Let's talk about pesticides.
I might as well begin with a fact: every year in the US, lawns are sprayed with 90 million pounds of pesticides and herbicides. I don't need to tell you that this is a serious problem - and that's before I reveal the kinds of health problems associated with 2,4-D, the most widely used herbicide in the world. 2,4-D is a "weed and feed" product, which does exactly that: it simultaneously fertilizes lawns while controlling the weeds that try to take hold there. 2,4 dichlorophenoxyacetic acid is a synthetic chemical "hormone herbicide", meaning it messes with plants' hormone systems in order to kill them by causing them first to grow uncontrollably, then suddenly die. This unique strategy is not the only attractive feature of 2,4-D: the herbicide also selectively targets weeds like dandelions without harming grass. No wonder it is considered to be the perfect remedy for unwanted plants not only on residential lawns but also in fields of corn, grains, and rice, all of which are in the grass family.
So, what makes 2,4-D such a bad product? Consider these short-term effects of exposure:
- eye irritation
- difficulty breathing
- lack of coordination
- non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (a blood cancer)
- neurological impairment
- immune system suppression
- reproductive problems
- birth defects
The good news is that the City of Toronto banned the cosmetic use of pesticides way back in 2004, which means eight summers have already gone by during which, presumably, only very little 2,4-D has come anywhere near me and those I hold dear in this city. Hundreds of other municipalities in Canada have passed similar bylaws, and to date there are province-wide bans (some looser, some stricter) in Quebec, Ontario, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and PEI, as well as restrictions on the use of "weed and feed" products specifically in Alberta. The province of British Columbia is working on a ban, too.
There are, of course, still many areas in which there are no regulations on the use of pesticides. But I am hopeful because concerned members of those communities can and will organize movements to achieve this goal - that's exactly how the first municipal bylaw banning pesticides was passed in Canada! There are a growing number of us who care, who are worried, who want the government to take action to protect us. After all, this is a no-brainer of an issue. Weed-free lawns are not only unnecessary, they're making us sick!
Image of chemical structure of 2, 4-D sourced from Wikimedia Commons.
Photo of grass lawn used under Creative Commons from AdamKR (flickr).
Photo of pesticide sign used under Creative Commons from Michelle Tribe (Greencolander/flickr).