Pesticide Use

When my son was five, we had a discussion about a lawn sign indicating that the grass had recently been sprayed for weeds.  He knew the signs were there to warn us to stay away because the chemicals used for spraying lawns can make us sick.

He remarked that the homeowners must have forgotten to tell the birds and squirrels that the grass could harm them.  As we watched the unsuspecting wildlife go about their business on the lawn, oblivious to the acknowledged dangers to humans and house pets, Nick was quite concerned for their safety,

He wondered how such a mistake could have been made, and I dismissed his question for a very simple reason: I had no answer.  He looked at me with that “No really mom, that wasn’t a rhetorical question” look and I scrambled for an answer.

It didn’t seem right to saddle a child of five with, “Well honey, these people are more concerned with the look of their lawn than they are with the squirrels and birds.” Instead, I lamely offered, “I guess they forgot that the squirrels and birds share their lawn.”  It’s a conversation that has stuck with me, and troubled me for the six years since that spring day.

I don’t have a background in science or medicine, so as a parent, I feel it’s my responsibility to go looking for advice from those who do.  The Ontario College of Family Physicians recommends that the public avoid the use of pesticides.  As well, they have published a review that showed consistent links between exposure to pesticides and illnesses such as leukemia, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and neurological diseases.

Of course, there are people who suggest that these and other studies are flawed or the results are inconclusive, but for my family, pesticide use is a no-brainer:  we are simply not willing to risk the health of our kids (and their kids) for the sake of an aesthetically pleasing lawn.

I am baffled by a number of ironies regarding lawn and garden care:

-The chemicals that we like to believe target and kill specific weeds and bugs can also kill useful soil bacteria and insects that help keep the soil healthy.  Lawns and gardens then require more and more chemicals to do the job that these useful organisms were doing in the first place.

-We claim to love an outdoor oasis, yet oddly, we are constantly battling our lawns into unnatural submission.  Lawns do not exist – anywhere – in nature, which is why we have to fight so hard to maintain them.

-Parents in today’s world are constantly trying to avoid exposing our kids to unhealthy substances in their food, toys and the air they breathe. Willingly spraying toxic chemicals in the area where our kids spend so much of their time is truly a baffling and troubling concept.

Along with the many ironies in lawn and garden care, there are also many questions:

-Once the signs have been removed, and the guy with the mask tell you it’s ok for kids and pets to go back on the lawn, does that really mean that it’s safe, or is it simply safer than it was 48 hours ago?

-Just because you can no longer smell or see evidence of the treatment, can we really be sure that the dangers are gone?

..and even if they are no longer on the surface, where do the chemicals go?   Are we really ok with risking our precious water supply?

Against the odds, I’ll fight the fight to keep a lawn, but my “perfect lawn” will be user-friendly and maintained without the use of chemicals.  I’ll continue to take the sound advice from websites such as, that offer simple suggestions to shift our approach to lawn care:  rather than dealing with weeds once they make an appearance, discourage them by getting to the heart of the matter and dealing with the overall health of the lawn.  The premise is unbelievably simple (and smart):  where grass grows thickly, there is less room for weeds to take hold.

Caring for our lawn is a family affair.  We all dig out our dandelions instead of spraying them, which means we spend a bit of extra time outdoors in the fresh air, getting some exercise and spending time together.  Which is my favourite irony of lawn care:  fresh air, exercise and time with my family are things I’m always trying to find more time for anyway!

By incorporating some of the many landscaping options that can make our yards more diverse, and indeed, more interesting. is only one of many easy to follow and understand websites.

However, since we do seem to be smartening up about pesticide use, we can accept the perfect lawn – which I do enjoy myself, more so when a person in a mask comes and sprays poison onto the lawn.

Simply because different inspection agencies have determined them to be safe, doesn’t mean that they are.  Have we learned nothing from the I kind o look at it with the trans fat issues?  For years, nobody thought that was a problem in our food; now the government is thinking about outlawing them.  Just because they are approved, doesn’t mean they are not harmful to us, and more importantly, our children.

I wonder how often we think of our forefathers, years and years before us.  And then I wonder about our children’s children’s children and so on.  There is often talk about what we will leave behind, but I wonder how often we actually consider this.

I wish we could all examine, for the sake our our children’s children’s children, even though I don’t believe any of us can begin to accurately predict the world that far into the future (which, it’s important to remember, isn’t really that far into the future at all, in the big scheme of things)

Cosmetic applications versus healing form the inside.  Maintaining a healthy lawn means less room for weeds, etc.

Users are instructed to keep kids and pets off their lawn, and I think we get a false sense of security when it rains; the lawn safer on the surface because the rains washes the pesticide away… but where does it go from there?

The healthier the lawn, the less room for weeds to go.  Weeds are indicicate of an underlying problem with the lawn.  Kind of like taking cold medicine to make you more comfortable.  Doesn’t solve the problem, just deals with the symptoms.

I know that there are medical treatments, etc. degisned to kill things for the better – these are to extend life and quality – and they kill good things along the way, too.

Pesticides are equal-opportunity killers. While they may eliminate garden pests, they also kill beneficial soil bacteria, insects, and even wildlife. Killing off these “good” bacteria, worms, and bugs unfortunately leads to a catch-22 situation since gardeners then have to add even more chemical fertilizers and pesticides to replace the jobs these helpful creatures used to do for free!

Children are especially at risk from pesticides because of their small size and the many hours they spend playing in yards and parks. Unfortunately, kids and pets don’t leave these chemicals in the garden – they inadvertently bring them into our homes on their shoes and clothes.

Chemical pesticides also inadvertently enter the storm water system and end up in streams, rivers and lakes, where they may kill or harm insects, frogs, and fish. In some cases, pesticides can contaminate our drinking water.

fact, the Ontario College of Family Physicians recommends that the public avoid all pesticides. The organization recently published a review showing consistent links between pesticide exposure and serious illnesses such as leukemia, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and neurological diseases.

Before we had kids, my husband and I lived in a house with a huge yard and lots and lots of dandelions.  We agreed that it was not necessary to spray them – what’s the harm in dandelions after all – we worried about our pets, and we had our own well.  I was certain the chemicals would seep into our drinking water, and what’s the point of taking that risk?