By Richard F. Seegal, Ph.D.
Schroon Lake has deer on the bordering roads, as well as lawns bordering the lake! We cannot do much about this ruminant population, but we can do something about keeping our lawns healthy while keeping the lake safe. Remember the old, but still true adage: “Think Globally, Act Locally.”
Globally—It may be hard to believe, but the total area of lawns in the US is equal to the size of the state of Texas! There are, not surprisingly, significant health and environmental hazards associated with exposure to the pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers used for lawn care. For those like myself who are concerned with global warming and dwindling natural resources, I also need to mention the tremendous amount of natural resources, such as water, gasoline and fertilizer, used to keep our lawns as pristine as golf courses. (The latter is a sore point, but I have many friends who are avid golfers.)
More than 59 MILLION acre-feet of water (an acre foot is the amount of water to cover one acre with a foot of water) are used on lawns. Our lawn mowers use more than 17 million gallons of gasoline per year, perhaps due to the fact that more than 3 million TONS of fertilizer are applied to lawns each year to help them grow thicker and faster.
The greatest concern is the amount of pesticides used on lawns each year: more than 67 MILLION pounds! Because most people (myself included) tend to think that more is better, American homeowners apply on average 3.2 to 9.8 pounds of pesticides to each acre of lawn—vastly more than the 2.7 pounds per acre commercial farmers apply for agricultural use!
Unfortunately, these figures do not include the use of herbicides such as Roundup. [Read the RoundUp Coverup by Rich Seegal]
Sadly, infants and children are more likely to be affected than adults, because their brains have not fully developed, and because they crawl and roll and play on lawns, and ingest things—like dirt and grass—which most adults don’t.
What are the consequences?
- A mother’s exposure to pesticides—even before pregnancy—is associated with reduced thyroid hormone levels, which in turn, may contribute to neurodevelopmental disorders in their children.
- Children raised in households using home, lawn or garden pesticides and herbicides are more than SIX-fold more likely to develop leukemia than are children raised in homes that do not use these chemicals.
- Children raised in homes that use pesticides for lawn care are TWICE as likely to develop brain tumors than are children who live in homes where pesticides are not used.
- Children exposed to organophosphate (OP) pesticides prior to birth are more than SEVEN times more likely to develop autism than children who are not exposed to these pesticides. There is also convincing evidence that prenatal and/or early postnatal exposure to organophosphate pesticides increases the risk of developing attention deficit disorder (ADD).
- For adults, exposure to pesticides is associated with an increased risk of developing cancer and Parkinson’s disease, since the elderly (like me) are at greater risk following long-term exposure than are younger adults.
Locally—These concerns have additional ramifications when lawns are adjacent to lakes and rivers such as the Schroon Lake watershed. When these chemicals are used on our lawns, they WILL enter the water and will bio-accumulate in fish, resulting in levels that are harmful for human consumption. Additionally, fertilizer runoff leads to growth of aquatic invasive species that are a major concern to ESSLA and anyone who either owns property or simply enjoys the beauty of lakes that we wish to maintain in near pristine condition.
What options do we have to protect our loved ones and the environment due to our excessive love of green lawns? The answers may seem obvious! For those who wish to ‘dig deeper’ I suggest the following website http://www.organicgardening.com/learn-and-grow/5-steps-better-back-yard.
It is possible to fawn over our lawns while respecting the health of the lake and the people who live on it. Remember, we are simply temporary stewards of the land and the lakes.
Richard F. Seegal, Ph.D., ESSLA Board of Directors; Senior Health Research Scientist Emeritus, New York State Dept. of Health;
Professor, School of Public Health, University at Albany