I’m a mother of young children and a bichon poodle. I’m frustrated that my family can be exposed to pesticides even though we choose not to use them. Shortly after moving to suburban Rochester, I noticed a hazy chemical smell outside of my home on a couple of occasions. Soon thereafter, my young daughter and I were enjoying a beautiful day when our home was filled with strong and dense smell from a neighbor’s commercial application of lawn chemicals, which I later found out to be a 2,4-D, dicamba, and mecoprop-p herbicide mixture. The chemical smell took some time to dissipate. My daughter and I were also present for spot spraying of glyphosate around play equipment at a public park.
Lawn and tree services are popular among suburban homeowners in my area. Last year, three different lawn services sprayed and applied granular product to three adjacent lawns throughout the spring, summer, and fall. Commercial applicators apply pesticides while wearing protective gloves, boots, and breathing masks – so it’s obvious that they’re working with toxic substances. Often pesticides are sprayed on the entire lawn rather than specific problem areas. It is also common to see homeowners with pumps spraying chemicals on sidewalks and lawns.
Pesticides (including insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides) are toxic chemicals that can pose health risks, especially to developing fetuses, babies, children, pregnant women, older people, and those with chemical sensitivities.
“All pesticides have some level of toxicity and pose some risk during pregnancy. The risk depends on the toxicity of the pesticide ingredients and how much of the pesticide you and the baby are exposed to while pregnant. During pregnancy, the baby’s brain, nervous system, and organs are developing rapidly and can be more sensitive to the toxic effects of pesticides.”[i]
Children’s immune systems are still developing, so they are particularly susceptible to the toxicity of pesticides. Studies link pesticide exposure to developmental disorders and other health problems in children. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Prenatal and early childhood exposure to pesticides is associated with pediatric cancers, decreased cognitive function, and behavioral problems.”[ii]
Residential areas are too densely populated to accommodate the current pesticide-dependent lawn aesthetic. Standard city and suburban lots are close together and houses are not airtight. “Research indicates low levels of pesticides are present in the air of many homes. This may be caused by using pesticides indoors and/or by contaminated dust, dirt and air entering the home from outside.”[iii]
Lawn pesticides are too accessible to children and pets. The tiny signs that commercial applicators leave on a lawn are ineffective at keeping children away. “Children should be deterred from playing in areas where 2,4-D or other chlorophenol based herbicides or pesticides have been sprayed. Children are lower to the ground than adults and may be exposed because they often get dirt, grass, and other outdoor material on their skin and in their mouths.”[iv]
People should be able to live in their neighborhoods knowing their air, water, and lawn will not be polluted because their neighbor uses pesticides. As Rochester moves forward with it Destination Medical Center initiative, citizens, businesses and local government should set a positive example by adopting pesticide-free lawn and garden care practices. Patient health will not benefit from a continued prevalence of pesticide application on lawns. Common sense pesticide regulations are necessary in the residential setting, including at minimum, mandatory posting around the entire property, mandatory 48-hour written pre-notification to neighbors, and bans on their use in areas frequented by children, such as daycares and preschools, among others. Public health would also benefit by considering bans on the cosmetic use of lawn pesticides with reasonable exceptions, such as in cases of noxious weeds, invasive species etc.
Many people think they need pesticides in order to keep their lawn and gardens looking good. Not true! With small children and a small dog, my husband and I employ non-toxic lawn care practices. We hand-pull most of our dandelions. In the bare spots, we plant clover and grass seed and cover with topsoil. We mow at a tall height once a week or every two weeks, depending on growth. Our children enjoy watching a butterfly garden grow that we purchased at a native plant sale in the spring. My husband and I value the knowledge that we are not exposing our children, our dog, our neighbors and ourselves to potentially harmful pesticides.