“Hast thou not seen that Allah sent water down from the sky and led it through sources into the ground? Then He caused sown fields of different colors to grow.” (Quran 39:21)
The Quran provides us with an intuitive grasp of the eco-system and its relationship to our lives. So you can imagine my shock, as a new Muslim, walking nervously towards my local Islamic Center, to find my Quran teacher applying lawn care chemicals to the grass – less than a half mile from Lake Saint Claire! My shyness prevented me from shouting, “WHAT are you doing?!”
In Islam, water is considered a gift from God, so no individual literally owns it. Humans are the stewards of water and other common resources that belong to the community.
Studies by the U.S. Geological Survey show that pesticides and herbicides most frequently detected in streams and shallow ground water throughout the country come from home and garden use. Documented cases of pesticides in groundwater wells show cancer clusters in many towns.
Lawn chemicals also harm the microorganisms, beneficial insects and earthworms that are essential to maintaining healthy soil. In turn, this affects the long-term survival of birds and fish. World supplies of honey are running low, resulting in dramatic price increases, because honey bees are dying in huge numbers due to pesticides. In the long run, pesticides can actually help the very pests they target by also killing their predators, so that their use becomes self-perpetuating.
There is a joke, circulated on the internet, entitled “God and Lawn Care,” which begins:
“GOD: What in the world is going on down there on the planet? What happened to the dandelions, violets, milkweeds and stuff I started eons ago? I had a perfect no-maintenance garden plan. Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand drought and multiply with abandon.
The nectar from the long-lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honey bees and flocks of songbirds. I expected to see a vast garden of colors by now. But, all I see are these green rectangles.
“ST. FRANCIS: It’s the tribes that settled there, Lord. The Suburbanites. They started calling your flowers ‘weeds’ and went to great lengths to kill them and replace them with grass.”
St. Francis goes on to explain that these humans do not bale the grass to feed it to animals. They pay for water to grow the grass that they then mow once or twice a week, put in bags. and pay somebody to haul away. They do the same thing with the tree leaves, which God thought was supposed to be the natural fertilizer for the grass. Needless to say, God is quite exasperated.
The modern lawn care industry began after World War II. Companies that produced chemical and biological weapons for the military needed a new market for their products. The chemical industry saw money making possibilities in the lawns of the growing postwar suburban communities. Chemical companies like Dow and Dupont produced the pesticides, and lawn care pesticide applicators marketed them to consumers. Many of today’s pesticides include components of war-time defoliants like Agent Orange, and nerve-gas type insecticides.
During a typical year in neighborhoods across the country, over 102 million pounds of toxic pesticides are applied in pursuit of a perfect lawn and garden. This figure continues to increase despite the growing body of scientific evidence of the public health and environmental consequences.
According to the EPA, 95% of the pesticides used on residential lawns are carcinogens. Chemicals commonly used on lawns and gardens are associated with birth defects, cancer, neurotoxicity, kidney and liver damage, and endocrine disruption. The National Cancer Institute reported that children develop leukemia six times more often when pesticides are used around their homes. The American Journal of Epidemiology found that more children with brain tumors and other cancers had been exposed to insecticides than children without.
Studies by the National Cancer Society and other medical researchers have discovered a definite link between fatal non-Hodgkins Lymphoma (NHL) and exposure to lawn-care chemicals. Exposure to these pesticides is even linked to learning disabilities like autism, as well as skin rashes and asthma.
Increasingly, reports from many people around the country are “beginning to link feeling terrible with the fact the neighbors had the lawn sprayed the day before,” notes Catherine Karr, a toxicologist for the National Coalition Against The Misuse Of Pesticides.
Chemicals from lawns are tracked into homes and settle into the dust, becoming lodged in carpets. Children are especially vulnerable to toxic contamination because they often play close to the grass or carpet.
Statistics are frightening, so what do we do if we are serious about having a beautiful yard?
Some lawn care companies offer “natural” or “organic” services. Before hiring them, make sure you read the ingredients in their products and do some online research. The increasing marketplace for “environmentally friendly” products is also opening the door for fraudulent and misleading claims.
Using alternative gardening strategies will bring better results and be kinder to the environment. There are simple, long-lasting solutions which require no chemicals and much less money. Integrated Pest Management is a relatively new approach to lawn care that looks at the overall health of the soil. The quick-fix that chemicals offer does not address the fact that weeds are a sign indicating the overall health of your lawn. IPM looks at issues such as pH balance and aeration of the soil, as well as irrigation and drainage. Composting household food scraps and grass clippings should become a central part of soil fertilization for the serious lawn and garden enthusiast.
Karin Friedemann is a Boston-based freelance writer. Karinfriedemann.blogspot.com.