Part 1: Lawns: Bah, Humbug!

I see no beauty in grass lawns. All I see is lost opportunities to turn our yards into peaceful, quiet, chemical-free spaces for pollinators and others to come, feed, lay eggs and in turn help the evironment in ways most of us haven’t given a single thought about.

And when I clicked to Rosamund Portus’ article Make meadows not lawns and saw a gorgeous picture of a street that has done just that, it reminded me that there’s a lot more I can do in my own quest to help the environment.

Meadow, courtesy Richard Gillin CC 2.0

Richard Gillin lives in England and took this lovely picture of a real meadow just before Butterfly World in St Albans, Hertfordshire, UK, opened in 2009. Sadly, it closed permanently in 2015.

Grass is not native to North America and many other countries, requiring us to spend ridiculous amounts of time and money to keep it green, tidy and weed-free. Beyond that, however are some key issues that disturb me.

One is the chemical use required to maintain this ideal illusion. Second is the magnitude of annual injuries around the globe just to mow it. The third is amount of water, especially municipally treated water, used to keep lawns green even when high temperatures signal grass to go dormant until cooler temperatures return. However, the topic of water is just too large for this already long blog and will be covered in a future paper.

It’s obvious by looking at my own lawn that it’s impossible to have a weed-free lawn without chemical assistance. But I like knowing that the worms below are augmenting the soil for free and providing food to the pair of robins who stop by every spring, back from wherever they winter. They stick around for a few weeks, probably until they figure they best leave some worms to replenish supplies for next year. Then they’re gone.

I can’t help but think of those robins and worms whenever I see weed-control companies regularly spraying lawns and their little signs stuck in a corner to warn us of the chemcials. Shame animals can’t read.

I’m also reminded of a dog friends of ours had years ago. Dunphy was a chocolate lab at the prime of his life when he died of cancer: cancer developed from walking on neighbours’ lawns treated with herbicides.

Lori Ennis’ 2017 blog Study: Canine Cancers Linked to Common Lawn Chemicals offers highlights of the study Household Chemical Exposures and the Risk of Canine Malignant Lymphoma, a Model for Human Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, in particular that the spray of chemicals from one lawn will drift and contaminate nearby lawns. So even lawns that have signs saying they’re chemical-free may not be. All animals, not just dogs, are exposed to the chemicals via physical contact, grass consumption or inhalation. And we’re not even talking about what happens below ground.

There are two types of canine cancers to worry about, the lymphoma cancers mentioned above and bladder cancer. Some species are more prone than others to getting any of them. What is known is that the compound 2, 4-D is the deadliest chemical you can apply to your lawn.

Animals, of course, are not the only ones to contract these cancers. As mentioned in Little Buggers!, links are being made between chemicals and the rise of childhood cancers, namely brain cancer, leukemia and lymphomas.

Howard M Hayes et al’s Case-Control Study of Canine Malignant Lymphoma: Positive Association With Dog Owner’s Use of 2, 4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic Acid Herbicides (2, 4-D) states that dogs whose owners applied this compound to their lawns (professionally or self-applied) develop malignant lymphoma with the same consistency that agricultural workers exposed to it do. 

If you’re getting riled about this subject, the Pesticide Action Network · North America (PANNA) has a plethora of information on everything relating to pesticides and our health, including an overview of the key issues, to how to take action and a hefty resource library.

PANNA also has a searchable database of known chemicals, including their levels of toxicity. There’s even a tutorial to help you get started. They call it a one-stop location for toxicity and regulatory information for pesticides.

You might want to download this pdf The Truth About Cats, Dogs & Lawn Chemicals. It’s an outline of a video produced, directed and videotaped by Sanford Lewis. The video is not part of the paper nor linked, but there’s plenty of resources to help make a difference in the lives of pets, wildlife and humans.

I cringe at the noise- and air-pollution of gas-powered lawnmowers (and leaf-blowers) that spreads throughout the neighbourhood day and night (well evening, though we did once hear some neighbour mowing in the dark) for five months for those in temperate climates and year-round, I imagine, for the warmer ones. The bigger issue being played out around the world though is the human casualties just using the darn machine.

A 2009 BBC online news report says the most common scenario for a mowing accident is a 40+ male on a riding mower with a child in his lap when one of two things happen: the machine flips over or the child falls off. Other injuries include being hit by flying debris, servicing the machine or unloading the beast; an accident before it’s even out of the box. It’s estimated that 6,500 UK residents are injured annually by all types of lawnmowers.

Likewise, Today in Sweden’s 2011 article states its National Board of Health and Welfare reported 6,000 people sought medical attention for gardening injuries in 2010, with motorized lawn mowers listed as the most common machine.

The American Amputee Coalition lists the following statistics: of the 20,000 annual injuries, 800 children are run over by riding mowers (or small tractors, but the majority are mowers), resulting in more than 600 amputations. Seventy-five people are killed; one in five is a child. And despite their guidelines for safe mowing practices, the American Academy of Pediatrics in a 2016 article states that statistical injuries to children has not changed in decades.

Before starting up the lawnmower, check out Andrea Martin’s 2015 blog 10 Important Lawnmower Safety Tips You Need to Know.

Or read Part 2: Lawn Alternatives

– Tess

January 2019

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