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Every year Americans use more than 80 million pounds of pesticides and other chemicals on their lawns and gardens. Small amounts of pesticides reach their targets and the rest is absorbed in the ground, washed into surrounding water sources, or can be tracked into homes.
There are alarming potential health risks associated with pesticide exposure. Lawns, playground, and athletic fields are where children and pets play, and where they can be directly exposed to harmful chemicals which have been linked to a large variety of health issues including cancers, birth defects, and developmental disorders.
In Connecticut much of these chemicals are carried by storm run off into rivers and then into Long Island Sound. This has caused hypoxia, or the depletion of oxygen in the water, in Long Island Sound. When these chemicals are not flushed into the sound, they seep into the soil and can enter the water table potentially contaminating well water as ws the case in Woodbridge, CT.
Many Connecticut towns have adopted bans or restrictions on pesticide use on lawns and gardens. The state of Connecticut has already put in place Public Act 09-56 to eliminate the use pesticides in K-8 schoools. Transitioning to organic can be a complex, long process, but land care professionals across the state are learning about organic turf maintenance with workshops hosted by non-profits, the CT DEEP and by consulting organic professionals.
Before the ban was in effect, Branford, Connecticut stopped using pesticides on all twenty-four of the town’s fields. The town collects the residents’ leaves to create compost and mulch, which greatly reduced the need for pesticides or fertilizers because the compost created healthier soils which produced healthier grass. Connecticut is now looking to extend a pesticide ban to high schools. Plainfield enacted a resolution in support of voluntary non-use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers on lawns and gardens by the citizens of Plainfield. The town went a step further and declared Paderewski Park pesticide and synthetic fertilizer free as a pilot project to test out organic turf management. Essex has adopted a similar resolution urging voluntary refrain from the use of chemical fertilizers and lawn pesticides. Essex and Plainfield’s resolutions both cite potential water pollution, environmental degradation, significant health threats to children, pets, and unborn children, water conservation and soil health in their resolutions. The town of Roxbury also put in place regulations on pesticide and fertilizer applications within 50 feet of a water course.
As organic lawn care becomes more main stream and there are a greater variety of resources and options, there will hopefully be more town-based organic ordinances, laws and petitions in Connecticut. As a state with a high population density bordering a highly sensitive, already compromised water body, we have the responsibility to continue to reduce the use of unnecessary chemicals. Each town must already use some form of pesticide free land care for their schools, and the next step is to transition to town-wide voluntary reductions of pesticide use.
Read more about Connecticut towns that have organic turf fields at town parks and at schools:
*We are working on collecting information about other northeastern states and intiatives
Read Rivers Alliance's model pesticide resolutions (try them in your town!)
Long Island Sound Study's 2010 Report on Sound Health
Review Beyond Pesticides' "Tools For Change" Page
NOFA Organic Lawn Certificate Course for Municipal and School Groundskeepers and Workers