We spend a lot of time on our organic lawn. Not only does the green grass provide a psychological respite to the dry, hot summer, but it also provides our home with forest fire protection. In other more urban areas experiencing drought conditions, many people are seeking alternatives to a living lawn, such as astroturf. Whatever your families choice for a lawn (or not to have a lawn), the safety of this play surface for your children should be a concern.
Pesticides and Herbicides in Lawn Care
As child growing up in suburban Ohio, I remember seeing little flags on my neighbor’s chemically treated lawn that read “Just fertilized. Keep pets and children off”. Even at a young age, I wondered how safe these chemical applications were. According to Mother Jones:
One common herbicide in popular “weed and feed” lawn-care products, 2,4-D, constituted about 50 percent of Agent Orange, and has been linked to birth defects, neurological problems, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and liver and kidney damage. In Canada, as many as 160 municipalities have banned the use of pesticides with 2,4-D.
Even schools use these chemicals, usually without warning to families. Luckily, kids below the 8th grade in Connecticut are now protected from pesticide applications on their school lawns. I wish California would follow suit, and I plan to take the issue to our local school board this Fall.
Organic Lawn Care
Unlike chemical lawn treatments that are applied every several weeks, I apply organic fertilizer on my lawn just twice a year: Spring and Fall. I don’t want my children playing on a chemically treated lawn, and I don’t want the chemicals leaching into ground and surface water. Organic lawn fertilizers create a healthier lawn than chemical treatments, and with few applications, you save money by going organic.
I have a friend that has an organic garden and eats only organically, yet she uses chemical products on her lawn. When I asked about her about this contradiction, her response was, “I don’t eat my lawn.” Even though you don’t eat your lawn, your animals or children might at times, and your mouth is not the only way chemicals enter your body. The skin is considered the largest organ because of its absorption abilities.
Lead in your Backyard Soil
A recent article in the Boston Globe explained that many backyards contain lead in the soil. Whether you are growing vegetables or a lawn in your yard, the presence of lead in the soil is a concern. The cause of such contamination could be flakes of leaded paint, the remnants of gasoline, or the residue from pesticide application of lead arsenate. Lead can remain the soil for hundreds of years.
“If I had a garden in the urban environment I would just assume there is lead in the soil,” said Wendy Heiger-Bernays, associate professor of environmental health at the Boston University School of Public Health…Although soil around homes can contain everything from arsenic to motor oil, lead is one of the most common, and to children, one of the most dangerous: Even tiny amounts measured in blood levels can cause learning disabilities and behavioral problems. Most children who are lead poisoned are exposed from a variety of sources, with lead paint the most prominent, Heiger-Bernays said. But environmental and health authorities say vegetables grown in lead-contaminated soil also contribute to the problem. In adults, lead can cause or contribute to high blood pressure, reproductive problems, and memory loss.
It’s pretty scary to think of all the chemicals and heavy metals that remain long after their use in our environment. When you think of the long term effects, future generations don’t have much hope for a safe environment to grow and play in.
The Safety of Astroturf
Some schools and homeowners have moved to artificial astroturf as an alternative to a living lawn; however, this fake grass releases lead. In typical CPSC impotent fashion, our government tells us not to worry, but asks the industry to develop voluntary standards to remove lead. According to the Grist:
Because it’s durable, easy to maintain, and doesn’t require pesticides, synthetic turf has increasingly replaced grass fields across the U.S. Manufacturers insist that the lead that gives the green “grass” its color cannot leach out or become airborne; however, concerns about turf toxicity came to a head in the fall when New Jersey officials found worrisome lead levels in a handful of fields. The CPSC found that while lead exposure does appear to increase over time as synthetic grass fibers break down, none of the fields the agency tested “released amounts of lead that would be harmful to children.”
I would argue that any amount of lead is significant to children’s health!
Image: Watch the Birdie