Since the 1950s, American lawns have been “hooked” on petroleum-based and synthetic chemicals. A plethora of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and fertilizers have been eagerly embraced by both homeowners and landscape professionals, who cannot resist the dramatic results—an almost instantaneous, lush, green lawn. But many industry experts today view this practice as akin to a drug addict who cannot function without a fix. Grasses became dependent on an endless feed of chemicals for their sustenance as the underlying soil became sterile.
In maintaining landscapes for the long-term, “perfect doesn’t mean healthy,” says Frank Koll, president of GreenScapes Lawn and Garden Services in Arlington, Massachusetts. He contends that organic, more natural methods of lawn care will result in a self-sustaining landscape that needs less maintenance as time goes by. “Organic products and methods cost more at first but go down over the years,” he notes, explaining that the initial cost for switching to organic starts with rehabilitating soils, and that takes some time.
An even more important reason, however, for going organic with landscape care is creating a healthier environment for people and pets. Koll says that researchers “have proven there is a direct correlation… between lawn chemicals and certain neurological diseases, cancers and other ailments.”
The fact that lawn chemicals are inherently dangerous is no secret—just read the warning labels on the packaging. Koll and other landscape experts agree that if everyone—homeowners and professionals like — adhered to the strict application methods prescribed in the products’ directions, “negative effects should be minimal to none… but most people applying [these products] have no clue what they’re doing.” Even contractors have been observed, Koll notes, “spraying right up to where kids are playing… not wearing masks and protective gear,” failing to use effective warning signs or methods to keep people and pets off treated areas. Expecting anyone to literally “follow directions” may be unrealistic, and is probably unenforceable. Koll says the U.S. Department of Agriculture is charged with overseeing commercial use of pesticides and herbicides, “but there are only about six inspectors in Massachusetts” [who are] expected to respond to violations.
In the business of lawn care, Koll reports that other industrialized nations, “are passing laws transitioning away from harmful chemicals. The U.S. is the only country that’s not promoting precautionary principles. In the U.S., we don’t want to ban homeowners the right to use or spray chemicals.” As an example, he cites legislation in Québec, which has banned the sale, and use for lawn maintenance purposes, many of the pesticides, herbicides and fungicides believed to be a threat to health. The specific products and compounds included in the phased-in Québec ban include carbaryl, cicofol, malathion, 2,4-D, chlorthal dimethyl, MCPA, mecoprop, benomyl, captan, chlorothalonil, iprodione, quintozene, and thiophanate-methyl.