Rye resident Andrea Alban-Davies writes a column for Rye Record's Green Space, a regular column that addresses various environmental issues. Alban-Davies' 11/4/16 Green Space column outlines the profound health and safety problems associated with pesticides use on lawns and open spaces. RSC has reproduced the article in its entirety here.
How can you make a change? It's easy. Visit our Rye Healthy Yard Program page for tips on how to make the change. You can also see examples of beautiful, healthy lawns in the Rye Healthy Yards Photo Gallery. Show your commitment to natural landscaping by taking the RHYP Pledge!
The Dreaded Yellow Signs
Reprinted from Vol. 21, Issue 18 of The Rye Record
By Andrea Alban-Davies
Despite concerted efforts by the Rye Sustainability Committee to educate our community members on the importance of embracing healthy yards, there seems to be a proliferation around Rye of yellow signs warning people to stay off lawns after harmful chemical spraying. These yellow signs should set off alarm bells. I encourage every household that sees these signs posted on the perimeter of their property when lawn-maintenance crews leave to ask themselves - what exactly is being sprayed on my lawns that necessitates, by law, that we post a 24- or 48-hour notice to stay off the lawn. If something is harmful enough to make the first day or two dangerous, what happens to those chemicals after those 24 or 48 hours?
We all need to ask ourselves if we want our children, spouses, pets, and other loved ones rollicking on a lawn jacked up on chemicals that are so harmful we can’t even set foot on our lawns after they’ve been sprayed. Studies have shown that these chemicals are extremely dangerous to people (especially children because their internal organs are still developing), pets, ground water, our beloved sanctuaries, and what I consider the crown jewel of our beautiful town – the Long Island Sound. Pesticide and fertilizer chemicals include, but are not limited to: 2,4 D, organophosphates, carbamates, and other phenoxy and benzoic acid herbicides. What do these chemicals do to us and other living organisms? Well, let’s look at one chemical that has made it into the top ten most commonly used pesticides in the home and garden sector in recent years – 2,4 D. Numerous studies have shown that its health effects include endocrine disruption, cancer, negative reproductive effects, neurotoxicity, kidney/liver damage, sensitizer/irritant, and birth defects. And that’s just one chemical! Now, image that your kids are exposed to that and the myriad other chemicals in toxic lawn care products through their skin, mucous membranes, and by breathing in vapors and sprays every time that you or your neighbors spray. Then, they are exposed again every time that they swim in the water. Studies have shown that some chemicals remain active for a month up to a year. Before you keep your kids inside to protect them, consider that many of these chemicals are brought into your home through vapors and on shoes or bare feet and perhaps persist at even more dangerously high levels than found on your lawn due to inadequate indoor ventilation.
While every place on earth is technically a watershed, Rye is an immediate and very visible one. All the rainwater that falls in our town – and every chemical that we put on our lawns and plants, together with every piece of junk or ounce of runoff that makes its way into storm drains – flows directly into the Blind Brook and the Long Island Sound. We coexist directly with the chemicals that we spray on our lawn and other pollutants that we generate. Even within Rye, the closer that you are to the water, the faster those chemicals find their way into the Long Island Sound. Why is the maintenance of healthy watershed ecosystems so important? While some feel that preserving healthy watershed ecosystems should be an end in itself, for those that need extra convincing, there are also many economic reasons to do so: reduced drinking water and infrastructure costs because natural landscapes filter water from point and non-point sources and protect water quality; reduced flood mitigation costs because floodplains and riparian areas minimize the breadth and impacts of floods; reduced costs associated with climate change mitigation because intact natural land cover and soil resources are capable of sequestering carbon and adapting to more extreme weather patterns and changes in precipitation; and even increased property values according to one study cited by the EPA.
Sustainable, healthy gardening practices should also extend to the gardening that we do on our own. Despite the overwhelming evidence enumerating the dangers of Round-Up and similar weed killers, I know people in our community that are still relying on these over-the-counter weed control products. Sure, glyphosate, their best-known active ingredient, has only been declared a “probable” cause of cancer. However, the adjuvants and ‘inert’ ingredients in these products have been found to be far more dangerous than glyphosate. While studies come out either adding substances to the “most dangerous” list or taking them off it, I think that the issue is far simpler for us at the community level: Do we want our children and those of our neighbors to be the unwitting test subjects of the safety of these chemicals?