A View from the Hill
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 1, 2000
CONTACT: Tommy Voltero (617) 722-2240; E-mail:Thomas.Voltero@hou.state.ma.us
CAUTION: LAWN CARE PRODUCTS MAY BE
HAZARDOUS TO YOUR HEALTH
We all know that New England is famous for its wildly inconsistent weather patterns, but snow at the end of April? And as if the snow wasn't bad enough, there had to be a week of rain and frigid weather to follow. Fortunately, the lousy weather has cleared up and, hopefully, we are back on track for pleasant spring weather. It's about time that this happened, because many of us have been anxiously waiting to get back to all of our favorite spring activities like sailing, Red Sox games, and rollerblading on the Minuteman Bike Path. And who can talk about all of these great pastimes without mentioning my own personal favorite: lawn care.
Landscaping has grown to be one of our nation's greatest warm weather traditions. Every weekend, Americans spend hours in their backyards and gardens pulling weeds, trimming the hedges, and trying to make their lawns look like the grass at Fenway Park. In many neighborhoods, having the "best" yard is one of the biggest- although unannounced- competitions of the year.
Simply driving around the suburbs on a Saturday afternoon proves that many people go to great lengths to keep their lawns in top shape. I feel almost penalized to be on my hands and knees pulling out weeds and searching for "pests" such as insects, fungi, and dandelions that have wreaked havoc on my desert-looking lawn and garden throughout the warm season. Come to think of it, maybe it would be better if the warm weather didn't come so soon
Nowadays, it seems that for every pest, there is a lawn care product to solve it. Before any of us go out and purchase these products, however, it would be wise to research them a little further. While some products are completely safe for both humans and the environment, others are not so consumer friendly. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that 95% of the pesticides used on residential laws are possible or probable carcinogens (cancer causing agents). Many of the chemicals used in these products are also used in war-time defoliants like Agent Orange, nerve gas type insecticides, and artificial hormones.
Pesticides remain active for years after their initial application, and can be easily inhaled or absorbed through the skin during this period. All it takes is for someone to walk on or play in the grass to bring the chemicals into one's home. The fact that there are over 2.4 million pounds of DDT in the Antarctic ice pack (from drifting pollutants) demonstrates the extent to which these chemicals can travel from our lawns into lakes, rivers, aquifers, and even homes.
With constant exposure to these chemicals, one will inevitably become ill. In 1989, the National Cancer Institute reported that children developed leukemia six times more often when pesticides were used around their homes. The American Journal of Epidemiology found that children who had been exposed to insecticides were more likely to develop brain tumors and other cancers than children who had not been exposed. A University of Iowa study of golf course superintendents found abnormally high rates of death due to cancer of the brain, large intestine, and prostrate. The list goes on.
Given such a tragic situation, many of us are certainly wondering why the federal government has not been more vigilant in warning consumers about the dangers of lawn care products. Part of the problem is that many pesticides were registered before 1972, thereby narrowly escaping the new, stricter standards of the Federal Rodenticide and Fungicide Act of that year. The chemicals were never tested for many health hazards like carcinogenicity, neurotoxicity, and environmental dangers. In fact, 33 out of the 34 most used lawn pesticides have not been fully tested for human health hazards.
Another reason why consumers are not aware of the hazards of lawn pesticides is the improper classification of chemical ingredients. Many components are classified as "inert," which allows the manufacturers to keep them hidden from the public. While we may tend to associate the word "inert" with "safe," it would be imprudent to rely on a manufacturer's label when our health is involved. Many "inert" materials like benzene and xylene are actually more toxic than the "active" ingredients listed on the label.
A common sense observation of this situation would tell us that the pesticide industry needs stricter regulation. As it stands now, chemical companies test their own products and tell the EPA whether they are safe or not. Such biased studies would never be accepted in a court of law and they certainly should not be accepted by the American people. Unfortunately, the federal government seems to be "dragging its feet" when dealing with this highly unethical arrangement.
Despite the industry's control over the federal government, its powers are incredibly diminished on the state and local levels. Here in the State House, we have been looking into a number of bills that would place strict restrictions on pesticide use.
One of the more important bills in the Legislature, which just received near-final passage in both the House and the Senate, is the "Children and Families Protection Act." This bill is actually a progression of several pieces of legislation, and is practically a mirror image of an initiative petition presented to the General Court this winter. There are several significant measures in this bill (S.2134) that would address some of the concerns raised about pesticides.
Essentially, the bill would regulate the use of pesticides near schools and day care centers, as well as on state and municipal properties. It would prohibit certain pesticides from being used at all, and would heavily restrict the use of others. In addition, the bill would require written notice to be given before any kind of pesticides would be sprayed. It also contains a provision that would develop a comprehensive, reliable, and cost effective system for collecting and organizing information on all categories of pesticide use in the Commonwealth.
Given the fact that Massachusetts residents overwhelmingly agree with tough regulation of poisons, this bill has widespread backing from all sectors of society. This support is undoubtedly due to the basic, common sense statements that are written right into the language of the bill. It notes that "the people of the commonwealth have a fundamental right to know about the use of pesticides;" and that "citizens of the commonwealth are being denied their right to know and their ability to make informed decisions about the level of pesticide exposure to them and their children."
Acknowledging these fundamental facts is the first "step" in protecting ourselves from substances that put us at risk every time we "step" out the door. This bill will not solve every problem associated with chemical exposures, but it will certainly make all citizens aware of their dangers and help them make informed decisions when using lawn products.
Understandably, we all want to have a green lawn that is free of pests and problems, but to achieve this "zero tolerance" goal by using unknown toxic substances may, ironically, hurt those whom we wish to benefit from our care and hard work.