Toxic chemicals on lawns pose threat to public safety

It's spring. Yellow lawn signs have returned. My worst fears are realized.

It’s spring. Yellow lawn signs have returned. My worst fears are realized.

I suffer from a disease called Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, MCS, an allergy to chemicals.

A recent report showed that there were 100,000 manufactured chemicals now produced in the world, the majority never tested for their effects on humans. So in spring, with the influx of chemicals, I have many sleepless nights, chest and back pain, a burning sensation on my arms and legs when I walk by a recently sprayed lawn. I find it difficult to imagine why my neighbors want their yards to look like turf farms, never a weed in sight.

But along with eliminating the weeds, the insects and birds are eliminated, too. A recent report from Dennis vanEngelsdorp, University of Maryland entomologist, showed that bee pollen contained 21 different types of pesticides. Where do all those chemicals come from? Your lawn service is required to provide you with a list of chemicals. In any neighborhood, there might be 10 or 15 different companies, each with their chemical lists with such environmental hazards as “extremely dangerous to fish,” “causes moderate eye irritation,” “toxic to birds and wildlife,” “not to be used on crops used for food and forage.”

Infants and children are most affected by these chemicals because the developing brain is more susceptible to toxins, and their metabolic systems have diminished ability and enzymes to detoxify chemicals. Many of these pesticides are referred to as endocrine-disrupting chemicals, EDC, by the World Health Organization and interfere with body processes such as metabolism, growth and development, sleep and mood. When play areas of schools are sprayed, such as nursery schools and school grounds, what long-term effects will this have on early development? An April 2011 study at UC Berkley showed that children of mothers with the highest blood level of pesticides showed an IQ drop of 7 points.

Last year while enjoying Niska Day, I noticed the blooming dandelions in the Craig School front yard, indicating no spray. But around the side of the building on the playground, there were no weeds. I called one of the Niskayuna town officials to ask if there was pesticide spraying in the parks. He advised me that the sports associations are responsible for such treatments. So if your child plays a sport in Niskayuna , be reminded that he/she may come in contact with herbicides and pesticides on playgrounds and ball fields.

Recently, I noticed the yellow signs at GE Global Research property on the banks of the Mohawk River just upstream from the Niskayuna aquifer. With such a large area, about 500 acres, so close to the river, in the next rainstorm, the run-off has just a short distance before reaching the river and our water supply. Such a large amount of acreage is like living near a commercial farm right in the middle of a suburban neighborhood. Wind carries these pollutants as much as a few miles away, my body tells me.

I attended an informational meeting at Niskayuna Town Hall given by the chairman of the Schenectady County Legislature. A woman who had recently moved to town related her reasons: walkability, closeness of community services, Coop Market, library, and town hall. Those are the same reasons I moved to Niskayuna , including nearby river sports and the bike path. Now, since I moved here four years ago, three more of my closest neighbors have begun a monthly spray program. I no longer can walk near my house, since one or more of these properties has been treated with pesticides or herbicides. I must go to the bike path or Central Park to walk. It is amazing to me why anyone would want to spray their yards and houses with a different poison each month to kill every native plant, every insect, and ultimately every animal, for the sake of a few non-native turf grasses.

What can we as citizens do? Both Schenectady County and the town of Niskayuna are focusing on stormwater runoff. You can pick up a brochure, “After the Storm: A Citizen’s Guide to Understanding Stormwater,” at their offices. It states that stormwater can pick up debris, chemicals and dirt that go from storm sewers to rivers that we use for swimming, fishing and drinking water. All our Schenectady County drinking water comes from the aquifer fed by the river. Polluted storm water can kill fish and shellfish and make people sick. The brochure recommends using fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides sparingly.

There are towns that don’t allow chemicals, Round Lake Village, for instance. I asked an official there why they don’t spray. It seemed the answer was a general respect for their neighbors.

On May 10, Dr. Diane Lewis wrote an article for The New York Times entitled, “Your emerald green lawn is making you sick.” She states that the Environmental Protection Agency is proposing regulations that protect farm workers’ exposure to dangerous chemicals like Roundup, carbaryl, malathion, and 2,4-D. I wish the EPA would start proposing regulations for citizens in neighborhoods that have toxic chemicals sprayed each month. Let’s ban the use of toxic lawn chemicals in Schenectady County for the health and safety of those most affected: infants, children, pregnant mothers, the elderly and our pets.

Carol Kirk lives in Niskayuna . The Gazette encourages readers to submit material on local issues to the Opinion section. Contact Editorial Page Editor Mark Mahoney at [email protected]

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