Thursday, April 2, 2015

"Pesticide Treated Area": Beware the Suburban Battle Zone

By Erik Lipkin

When you compare the problems of suburban America to those of the inner cities, certainly they would seem tame by comparison.  Yet, while suburban problems aren’t as visible, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t just as dangerous.  One major problem is that suburban yards are under attack and most people do not even know who the enemy is.

Every year, tens of thousands of suburban yards are sprayed with chemicals that many people only hope are not too dangerous.  They hope, because they do not take the time to do any research about what is actually being blanketed all over their lawns and shrubs.  Many suburbanites assume, and wrongfully so, that companies would not put products on the market that would be harmful to humans or animals; that is a dangerous assumption.

Pass many homes during Spring and you are likely to see small white flags with a cartoon picture of a person or dog on them.  They will read “pesticide treated area” and may even give a timetable for when it is safe to step on your own lawn again.  The problem is that many people simply ignore those flags, letting their dogs out on the yard to relieve themselves without thinking about the possible negative consequences of contact with those pesticides.

Also, who is to say how many hours have to pass before it is safe to step on the lawn again?  Who makes those warning flags?  Ideally, the flags would be made by informed environmental groups who have studied extensively the hazards of the pesticides or herbicides being sprayed.  But what if those warning flags are made by the pesticide companies themselves as a sort of liability backup?  Certainly, most people would not trust a pesticide company telling them when it would be safe to use a lawn sprayed by their own product, because if the timetable is too long people would find a different product to use.   Also, who is to say that these warning flags and the timetables that they provide are even up to date with new pesticides; clearly, this is a slippery slope.

A bigger question should also be raised, is it enough to have a warning flag with a carton person and dog inside a “no symbol” and text that reads “keep off for 24 hours?”  Shouldn’t people be given more information?  Perhaps an ingredient list of what is actually being sprayed all over their yards and the actual health problems that these chemicals can cause, both in the short term and long term.
The best thing to do would be to take a page out of Rachel Carson’s handbook and stop using indiscriminate spraying altogether.  An even better solution, as Carson describes in her eye opening Silent Spring, would be to use natural solutions for weed and insect problems.  Instead of spraying chemicals over an entire lawn, people should be using natural methods that are biologically proven to work. 

There are numerous examples of nature taking care of itself with the help of humans.  In many parks in cities in Holland, there are many rose bushes planted.  Unfortunately, many of those rose bushes were doing very poorly because they had become infested with nematode worms.  Instead of covering the rose bushes in a poisonous spray, scientists in Holland suggested planting marigolds with the roses.  The marigold excretes a solution from its roots that kills the nematode worms but is harmless to the roses.
Indiscriminate spraying makes zero sense.  If someone in your family got cancer, the entire family would not go to the doctor to have chemotherapy done.  Yes, the chemotherapy would help the person with cancer but it would be extremely hazardous to those unaffected by it.  That is essentially what is happening in suburban yards today.  Instead of focusing on one problem and solving it directly, people are spraying entire yards, hoping that the pesticides solve the one problem they needed fixed without doing too much damage to everything else.