Friday, April 16, 2010

Our Green Lawns Aren't So Innocent (and Probably Toxic)

While mailing my taxes the other day, I was met by the unfortunate sign on the right, planted on the post office’s lawn. It reminded me of an article ("Turf War") Elizabeth Kolbert wrote two years ago in The New Yorker about America’s love affair with perfectly manicured lawns.

Below is an excerpt from "Turf War." Click here to read the entire article.
Remember, these are the lawns, school playgrounds and Little League fields our kids play on.
As Paul Robbins reports in “Lawn People” (2007), the first pesticide popularly spread on lawns was lead arsenate, which tended to leave behind both lead and arsenic contamination. Next in line were DDT and chlordane. Once they were shown to be toxic, pesticides like diazinon and chlorpyrifos—both of which affect the nervous system—took their place. Diazinon and chlorpyrifos, too, were eventually revealed to be hazardous. (Diazinon came under scrutiny after birds started dropping dead around a recently sprayed golf course.) The insecticide carbaryl, which is marketed under the trade name Sevin, is still broadly applied to lawns. A likely human carcinogen, it has been shown to cause developmental damage in lab animals, and is toxic to—among many other organisms—tadpoles, salamanders, and honeybees. In “American Green” (2006), Ted Steinberg, a professor of history at Case Western Reserve University, compares the lawn to “a nationwide chemical experiment with homeowners as the guinea pigs.”

Meanwhile, the risks of the chemical lawn are not confined to the people who own the lawns, or to the creatures that try to live in them. Rain and irrigation carry synthetic fertilizers into streams and lakes, where the excess nutrients contribute to algae blooms that, in turn, produce aquatic “dead zones.” Manhattanites may not keep lawns, but they drink the chemicals that run off them. A 2002 report found traces of thirty-seven pesticides in streams feeding into the Croton River Watershed. A few years ago, Toronto banned the use of virtually all lawn pesticides and herbicides, including 2,4-D [a major ingredient in Agent Orange] and carbaryl, on the ground that they pose a health risk, especially to children.


Paul said...

Couldn't agree more. I've been reviving our lawn the past couple weeks as well as tending to my first garden. I'm using all organic products the lawn is coming along great.

I feel so much better about my son playing in the back yard and not having to worry about any chemicals harming him.

Chef Rob said...


Great to hear. I'm sure our love affair with lawns wouldn't be so widespread if we were more familiar with the risks.