Simply put, children should never be exposed to pesticides under any circumstances. If you haven’t done so already, this is the perfect time to switch to natural or organic lawn care.
Lawn pesticides are poisons, designed to kill weeds, insects and turf diseases…but their toxic effects are not limited to these pests. Children are particularly at risk, as they naturally want to play outside on lawns, where they can be exposed to pesticides via skin absorption, inhalation and accidental ingestion through typical hand-to-mouth behavior. There are a growing number of scientific studies showing serious health risks associated with exposure to lawn pesticide products.
What to do? You can hire a certified organic landscaping company that provides safe lawn care, or look for organic products at your local garden supply store. Well-maintained organic turf will be thick and beautiful; it will require less water; it will be safe for pets and wildlife; it will not harm the environment or contaminate drinking water sources; and most importantly, it will be a safe place for your child to play.
If your child plays sports on a school or municipal field that is treated with pesticides, you may want to ask your school district or town if they would consider a non-chemical program for turf maintenance. In the meantime, make sure your child washes his or her hands thoroughly after playing, and removes shoes before entering your house to avoid tracking pesticides indoors.
Artificial or synthetic turf fields composed of plastic and ground up recycled tire infill (crumb rubber) are becoming more common at schools and parks. While proponents of artificial fields cite lower maintenance costs and the accommodation of busy team sports schedules, there are also significant health risks that need to be taken into consideration. Most notably are dangerously high surface temperatures that can result in serious medical conditions related to heat stress. Other unresolved health-related problems include unusual joint and skin injuries, exposure to PFAS, disinfectants and flame retardant chemicals, as well as multiple hazardous chemical exposures from the crumb rubber, including lead, arsenic, cadmium, benzene and carbon black. Many of the
toxicity issues are also found on recycled rubber playground surfaces. Typically, the surfaces are covered with large rubber chip mulch or a poured or flat rubber mat. If there is an opportunity to weigh in when a decision is being made to establish or renovate a playground, advocating for hardwood chips will make it safer for your kids and the environment.
Information about natural management of lawns and playing fields and artificial turf can be found at grassrootsinfo.org and can be shared with the decision-makers in your school and community. Some states have enacted laws to prohibit the use of pesticides on school grounds.
Organic Lawn Care / Synthetic Turf
The Green Lawn Card – A simple palm-sized card with basic information for consumers about organic lawn care and pesticide risks.
The Organic Lawn Care Manual – by Paul Tukey offers expert advice for consumers and landscapers.
12 Things You Should Know About Synthetic Turf - useful handout for parents and schools briefly describing key health and environmental issues with synthetic turf.
Synthetic Turf Fields Fact Sheet - fact Sheet with details on chemical composition of synthetic turf and other components.
Synthetic Turf Industry's Claims versus the Science - an analysis of the studies industry uses to justify safety claims
Scientific Studies and Other Information
Grassroots Environmental Education on the latest science linking pesticide exposure to human health problems.
President’s Cancer Panel – Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk, What We Can Do Now.
Exposure to Glyphosate-Based Herbicides and Risk for Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma: A Meta-Analysis and Supporting Evidence. Ahang, L., Rana, I., et al, Mutation Research/Reviews in Mutation Research, Volume 781, July-September 2019, p. 186-206
Cancer health effects of pesticides. Bassil, K., Vakil, C., et al, Canadian Family Physician, 2007, 53(10), p. 1704-1711
Evaluating and regulating lead in synthetic turf. Van Ulirsch, G., Gleason, K., et al, Environmental Health Perspectives, 2010, 118(10): 1345-1349
Styrene exposure and risk of cancer. Huff, J., Infante, P., Mutagenesis, 2011, 26(5): 583-584