Before you stretch out on (or let your kids run barefoot through) that green grass, consider that it may be blanketed with toxic pesticides. “The commonly used insecticides are all chemical cousins of the wartime gas sarin, which was used in the 1995 Tokyo subway attack,” says Philip J. Landrigan, MD, chairman of the Department of Community and Preventive Medicine and professor of pediatrics at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.
“And the commonly used herbicides are chemical first cousins of Agent Orange, which was used in Vietnam.” So, that “healthy” lawn has the potential to increase your family’s risks of cancer or neurological conditions such as Parkinson's disease. That’s partly because lawn-care pesticides “aren’t selective killers,” explains Jennifer Sass, PhD, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in Washington, D.C.many can have an impact on your health. And they don’t just pose theoretical risks, Carpenter adds: “One of the slides I use in my class shows the rates of childhood leukemia in relation to whether or not pesticides were used in the home, herbicides were used on the lawn, and DEET was used as a mosquito-repellent. The only one that didn’t increase cancer risks was DEET.”
There is good news, though: More and more towns are enacting neighbor-notification laws, requiring residents to issue warnings before spraying so people can shut their windows or even clear out with their kids and pets. (The health danger lasts for days for the commonly used insecticides and weeks for the herbicides.) If your town doesn’t have this law on the books, consider lobbying for it, Sass says. Meanwhile, ask neighbors to let you know when they’re sprayingand what they’re using. To learn more about these chemicals, check out the Pesticide Action Network North America’s Web site, www.panna.org.
On your own turf, do only integrated pest management (IPM), a gentler, environmentally sensitive way of preventing, monitoring, and controlling pests. (Visit www.ipm.ucdavis.edu or search www.ipmcenters.org for more info.) Safer ecofriendly and organic lawn sprays and other nonchemical optionsfrom aphid-eating ladybugs to heat (electrocution) for termitesare surprisingly effective. Caveat: You may not have the most manicured lawn on the block. But to keep your family safe, Landrigan says, “You have to learn to live with a few dandelions.”