The Dark Side of Lawns

You can have a thick and healthy sea of green without polluting water, harming wildlife, and endangering the health of your family and pets.

By Beth Huxta


Problems from Pesticides

Contaminated water. Herbicides and pesticides from lawns also get into our water supply. A study of 12 urban streams in the Seattle metro area found 2,4-D in every stream and 23 different types of pesticides, including five that were present in concentrations high enough to kill aquatic life. The researchers found a correlation between the pesticides polluting the sampled streams and the sales of lawn and garden chemicals from local retailers. And the U.S. Geological Survey's National Water-Quality Assessment Program found that 90 percent of the stream and fish samples surveyed contained at least one pesticide.

Threatened wildlife. Of the 30 most commonly used lawn pesticides, 16 pose serious hazards to birds, 24 are toxic to fish and aquatic organisms, and 11 have adverse effects on bees.

Harmful to Health
Lawn chemicals don't just turn up in the environment. A study of indoor air pollutants found 2,4-D in 63 percent of homes. A different study demonstrated that levels of 2,4-D in indoor air and on indoor surfaces increased after it was applied on lawns.

Not child's play. Lawn chemicals get tracked indoors, often onto surfaces where kids play. The National Academy of Sciences reports that 50 percent of contact with pesticides occurs within the first five years of life. Such repeated contact has been linked to numerous diseases in children; for instance, researchers reporting in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that exposure to garden pesticides can increase the risk of childhood leukemia almost sevenfold.

Women's health. Contact with low levels of pesticides increases miscarriage rates, and a study recently published in the American Journal of Epidemiology documented a link between residential pesticide use and breast cancer risk in women. Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that frequent exposure to pesticides increased the incidence of Parkinson's disease by 70 percent.

Pets smart. Like small children, pets can't read the "Keep Off—Pesticide Application" signs on your lawn or your neighbor's. A study revealed that exposure to lawns treated with herbicides four or more times a year doubled a dog's risk of canine lymphoma, while the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association reported that, when exposed to chemically treated lawns, some breeds of dogs were four to seven times more likely to suffer from bladder cancer.