Lawn chemical regulation in US

Q. Why can lawn care companies operate freely in the United States when the chemicals they use have often been found to be hazardous to people, pets, and the environment?

A. There’s no simple answer to your question.  To begin with, though, our federal government simply doesn’t require much in the way of independent testing when it comes to the pesticides used to maintain an All-American lawn. Even though pesticides, unlike most other chemicals, are required to be proven safe, it’s the manufacturers themselves that supply the safety data to the EPA. As a result, it’s not necessarily the, ahem, highest-quality data. “I’ve looked at some of these studies; it’s a real problem,” explains Jennifer Sass, PhD, a toxicologist with the Natural Resources Defense Council. And then, sadly, there really hasn’t been much public outcry about this fox-guarding-the-henhouse approach in recent years. Maybe it’s because people believe that the 1972 DDT-ban inspired by Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring has solved the pesticide problem. Or maybe it’s because global warming has risen to the top of everyone’s environmental priority list. Or maybe people simply love having a thick, weed-free carpet of green grass on their lawns and are unaware of the environmental consequences. But even though lawn chemicals may not be a marquee environmental issue at the moment, there are plenty of people fighting to reduce their impact, from major environmental groups like the NRDC (which recently sued the EPA over the weed killer atrazine) to the anti-lawn movement, which Elizabeth Kolbert just wrote about in The New Yorker. Several advocacy groups, like Beyond Pesticides, are also devoted to the issue. So if you’re inclined to try to change this situation, you have plenty of company.

- Sarah Schmidt

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