Getting a nice green lawn to grow after moving into this house hasn’t happened yet, even though I moved in more than a year ago. In spite of hiring a crew of guys who knew about yard planting, I’ve been left with bare spots, washed out gullies, and a sea of tiny yellow flowering weeds. Not exactly a homeowner’s dream. I had even been tempted to call one of those Chem-Something companies to come and see what they could do after getting no help from those who planted the yard.

I won’t give in to that urge, though, because of what I experienced at my other house a few years ago, coupled with what I’ve been reading lately. Several years ago, someone from one of those lawn treatment companies knocked on my door one morning to talk to me about my lovely carpet of yellow dandelions in the back yard. He pointed out the beautiful green lawns of other neighbors in my development who were customers of his and tried to shame me into letting them come and treat my yard too. I told him I didn’t want to do that because I had several bird feeders and didn’t want to put any chemicals on the yard that would harm them. He rushed to assure me that his company was different and only used natural nitrogen products, not those nasty chemicals. He signed me up and a few days later the truck showed up and the spraying began.

I didn’t like the smell of the stuff he was spraying, and he told me not to walk on it until it was dry. He stuck a yellow flag in the yard to show that it had been treated and went on his way. In a day or so the weeds began to curl and die and in a couple of weeks the lawn was much more lush and green. My property was no longer the blight of the neighborhood!

Treatments continued for the rest of the summer, but when they came and sprayed the next spring, I found a dead bird near one of the feeders a few days after they sprayed. Thinking that maybe it had flown into something, I picked it up in my gloved hand, but couldn’t find any marks on it. The next week I found another dead bird beside the shed. By now I was convinced it was from something the company had applied to the yard. I called them to come out, and I saved the dead birds to show them. They assured me it couldn’t have been the products they used, and even told me they were safe for pets and kids. They took the dead birds with them, supposedly to send them to Penn State for analysis. I never heard from them again, and I know they only made a show of taking the dead birds to appease a silly paranoid lady. Well, this silly lady cancelled the treatments and began to read more about lawn pesticides.

He had told me it was nitrogen that he was applying, but the nitrogen used in synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, I found out, is commonly processed from ammonia and often mixed with formaldehyde. In fact there are many chemicals used in fertilizers and pesticides that are considered just a way to carry the actual pesticide, and companies are not required to list them on the label. The truth of the matter is that NO pesticides are 100% safe, something that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) admits.

Many studies have linked lawn pesticides to cancer, birth defects, nervous system disorders, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and liver and kidney damage. These effects can show up years after exposure. In spite of many studies showing the link between these chemicals and the resulting diseases, the use of the chemicals is not banned. Canada is way ahead of us there, and many areas have banned many of the commonly used pesticides completely. There are serious flaws in how pesticides are registered, allowing enough loopholes for corporations to influence policy and ensure the continued use of their products.

The effects of a lawn treatment are far reaching and lasting. If the wind is just right, your neighbor may be getting the treatment, but you’re getting the harmful fumes. There is runoff into the water, and this further contaminates the ground and foods that are grown there. Just think about the crop dusting planes that fly over acres of agricultural lands, contaminating everything for miles.

And what about the family dog or children who like to roll around in the grass, picking up contaminants on fur and feet and little bodies? The effect is even stronger on pets and children because of their size. Studies as far back as 1991 have found more bladder cancer, malignant lymphomas, seizures, liver and kidney problems in dogs whose owners had pesticides applied to their lawn.

Pesticide residue on fruits and vegetables may double a child’s risk of developing Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD.) Studies have also shown the connection between pesticide use and increased incidents of childhood leukemia. It boggles the mind to think that we have known for some time how harmful these chemicals are, yet the Environmental Protection Agency does nothing to ban their use.

We need another Rachel Carson to call attention to harmful chemicals and practices that are sickening people, pets and wildlife. She wrote “Silent Spring” in 1962 and raised public awareness of the harmful effects of DDT and its use was eventually banned, but not before bald eagles had become nearly extinct from the softening effect it had on the shells of the eggs they laid.

It’s hard to find a family that cancer or any of the other diseases I’ve mentioned hasn’t affected in some way, and we shake our heads and wonder why. There are hundreds of untested chemicals being used to treat our lawns, and if nobody was buying them, companies wouldn’t be making money at our expense. I know we all want that nice green lawn, but at what cost to our families, pets, birds and bees?

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