The trouble with good looks…

By | June 1, 2013

Every time I see those little plaques advising about pesticide use on lawns, I cringe. If something comes with a warning, it should be used sparingly and only if there’s no other way. More so when it affects children. Bees and other helpful critters too. And we need them all.

We want our lawns green and lush and pest-free and make it all happen fast if possible. Cosmetic pesticides can do that, but they have an ugly side that bothers enough people to make them an issue, yet not enough to ban them.

In Vancouver lawn lovers face excessive rain, stubborn moss and the occasional grubs that crows found so appetizing that they turn entire yards upside down looking for them.

Here in Kamloops we have hot summer days and no rain. We need lots of water to maintain decently green lawns, plus figure out the dandelion dilemma. Irony has it that dandelions are good health allies though…

The Canadian Cancer Society together with other health, environmental and animal welfare organizations are calling for a ban on cosmetic pesticides.

Used to improve the appearance of green spaces, public or residential, pesticides are known to affect human health and the environment. Unnecessarily so, because no degree of lawn perfection can motivate the use of substances that are potential causes of childhood cancers such as leukemia.

Cosmetic pesticides affect many critters that help our gardens, from visible ones, such as bees and earthworms, to invisible ones, like soil bacteria.

There truly is no decent reason for choosing perfect lawns over health.

The Canadian Lung Association advises against them too. As a parent of a child with environmental allergies and asthma, I find their position reassuring. Something is being done, or will be, because people care.

Children nowadays are exposed to more chemicals than ever before.

Indoors or outdoors, we all breathe, eat and absorb chemicals on a daily basis. Some substances are very harmful, others less so. With some we have no choice, with others, such as cosmetic pesticides, we do but don’t always exercise our options in a way that favors health. Children are most at risk because of their developing bodies and the time spent close to the ground.

Whether pesticide-treated or cared for with integrated pest management solutions, children find lawns equally appealing and inviting. Playtime is not conditioned by perfect lawns.

Children like soft grass as much as they like digging holes in the dirt and playing with muck. If we desire lawns for our children to play on, they should be free of chemicals. Just because we don’t see something it doesn’t mean it’s not there. Just because something is approved for use it doesn’t not mean that it’s harmless.

Chemicals like cosmetic pesticides that are associated with health risks such as cancer or endocrine problems and are not a need to improve but a want, shouldn’t be used. There are enough situations where chemicals are used to prevent diseases or save crops, or fight various pests. Be it so, we should use them on a “need to” basis.

Adults like their lawns green and lush and their gardens pest-free and there is nothing wrong with either if safe alternatives are used to achieve that. Some work better than others and some may take longer to work. But human health and the environment are not affected and that is what should always come first.

Many of the conveniences and nice-looking amenities that we surround ourselves with have a hefty price tag attached to them, often times less visible or not immediately anyway, and often we choose to skip checking it up close because then we might be forced to choose and assume the responsibility of having made that choice.

As I often tell the boys, if I only have to choose for myself, I consider pros and cons and choose accordingly. Whether short or long term, my choice will affect only me (though in all fairness, there are very few choices we can make that only affect one person.)

If I have to make a choice that will affect other people, whether they are my family, my friends or complete strangers, I put even more thought into it, and safety considerations come first. I expect others to do the same when they make choices for me and other people; it means having a civil conscience.

All we have to do is look back at the many examples of things gone wrong with chemicals used over the years. In many cases people had the luxury of saying “we did not know it was (this) harmful.” Nowadays we come across many deleterious substances but choose to ignore their ugly side because choosing the safer side it’s often inconvenient or it takes more time, money and energy.

The old “you can have your cake and eat it too” is a lie. Really. It’s high time we make safer choices. Greener too, in this case (pun thoroughly intended.)

(Originally published as a column in the Saturday edition of the Kamloops Daily News on June 1, 2013)

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