and our shared water supply), and do NOT use this stuff. In the ‘good ol’ days’, grass was grass, complete with dandelions and crab grass, and it was safe for kids, adults, dogs, and cats to roll around in. Now, its “TOXIC TURF”. We can get diseases by walking on grass that has been ‘treated’ by lawn and landscaping businesses. Its a disgusting and horrifying trend in these day. We have to speak up and insist on organic lawncare, if any- for our own health, and that of our pets and children. What our world has come to…

    • Sarah Branson

      Our dog died of Bladder Cancer. We NEVER USED TOXIC LAWN CHEMICALS. But realized after I got sick with CHEMICAL SENSITIVITIES. That we were Purchasing his Dog food from a Big Hardware Facility that had the food we were buying. Piled In Absorbent Bags on pallets right next to Pallets filled with TOXIC LAWN POISONS. ALSO IN ABSORBENT BAGS. OMG. Funny how you don’t notice were TOXIC CHEMICALS ARE BEING SET ON SHELVES IN STORES NEXT TO ABSORBENT PAPER PRODUCTS LIKE TOILET PAPER. OR ON SHELVES BUTTED RIGHT UP AGAINST FOOD PRODUCT. WHEN YOU SEE CARDBOARD BOXES OF RAT AND MICE POISON UP AGAINST BAGS OF CHARCOAL YOU WILL THEN COOK YOUR DINNER ON. I HAVE PERSONALLY SEEN BUG BARRIER IN THE FOOD SECTION IN A BIG BOX STORE. ROUND UP AND SPECTRACIDE, IN THE SAME CART WITH FOOD AND INFANTS. I WATCH A COUPLE SET THEIR TODDLER ON TOP OF COATED PAPER BAGS OF WEED N FEED. THE TODDLER WAS LITTERALLY SUCKING ON THE CAP OF A QUART BOTTLE OF ROUND UP. SEE HOW NO ONE IS CARRY ANY BETTER FOR HUMAN SAFETY WITH THESE DEADLY POISONS ANY MORE THAN THEY DO FOR OUR PETS. HERE IS A GOOD READ. CAREFUL IT MIGHT MAKE YOUR HAIR DO A SLOW CURL. COPY AND PASTE THESE INTO A WEB BROWSER. http://www.pesticideinfo.org/Docs/ref_toxicity1.html#CaveatsHuman OR http://www.pesticideinfo.org/Detail_Product.jsp?REG_NR=00968800139&DIST_NR=008845 Try also researching Round up and bug be gone also, Bug Barrier toxicitiy to humans and animals.

  • Josh Thomas

    I have a lawn care business and I use products that have CAUTION labels only…the same label as your dish soap you use to clean the dishes you eat from. Safer than the WARNING labels on the products used to clean the toilet you sit on or the shower you clean up in or the counter tops you prep your food on. Your info is completely inaccurate. You have to separate the products used by the code words on the labels. You can’t simply say all pesticides are toxic. That is a complete false statement.

    • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

      You are right in that consumers should read the labels for each product and then make decision based accordingly. The hazards of lawn care chemicals have been stated by many credible authorities, and lawn care chemicals have been banned in some municipalities. No one is saying all pesticides are toxic.

      • Josh Thomas

        That’s just another government move to please the public…I’m also a pilot. After the Dash-8 crash in Buffalo a few years back the FAA made a new rule that airline pilots had to have 1500 before flying for the airlines because of that crash. The captain was a 5,000 hour pilot and the 1st officer was a 2,200 hour pilot. The government implements new rules to please the majority of the public with no justification behind these rules. Dawn dish soap has the same CAUTION label as the Speedzone Herbicide that I use on my lawns. Are they going to ban dish soap in the near future as well?

        • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

          Speed Zone ingredients include 2,4-D, dicamba and MCPP, all of which are hazardous to humans and animals, according to http://www.pesticide.org.
          If Speed Zone comes into contact with skin, the Environmental Protection Agency recommends removing contaminated clothing, rinsing skin for 15 to 20 minutes and calling a poison control center or doctor for treatment advice. Inhaling the fumes can cause coughing, burning in the chest and dizziness.

          • Josh Thomas

            Dawn dish soap – CAUTION

            Keep out of reach of children. In case of eye contact rinse thoroughly with water. If swallowed drink a glass of water to dilute. Contact a physician immediately. To avoid irritating fumes do not mix with bleach.

            Yet environmentalist use the product to clean wild life and we use it to clean our dishes.

            The deal with pesticides is they should not be sold to the general public. There are safe ways to mix and apply these products and it should be left to people who are trained to use them. Happy home owners should not be able to go into the store and purchase these products without proper training.

        • riverdivine

          They should. Dawn dishwashing liquid- yet another product filled with cancer-causing chemicals, ingredients that have been UNTESTED by our FDA (there are 10s of 1000’s that have been untested, yet allowed on the market, at this point)- should be removed from our grocery shelves. Meanwhile, there are reams of research out there showing a connection between chemical lawn fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides- and the rise in hormonal-based cancers (eg., breast and prostate) in humans, neurological diseases (such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, autism, and MS), and leukemia and lymphoma in humans. There is also research readily available linking canine (dog) lymphoma and lawn pesticides/fertilizers/herbicides. Please, everyone- do your research, and for the fellow working in this industry- please take care of your health- seriously- if you continue using these chemicals in your work. All the best~

        • Tim

          For you to be able to say that lawn fertilizer does not cause health issues you would have to have a complete understanding of over 100,000 chemicals combined with the uniqueness and complexity of all bio chemistry as well as the great mystery of the capacities and boundaries of human consciousness. Explain your case to the person that gets violently sick and dies from peanut allergies or a person born with debilatating diabetes. Know it all..

          • Josh Thomas

            I have to be familiar with the products I use…you said it yourself…you can have a reaction to anything…ANYTHING. So I guess we should all seal ourselves up in a bubble. Would that make you feel better TIM? I guess you are the know it all. I only claim to use the safest unnatural products on the market. My only argument ever was that not all lawn care products are hazardous. So go pack sand.

          • Tim

            Josh, far from sand. And FAR from a bubble. Most of the time…I have a great life and can pretty much do what I want, buy what I want, travel where I want and help who I want. However answer me this: when neighbors close to my proximity have ANY type of lawn products sprayed and the wind blows the chemicals onto my property I get dizzy, major headaches, blurred vision and I am out for days. This is getting progressively worse as each spring rolls around. And yes, these are the purported “healthy, non-toxic, natural bogus lawn treatments”. Where do you draw the line?? Lawn products are highly toxic and lethal !! Are you an expert of the chemical structure and the ingredients in all lawn products and how they interact with each person on an individual level? This is a multibillion dollar industry run by money hungry lobbyist and not regulated by our government and ultimately perpetuated by folks like you. Yes, it would make me feel better if “you guys” sealed yourself up in a bubble and quit spraying that cancer causing crap all over lawns that inadvertantly end up on the property of people that are severely effected. We are not talking about loud music after hours from Mr. Jones or barbeque smoke from Ms. Smith finding its way into ones backyard. We are dealing with LETHAL toxins that end up on the lawns of innocent people and hurting them . I don’t expect anyone to tippy toe around me. Far from my nature. My hope is the public will become more and more aware of the damage caused by lawn products and how it is directly connected to cancer and other fatal diseases. I personally know dozens of people that deal with this. Maybe if enough people speak out the government will have to regulate.

          • Josh Thomas

            Good luck….can you get a law against cotton wood trees going to seed because my allergies act up due to that or maybe have all cats put to death because my entire family have bad allergies from them? Everyone is going to have something that bothers them. Move on. Keep them off of your property if it makes you feel better. You are doing your part with that but you can’t speak for everyone. And no I’m not an expert but the people who developed the products are and the government regulates them. I do my part by reading the labels of the products I use.

          • joe chemical

            TIM – a form of Hysteria is Somatoform disorder, it is a class of psychological disorder that involves physical symptoms that do not have a physical cause. These symptoms usually mimic real diseases or injuries. Such disorders include conversion disorder, body dysmporphic disorder and somatization disorder. stop making your neighbors miserable.

  • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

    I don’t think anyone challenges your point that your inorganic fertiizer results in a rich lawn, richer than one can attain with all-natural methods.
    My lawn is not as beautiful as my neighbors (she uses the chemicals). But I’ll take the non-chemical lawn, thank you.
    I’m glad to hear that you and your family are healthy. I suggest, though, that you do some due diligence and read what safelawn and many other studies have reported. And learn why these lawn fertilizers are banned in a growing number of communities.
    It’s great that you have 300 customers and can feed your family. I think you would have a bigger business with more customers if you can learn and apply natural lawn care methods, and also provide a service of helping people reduce or replace their lawns with low-maintenance xeriscape landscapes. Now there is a business with a future. I woud hire you for sure!

  • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

    Thanks Josh for continuing the conversation in such a respectful way. I agree pretty much with your point that that the inorganic programs produce a more beautiful lawn at the lowest cost. Although I did put down a trial patch of EcoLawn two years ago and it’s looking beautiful. And cutting the grass higher, applying a thin layer of compost in spring and mulching are also showiwng results. But it is more time consuming and I can see why it would cost more for a professional service to do this.
    But we are also concerned with the hidden costs of chemical lawn treatments. Health impacts carry a burden that can go beyond the cost-savings, and there is considerable evidence that this is the case.
    I suggest that your organic progam also offer a lawn reduction service, where lawn size is reduced in favor of low maintenance drought resistant local plantings. Thanks Josh.

  • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

    There is so much information available about the hazards of lawn care chemicals that it would be easy for you to make an informed decision about the safety of your husband’s work.
    We do not run a lawn care service. I think a good job with a future would be for your husband to learn natural lawn care practices, and lawn replacement strategies such as xeriscape landscaping. Many homeowners are looking for safe alternatives to chemical based lawn care.

  • Sarah Branson

    You evidently don’t have any compassion for those SUFFERING As a direct Result of the TOXIC POISON you are applying to the Ground. How is it you think POISON is good for any LIVING THING. You won’t care unless it finally Directly affects you. Well I am one who suffers now from EXTREME CHEMICAL SENSITIVITY. I can barely leave my dwelling now. I used to be healthy, owned a business and one day I was no longer the strong healthy person I used to be. I worked circles around most people I knew. Now I am lucky if I get out of bed and function at all. You will feel differently I assure you When not if the POISON Breaks your Immune System like it did Mine.

  • Sarah Branson

    Tell him if it is not harmful he should be able to drink it. Bet he won’t. Try Google Searching What does Pesticide, Herbicide, and Synthetic Fertilizer do to harm Human Health. The Answers will make your hair do a slow curl. How is it we just take someones word for things. Especially when the POISON WARNING PLACARDS have to be placed in the Grass after it is sprayed. THE TOXIC CRAP THEY SPRAY IS IN MANY CASES LEFT OVER INDUSTRIAL TOXIC WASTE. MUCH OF IT IS CARCINOGENIC OR CANCER CAUSING. IT IS POISON AND POISON BY ANY NAME IS STILL JUST POISON. Do some research people. This is not candy it KILLS ALL LIVING THINGS. NOT JUST BUGS AND WEEDS.

  • Ken

    This all depends on our unthinkingly accepted standards for lawn beauty, which are culturally constructed. Mono-culture lawns look like weird carpets to me, whereas a mix of clover, grass, and even crab grass looks more diverse, natural, interesting, and, yes, beautiful to me. Lawns that are the result of a series of pesticide applications look dystopian and unnatural to me. The suburban lawn obsession is conformist, unimaginative, boring, wasteful, and harmful (I wouldn’t want a lawn saturated with dish washing liquid, either) to the environment. Do people profit from it? Of course. People have profited from all sorts of harmful, mindless things throughout human history. It won’t change, but it is sad.

    • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

      Thanks for your comment Ken. It is very well said, and I agree entirely.

  • Carolyn

    Can you advise whether fertilizer of nitrogen, phosphorus and potash is harmful to bees? Thank you

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/greg_eartheasy Greg Seaman

    Hi Tori,
    References are provided at the end of page 2 of this article. Also here: http://www.beyondpesticides.org/lawn/factsheets/3

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