Leave ’em be

Paul Schramski is the state director of Pesticide Watch Education Fund.

Piles of leaves cover Sacramento yards and streets this time of year. During fall, we have a chance to feed our lawns with small amounts of mulched leaves, setting the stage for healthy, green lawns the rest of the year. When our lawns reemerge, we can choose how to treat them: conventionally or organically. Unfortunately, the desire for the perfect lawn is leading Sacramento households to expose their children, pets and water supplies to toxic pesticides that threaten public health and the environment.

The lawn care and pesticide industries have succeeded in convincing many Californians that to have a green and healthy lawn, one needs to use an arsenal of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers.

Toxics Action Center, a non-profit public health organization, analyzed the pesticides used by the largest lawn care provider in the United States, based on information from the pesticide manufacturer’s Material Safety Data Sheets. This company services more than 5,000 lawns in the Sacramento region. The data reveals that more than half of the company’s products are possible carcinogens and more than one third are banned or restricted in other countries.

Despite these dangers, lawn care companies continue to grow and recruit new residential and commercial customers. Even though these pesticides are proven to be hazardous to public health and the environment, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s pesticide regulatory system has put its stamp of approval on the use of these pesticides.

And, although a growing pool of research links exposure to the lawn care pesticides used to vomiting, dizziness, headaches and chronic illnesses like lymphoma, leukemia and learning disabilities, the U.S. EPA continues to register these pesticides for commercial and residential use.

Our California state laws prohibit municipalities like the Sacramento City Council from passing regulations to locally control the use of lawn pesticides, though some California towns—like Fairfax—have challenged the law. Further, it is difficult for lawn care customers to get information about the ingredients in the pesticide products. So it’s left to us to protect ourselves. We must call on the companies that service our lawns and other green spaces to offer truly organic solutions and to phase out the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.

Next time you think about your lawn, think truly green. Let some leaves fall, compost others, and lay off the chemicals.