An estimated 88 million households in the U.S. use pesticides on their lawn, yielding weed-free plots of tufty green grass that by and large look pretty harmless, right?
Unfortunately there’s a not-so-pretty reality behind all those lawn chemicals: they are scientifically linked to serious negative health effects.
Health Hazards of Lawn Chemicals
According to research presented by Beyond Pesticides, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that works to protect public health and lead the transition to a world free of toxic pesticides, “of 30 commonly used lawn pesticides, 16 are linked with cancer or carcinogenicity, 12 are linked with birth defects, 21 with reproductive effects, 25 with liver or kidney damage, 14 with neurotoxicity, and 17 with disruption of the endocrine (hormonal) system.”¹
Those same pesticides have been detected in groundwater, drinking water, and aquatic ecosystems. Twenty-nine of those 30 pesticides are known to be toxic to bees, 22 are toxic to birds, and 14 are toxic to mammals.¹
Think pesticides just pose a problem outdoors? Think again. Studies show significant pesticide residues end up within the walls of homes due to air particles that drift through open windows and chemicals tracked in on shoes that work their way into carpeting and onto surfaces.
Pregnant women and children are at the greatest risk of developing health complications from pesticide exposure. Studies show that even low levels of exposure to pesticides have been linked to increased incidences of miscarriages among women as well as suppression of the immune system. Children exposed to weed killers (herbicides) within their first year of life are nearly five times as likely to develop asthma by age five.²
Glyphosate, the most widely used agricultural pesticide in the world and the active ingredient in Monsanto’s RoundUp, has permeated our world on a massive level. It is one of the most difficult toxins to avoid simply because of its pervasive presence in agriculture, food, beverages, body care products, and more. It has been found in hundreds of foods including beans, pasta, oats, and cereal as well as beer and wine.³
Glyphosate is very destructive to human gut ecology, killing beneficial bacteria (probiotics) and giving pathogens an easier habitat in which to survive. It has been linked to cancer, increased rates of celiac disease, and gut dysbiosis as well as deficiencies of iron and manganese.⁴ This is not surprising considering that glyphosate was first patented as a metal chelator (remover) due to its ability to bind to minerals to clear them out of pipes. Glyphosate literally binds essential minerals out of the human body, leaving it weakened, deficient, and more vulnerable to disease formation.
A recently uncovered confidential report from the Environmental Protection Agency found “suggestive evidence” between glyphosate and the development of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of lymphatic cancer that starts in white blood cells called lymphocytes, which are part of the body’s immune system.⁵ While the agency has long held the stance that glyphosate is not a carcinogen, emerging research points to a starkly different reality.⁶
Weigh the Risks
All agricultural chemicals, glyphosate included, have one purpose: to kill another living organism, whether it be a weed, fungus, or insect. These chemicals are biocides. They are designed to destroy life. And they are effective. But when looking at these chemicals from a health perspective (both human and environmental), the hazards far outweigh the benefits.
In our world today we are exposed to an alarming number of toxins. These are external substances that get into the body and compromise the functioning of key systems. In many cases, we don’t have control over what toxins we encounter. But just like we have control over the foods we eat and the products we use on our skin, we have control over what we choose to put on our yards. Tending our lawns and gardens with organic and chemical-free methods is an important step in reducing the overall toxic load we put on our bodies.
So if you’re going to skip chemicals and go the natural route with your lawn, what are your options?
- Use organic fertilizer. The best organic fertilizers will contain natural ingredients such as seaweed for potassium, bone meal for phosphorus, and feather meal for nitrogen. Manure is also a nutrient-rich option to apply to garden beds. Unlike conventional fertilizers, organic options will deliver a more slowly-released diet of nutrients for plant matter to consume. It may take several seasons for grass to acclimate to this change of nutrient release.
- Pull weeds manually, or just leave them be. Transitioning to organic lawn care might mean dealing with some weeds for a while. The good news is you’ll likely only deal with this for one or two seasons until soil and grass gain enough strength to control them naturally with greater efficiency. Remember that not all weeds are out to ruin your lawn; some are actually beneficial! Clover, for instance, works as a natural fertilizer, turning nitrogen in the air into a digestible substance for the soil.
- Raise your mower blades. Cutting grass too short leads to proliferation of weeds and dries out soil, which can quickly lead to a brown lawn. For a healthier, thicker lawn that’s more naturally drought-resistant, raise your mower blade to a height of 3.5 to 4 inches.
- Don’t throw away grass clippings. When you cut your grass, allow the grass clippings to remain on the lawn. These contain valuable nitrogen and trace minerals that will feed the soil and act as natural fertilizers.
- Consider aerating your lawn. Too much thatch can make it challenging for water and nutrients to reach the roots of your grass. If this is an issue, aerate your lawn once per year to help deliver nutrients and improve soil conditions.
Take It One Step Further
Want to make an even greater effort to reduce your agricultural chemical exposure?
- Get to know the Dirty Dozen, the 12 fruits and vegetables with the highest pesticide residues, and the Clean Fifteen, those with the lowest residues. Reference this article for our handy PDF printables to take on your grocery shopping trips!
- Filter your water. Learn which contaminants may be in your water and the best filtering options for your home.
- Consider going organic with your morning cup of coffee. Choosing organic coffee will reduce your exposure to toxic chemicals while also helping to protect the environment and the health of farmers.