Special to OBSERVER
My lawn is the one that people point to and say "This is what NOT to do". It is a flowering mix of violets, speedwells, dandelions and more. I love it. It is filled with life from tiny bees and beetles to butterflies and birds. I like it a lot more than the alternative of spraying the yard with chemical pesticides.
It is estimated that 7 million birds are killed each year from home pesticide application. Each year, over 70 million pounds of pesticides are used on lawns. That's 50 percent more than when I was a kid.
Some of these "weed and feed" pesticides use the same chemicals once found in the defoliant Agent Orange. This chemical, known simply as 2,4-D, was one of the two main chemicals in Agent Orange. The National Cancer Institute released a study showing that dogs whose owners used 2,4-D on their lawns four or more times a year were twice as likely to get canine lymphoma, which is basically doggy cancer.
Now, I love dogs, but I love my children more than anything on the planet. If pesticides can affect dogs, can they affect kids? The answer, in short, is yes. Growing children absorb more chemicals per pound than adults do. They also do things most adults don't do, like putting everything in their mouth.
A study in Mexico compared Yacqui Indian children in areas with and without pesticide use. In the valley, where pesticides had been used since the 1940's, the children showed decreased stamina, lowered eye-hand coordination, poor 30 minute memory and less ability to draw a person when compared to children with the same lifestyles in the foothills where pesticide use was avoided.
A more recent study shows that children with high levels of a type of pesticide called an organophosphate in their urine are more likely to have ADHD, even when other factors are taken into account. This is not enough proof to say the pesticides are causing ADHD, but there's enough of a link that I have no plans to spray that stuff on my yard and garden.
A 2004 study linked indoor use of insecticides to smaller babies. The Environmental Protection Agency banned the indoor use of diazinon and chlorpyrifos, phasing them out from 2000 to 2002. As the amount of pesticide in woman's bodies went down, the size of their babies went up. Babies averaged an inch longer and 6.6 ounces heavier after the pesticides were banned from indoor use. (They are still sold for outdoor use.)
According to Dr. Philip Landrigan, a pediatrician and professor with more titles and awards after his name than I can mention, "Every day of every week we are continuing in this country to expose children to chemicals whose toxicity is simply not known. As a pediatrician, I urge parents to think carefully about the choices they make, especially about pesticides.
Dr. Landrigan has been instrumental in creating the largest study on children ever. This study will follow the lives of 100,000 children from birth to age 21. The goal is to discover what environmental factors contribute to cancer, diabetes, and other childhood diseases.
My wife and I don't have time to wait for these kids to grow up to figure out what to do for our children. If there is a potential for these chemicals to affect my children, the choice is obvious. No chemicals for our yard.
Unfortunately, I don't have total control over my yard. If you stand on the street corner and look up the block, you can see which yard is mine. It's the one with weeds and flowers growing up. The other yards look like manicured green carpets. Those green carpets are a sign that pesticides are used pretty heavily.
In fact, the a company truck comes regularly and sprays the lawns on either side of us. When I lived in Florida, a friend's cat went into convulsions and died when it went onto a chemically-treated lawn. New York State recently fined a pestacide company $400,000 for misapplying pesticides and other violations. These violations included spraying a pesticide in conditions that were too windy, untrained personnel applying pesticides, and many other violations dealing with customers.
I've watched the man spray the neighbor's yard in conditions that were windy enough to blow whatever it was onto my yard and garden.
Dr. Landrigan said it best. We simply do not know the affects of many of the chemicals we use. Until we do, I'll remain a skeptic.
Jeff Tome is with the Audobon Center in Jamestown.