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Greenpoint: No such thing as ‘pinpoint’ when it comes to pollution

Greenpoint: No such thing as ‘pinpoint’ when it comes to pollution

'If you’ve got to aim at every single weed anyway, why not just pull them out?'
Greenpoint: No such thing as ‘pinpoint’ when it comes to pollution
Photographer: Shutterstock

Listening to baseball on the radio last week, we heard an ad for an herbicide that came in a sprayer offering “pinpoint accuracy,” presumably so that you can aim and kill the weeds you hate while protecting the plants you love.

“Isn’t that cute,” my husband said, although he used different words. “If you’ve got to aim at every single weed anyway, why not just pull them out?”

Seems logical to us, but not to most poison-slinging lawn owners. We both thought back to a time when we were sitting out in the garden of a friend’s sister, admiring her new flower beds. Suddenly the sister jumped up and grabbed a sprayer and started shooting a weed.

Our friend was aghast, and her sputtering broadcast her feelings. “What?” her sister said. “It’s not like I’m going to eat the flowers!”

True enough. But she might think about groundwater, and where it travels to, and who else is spraying toxins, and how much and where. Even “pinpoint accuracy” is no guarantee that your actions won’t have repercussions. And we all depend on clean water.

It was no surprise to read that traces of weedkillers turn up in foods, just as genetic markers for GMO seeds turn up in neighboring farm fields. These seeds, bred to be immune to certain herbicides, have been found in nearby fields as a result of cross pollination or wind drift. Farmers looking to grow organically often end up with pesticide drift on their fields, and now can end up with a genetically altered plant they never intended to grow. They might even end up sued by the patent holder of that genetically modified seed.

Pesticides from farms, lawns and gardens can drift, in rainwater runoff, through groundwater, on the wind. New maps showing how urban pollution levels differ block by block catalog how pollutants travel — air currents, tunnels and hollows created by landscape or building design all trap or channel air and whatever it’s carrying. Pollution doesn’t stay still.

It’s the same with your trash. If you accidentally drop your straw next to a garbage can instead of inside it, it will travel — down the road, into a culvert, into a pond. The plastic bag a crow pulls out of your trash ends up tied in a tree somewhere, or in a stream, or in a fish’s belly.

Simplifying is one solution. Using less disposable stuff reduces the amount you throw away. So skip the straw in your iced drink — it’s not that hard to tip a cup. Bring your own cup to the coffee shop or at least reuse the disposable one as many times as you can before disposing of it. Skip the plastic bag and it won’t end up in a tree or a fish. Aim to eat organic foods when possible — supporting growers who don’t use pesticides reduces the pesticides in everyone’s water and air.

And pull a weed by hand instead of resorting to a spray killer. Because really, there’s no such thing as pinpoint accuracy.

Greenpoint appears every other Sunday. Look for it next on Aug. 20. Reach Margaret Hartley at [email protected] or @Hartley_Maggie on Twitter. Opinions expressed in Greenpoint are hers and not necessarily the newspaper’s.

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