The Bad and The Ugly: A Look at Lawn Care Products

by Nick Livermore

This past weekend, I was frantically pushing the mower around the yard trying to get it cut before the rain commenced when I glanced my neighbor doing the same thing. Upon closer inspection, my neighbor was actually pushing a cart of sorts spraying fertilizer across his lawn. “That’s funny”, I thought, because as soon as it rains, this will end up in my yard!

“What was it?” I wondered, before retreating inside as the rain began to come down, not giving it another thought. That was until I read Dawn from Raising Natural Kids post on the dangers of lawn chemicals and just what my neighbor was most likely doing! See the excerpt below, and head over to her site to learn more!

It was a few days ago that I was walking down the street with my children when they decided to go and pet the cat sitting on a neighbor’s stoop. It wasn’t until we got to the stoop that I looked down and saw the dreaded yellow fertilizer all over the law. It reminded me of a story I was told…

A few years ago, I met a man, an organic landscaper, who told the story of his next door neighbor. He was on his way out to his car one morning when he heard a hello. As he turned and waved to his neighbors, he noticed the baby, a 1 year old, standing on the grass barefoot, his feet yellow from the fertilizer strewn all about the yard. Within that year the baby died of leukemia. The man never discussed the possible causes with the parents, but he had his suspicions based on what he had learned about fertilizer as an organic landscaper.

For those who think that the leukemia couldn’t possibly have been from the fertilizer (much of which contain pesticides), think again. According to, a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute finds that household and garden pesticide use can increase the risk of childhood leukemia as much as seven-fold AND studies show that children living in households where pesticides are used suffer elevated rates of leukemia, brain cancer and soft tissue sarcoma. This is scary!!!

These chemicals aren’t only being found on the outside of our homes; they are inside our houses as well. Scientific studies find pesticide residues such as the weedkiller 2,4-D and the insecticide carbaryl inside homes, due to drift and track-in, where they contaminate air, dust, surfaces and carpets and expose children at levels ten times higher than preapplication levels (Rudel, Ruthan).

So why am I so concerned when I don’t use these chemicals in my yard? Because come March/April, when I go walking with my kids in my neighborhood, I inevitably see the residue on the sides of the street, which means it is getting on the bottom of our shoes and on the wheels of the stroller and possibly entering my house. All it takes is one piece of residue to enter my child’s mouth for her to get sick and it can enter her body while she plays on the floor, puts a toy in her mouth that the particle stuck to, or when she puts her shoes in her mouth (she is 1, so try as I might, I do not always see her doing silly things)! I also take my children to playgrounds, and to play at friends’, family and neighbors’ homes and I have seen pesticide and/or fertilizer residue at all of these places. In addition, “of 30 commonly used lawn pesticides, 17 are detected in groundwater, and 23 have the potential to leach”(Beyond Pesticides Fact Sheet). AND “Of the 50 chemicals on EPA’s list of unregulated drinking water contaminants, several are lawn chemicals including herbicides diazinon, diuron, naphthalene, and various triazines such as atrazine”(EPA).

And Here Are Some More Facts: (All info comes from Bee Smart, via – a full works cited for these facts can be found here: Bee Smart)

  • Of 30 commonly used lawn pesticides 19 have studies pointing toward carcinogens, 13 are linked with birth defects, 21 with reproductive effects, 15 with neurotoxicity, 26 with liver or kidney damage, 27 are sensitizers and/or irritants, and 11 have the potential to disrupt the endocrine (hormonal) system. (Beyond Pesticides Fact Sheet)
  • Pregnant women, infants and children, the aged and the chronically ill are at greatest risk from pesticide exposure and chemically induced immune-suppression, which can increase susceptibility to cancer. (Environmental Protection Agency)
  • Children take in more pesticides relative to body weight than adults and have developing organ systems that make them more vulnerable and less able to detoxify toxins. (EPA)
  • The National Academy of Sciences estimates 50% of lifetime pesticide exposure occurs during the first 5 years of life. (National Research Council)
  • Studies show low levels of exposure to actual lawn pesticide products are linked to increased rates of miscarriage, and suppression of the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems. (Environ Health Perspect)
  • Exposure to home and garden pesticides can increase a child’s likelihood of developing asthma. (Environ Health Perspectives)
  • Studies link pesticides with hyperactivity, developmental delays, behavioral disorders, and motor dysfunction. (Beyond Pesticides)
  • Children ages 6-11 have higher levels of lawn chemicals in their blood than all other age categories. Biomonitoring studies find that pesticides pass from mother to child through umbilical cord blood and breast milk. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
  • Fertilizers made from hazardous waste byproducts may contain arsenic, lead, mercury, cadmium, and radon. (Bee Safe Lawns)
  • 78 million households in the U.S. use home and garden pesticides. (Environmental Protection Agency)
  • Herbicides account for the highest usage of pesticides in the home and garden sector with over 90 million pounds applied on lawns and gardens per year.
  • Suburban lawns and gardens receive more pesticide applications per acre (3.2-9.8 lbs) than agriculture (2.7 lbs per acre on average). (National Research Council)

What to Use Instead

1. Water your lawn frequently, but do not over do it. Instead of spending the money on topnotch fertilizers, weed killers, etc. spend it on a sprinkler system. A sprinkler system allows for the lawn to be properly watered without under or over doing it. A well watered lawn often decreases weed invasion and allows lawn grasses to better tolerate insect and disease pressure”(Southern Exposure). However, too much watering can lead to problems as well.

2. Compost and use it in your gardens! Your old food scraps provide an excellent source of nutrients for your plants.

3. Use natural alternatives to herbicides; I find that a spray bottle of hot sauce mixed with water works well on many of my plants.

4. Read Lawn Care Without Pesticides by clicking on ‘FILE’ in the link. This is a great place to get information on organic lawn and garden care.

5. If you are going to buy seed, fertilizer, or any kinds of organic pesticides or herbicide, look at and research the ingredients. There are organic brands out there. Bee Smart seems to have a good program if you can find a dealer near you.

If you use a landscaper or lawn care service, insist that they only use organic products on your lawn and ask to see the package before they apply it. You can also buy it for them to use and have them deduct the cost from what they are charging you.

See the full article here.

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