Watch the entire workshop posted on the City’s website, here:
While many people choose to handle lawn care on their own, for others it makes sense to hire a company to do the job. Or perhaps you have a large pest problem and you’ll need to hire a pest management company. How do you choose a service provider? More importantly, how do you find one that is going to choose the least toxic methods or products to get the job done?
Some companies claim to be Eco-conscious service providers, but in reality nothing could be further from the truth.
Greenwashing (a compound word modeled on “whitewash”), or “green sheen,” is a form of spin in which green PR or green marketing is deceptively used to promote the perception that an organization’s products, aims or policies are environmentally friendly.
I was made aware recently of a story about a contractor, with a very green sounding name using anticoagulent baits for a mouse issue in a basement apartment. A neighbor inquired, concerned about her pet and the many other animals that live in the area. The contractor repeatedly stated to her that the bait he was using would not cause secondary poisoning. The neighbor got the name of the product and spoke with the state Pesticide Control office. They sent her the label which clearly states:
“Dogs and predatory and scavenging mammals and birds might be poisoned if they feed upon animals that have eaten this bait.”
She was right to be concerned about the safety of neighborhood cats and dogs, as well as the owls and hawks that frequently hunt in the area. Given the potential hazards of this poison, was it even necessary? The short answer is no. Upon further conversation with the contractor, it was found that he did not seal up entry points, and would not be back at any point to check on the baits or remove them. Even after being read the warning on the label, he continued to maintain that there was no need to worry about the safety of animals in the neighborhood. These are not hallmarks of a provider that is eco-friendly or responsible. A contractor using least toxic methods, would have chosen traps to use and sealed up the entry points the rodents were using.
Using a trap means that a return trip would be necessary to check and dispose of later, and sealing up the places where the rodents were getting in would solve the problem for good, essentially taking away a recurring source of repeat business – things the contractor seeks to avoid – all at the expense of the landlord, tenants and neighborhood animals.
This case of a ten year old boy from Florida should give us all pause. Peyton McCaughey, became seriously ill along with his family after their home was fumigated with sulfuryl fluoride for a termite infestation. You may be literally putting your life in the hands of these providers. What happened to Peyton, never even needed to happen in the first place. A safer alternative of using heat instead of chemical fumigation already exists.
How can we as consumers avoid falling for greenwashing tactics? The following are a few practical tips on what to do and look for when hiring a contractor.
Be Polite. No one is going to respond favorably to you if you swoop in like the Spanish inquisition. However, if you are polite, and someone is hesitant to give you information, that is a red flag, and a signal to move on.
Ask Questions. For lawns, are they following a systems approach with focus on soil health? Or do they use a product centered approach disguised as ‘natural’ or ‘organic’? If the goal is not to build up the soil so that products are not needed in the future, look else where. For pest care providers, make sure they are able to correctly identify the pest you have when they inspect your home. Professionals should know the scientific name of the pest and give it to you so you can search it on your own for more info. Sometimes they will need to take the bug back with them for proper identification which is reasonable. If a contractor comes to your home or business, doesn’t recognize the pest and offers to treat your home anyway – do not let him! Always ask to see the Applicator or Operator’s License of any contractor who comes to your home. And it never hurts to call your local pesticide control division to find out if a company has had any complaints or sanctions.
Products. If it is determined a product must be used: What types of products do they use? Ask for the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) on any product before it is to be used. Are all ingredients listed for the product? What options are there? Are they using the lowest risk pesticide for the job?
The Sustainability Knowledge Group, a global advisory firm, offers these tips for consumers to avoid being misled:
Signs of Greenwashing
• Advertisements that misleads with words. The terms used have no clear meaning. What do you mean by eco-friendly, all natural etc?
• Green products vs dirty company. Green products are usually produced by companies with overall sustainable business practices
• The advertisement misleads with visuals and/or graphics. Because the packaging is green it doesn’t mean it is environmentally friendly
• Jargon or too scientific information that is vague, too brood and cannot be easily understood
• Making a green claim about the product without providing any proof to back up that claim
• The advertisement overstates or exaggerates how green it actually is
• The advertisement provides data that is totally fabricated
• Worshiping false labels, claiming that a product is endorsed or certified by a third party when that is not true or the party does not exist
• Hidden Trade off, a product is not green just because it is made out of paper for instance; we have to examine the whole life cycle of the product.
• Lesser than two evils. Claiming to be more sustainable that other similar products, does not make a product sustainable
• The advertisement leaves out important information making any green claim sound better than it is. Is something missing from the ad? Does the ad exist to divert attention from something else that the company is doing? A very good solution to this is to Google the company and find out for yourself what it really does. The internet is an endless source of information and can be very helpful.
Following these suggestions should be helpful in getting you started on the path to finding a reliable and truly green service provider.
On Wednesday, September 2nd the Dover city council held a workshop meeting devoted in part to a presentation and discussion with Chip Osborne and Jay Feldman from Beyond Pesticides.
This marks the end of our petition and the beginning of a transition to truly sustainable land and turf management practices in the city of Dover.
The city is arranging training with Chip Osborne who will be able to teach the city employees and contractors how to implement a natural systems approach to turf management. A workshop tailored to residents will also be offered, in addition to the municipal training, probably sometime this fall.
During the discussion, councilor Jason Gagnon brings up the economic benefits of reducing and eliminating fertilizer and pesticide use. He’s absolutely right. Nutrient pollution is big problem here for the Great Bay Watershed. Wastewater treatment plant upgrades are necessary – but costly. Fertilizer runoff is one significant source, and responsible fertilizer use is a simple and inexpensive way to make a positive impact and reduce that part of the non-point source load.
It’s time to create truly green spaces in Dover. Thank you to all who signed the petition and lent your support. We are so excited to see the city partnering with Beyond Pesticides, and will keep updating the progress of this effort in the future.
Watch the council workshop here:
Fall will be here before you know it, and it happens to be the ideal time to switch to organic lawn care. Once you get your lawn established, it will save money, time and resources in addition to the obvious and important ecological and public health benefits. Click the link below for the full infographic with great tips to get you started!
Stardate: May 2015. The small lawn area in front of our rental had seen better days. Previous damage had left bare spots that would normally fill in with crabgrass, but didn’t as quickly due to a dry spell. In short, the front lawn is a disaster and in desperate need of some TLC.
Normally, I wouldn’t even bother with a lawn in an area like this, but this isn’t my property so I’m not at liberty to make any huge changes. Nor was I keen on spending a ton of money on a place I’m likely to be leaving behind to purchase a home in a the near future. So I decided to overseed and see how it went.
I applied a couple of bags of ‘York grass’ seed blend by hand after several rounds of thorough raking to get up as much of the dead crabgrass as possible, and loosen the topsoil up. Then we watered twice a day and waited.
It’s funny, you never notice how many people and animals walk on a space, until you don’t want it walked on. Every store seemed to be out of ‘keep off the grass’ signs, and I thought that between the neighbor weedwhacking half of it, the postal carrier, the window replacement guy, my kid, someone else’s kid, and several random dogs, that our project was doomed. We eventually found a sign, and after a few weeks we had results.
As you can see it made a big difference, despite the odds we faced. If you have a lawn, and want it to look good overseeding is a must. Fall is the ideal time, but when you have a lot of bare spots like we did, you’re going to need to put down seed before then. Good cultural practices are key in getting strong healthy turf. When you focus on soil health, as opposed to constant chemical inputs which are quite damaging to soil health, you will create a resilient system resistant to disease and pests.
Conventional lawn care focuses on turf and uses product input to put a temporary band-aid on problems. Chemical lawn treatments don’t solve problems, they actually make them worse by destroying the beneficial organisms needed to have a healthy system and healthy soil. You can support these organisms by applying a product such as compost tea, and compost topdressing. We are lucky to have a good source locally.
When you combine organic treatments with good cultural practices like overseeding, mowing high (3 inches or so), leaving on the grass clippings, and mulch mowing etc… you can have a beautiful lawn that’s safe for pets, people and wildlife to enjoy. Once you have established your system, it requires much less work and money than the ‘four step program’ lawns people are conditioned to. Lawn chemical manufacturers reap the monetary benefits of the short term fix in that their products must be purchased year after year after year. It’s long past time we all look at lawn care in a different way, and the best place to start is with the soil.
Check out our resources and these links to help you get started on soil promoting methods.
2015 Year of the Soil from Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Benefits of a Healthy Soil Food Web from Soil Foodweb Institute
Your 6-Step Organic Lawn Plan from Rodale’s Organic Life
We have some good news regarding this year’s turf maintenance bid. Two of the city owned spaces will be treated organically. Lower Henry Law Park and Sullivan Drive ball field are to be maintained by Go Green Landscaping Inc. This is a very positive development, and one that we hope will continue to grow in the future. Community support was essential in making this happen, and credit belongs to those who wrote or called city decision makers about this issue. Your voice matters – thank you!
Lower Henry Law Park, next to the Cocheco River
Bee Safe/Go Green Landscaping products:
- 10-0-0 Natural Granular and BeeSafe 7-0-2 Biologically Enhanced Organic Fertilizer
- Fiesta Herbicide for broadleaf weeds
- Weed-Granular 10-0-0/Liquid Corn Gluten 1-0-0/Tenacity Herbicide, a synthetic analog of leptospermone (used as needed)
- Acelepryn for grubs
- Custom Soil Inoculant- BeeSafe Growth Activator Pro Plus
The approach taken will be different from conventional methods in that the focus is on soil health, with the reduction and eventual elimination of chemical inputs as the greatest priority. Lower Henry Law Park has not seen any turf care for quite some time, and Sullivan Drive ball field has multiple issues that need addressing in the coming season. We will be following the progress on both sites and sharing the results when the season is over.
With the exception of the two sites mentioned above, city and all of school property will be treated using conventional methods and products.
Products for Sweetser Farms/Green Grass:
Dimension (crabgrass preemergent)
Acelepryn (replaced imidacloprid last season for grubs)
feed grade urea (fertilizer)
Reduction and elimination of cosmetic pesticides used in turf care fit with Sustainable Dover guidelines. Please thank the city for this first step, and let them know you want to see the all of city and school property begin the transition to organic methods for next season.
We are told that pesticides are regulated and scientifically tested. What does this really mean?
Are Pesticides Rigorously Tested For Safety?*
According to the U.S. President’s Cancer Panel: “Only a few hundred of the more than 80,000 chemicals in use in the United States have been tested for safety.”
Pesticides are subjected to more testing than most other chemicals, but the USPCP reports that “Some scientists maintain that current toxicity testing and exposure limit-setting methods fail to accurately represent the nature of human exposure to potentially harmful chemicals.”
Chemical Cocktails In Our Environment
Because of the wide use of herbicides, fungicides, and insecticides in agriculture, commercial and home use, we are constantly exposed. The CDC measures chemicals in urine and blood, including pesticides every few years (biomonitoring). The most recent testing found widespread exposure to hundreds of chemicals, some of which have been banned for decades. In 2009 the Environmental Working Group tested the placental cord blood of newborns and found up to 232 different chemicals – many linked to cancer and other health risks.
Regulatory authorities only test active ingredients in pesticide products. No testing of combinations are done. Emerging evidence shows cause for concern regarding synergistic toxicity. Synergistic toxicity is the effect that when exposed to two toxins, the toxicity level is far greater than the additive toxicity levels of each. In other words: 1 + 1 can equal 10, 50, 100 or more. Toxicity amplified to more than just the sum of its parts. The combinations of chemicals encountered in the environment are not tested for synergistic effects.
Active and Inert Ingredients
Registered agricultural products (insecticides, herbicides, fungicides) are mixtures of multiple chemicals. A primary ‘active’ ingredient and ‘inert’ ingredients – solvents, adjuvants and surfactants. The inerts help the active ingredient work more effectively. Many inert ingredients are toxic, but they do not undergo testing for possible negative health effects. Nor is testing done for complete formulations sold to consumers and professionals. Even the active ingredients in combination products have only been tested singly.
The only study of its kind to compare the active ingredient and registered product looked at nine different formulated pesticides and found that eight of those nine were hundreds of more times toxic to human cells than the active ingredient alone – at far below the dilution used in agriculture. The commonly used herbicide Roundup was the most toxic pesticide tested.
This shows us that a safe level of residues cannot be found by testing the active ingredients alone.
The Developing Fetus, Infants and Children
Regarding children, the USPCP states, “They are at special risk due to their smaller body mass and rapid physical development, both of which magnify their vulnerability to known or suspected carcinogens, including radiation.”
There is much criticism of the lack of safety testing that looks at the impact of pesticides on children at different stages of development. The USPCP further notes, “Chemicals typically are administered when laboratory animals are in their adolescence, a methodology that fails to asses the impact of in utero, childhood and lifelong exposures.”
In addition to the shortcomings in testing for effects on children, there are many other areas which are overlooked by our current testing methodologies. No Testing is done for:
- Mixtures and cocktails of chemicals
- The actual formulated products
- Toxicity of pesticide metabolites
- Endocrine disruption
- Metabolic disruption
- Intergenerational effects on all organs and physiological systems
- Developmental neurotoxicity
Clearly, what this tells us is that pesticides are not rigorously tested. One cannot assume safety form such a lack of quality scientific data. What then can we do about it?
What Else Can We Do?
Preventing the need for pesticides is the best place to start. Management strategies include habitat modification, sealing and structural repairs, sanitation, biological controls and organic management of outdoor spaces. If a control measure is needed as a last resort, use the least toxic option. An example of this would be using traps instead of poison baits, or boric acid instead of commercial insecticide. Ask your local retailer to carry organic options, if they don’t already. Look for products that are OMRI listed. This means they have met organic standards. Any pesticide should be handled with care to reduce exposure.
Learn how to use a natural systems approach for lawn and turf care. Not only is it safer for you, your children and the environment, but it is cost effective as well. Healthy soil means healthy turf, and more disease and pest resistance.
Speak to your city officials about using least toxic options for pest control and turf maintenance of our public areas. Are they using the safest methods possible? It is your right to inquire and obtain information about the methods and products being used.
For more information on pesticide use, safer alternatives, and natural turf care, the non profit group Beyond Pesticides is an excellent resource. Their website includes info on alternatives, structural IPM and help in finding a a service provider for managing pests.
More helpful links can be found on our About & Resources page.
*Reference: The Myths of Safe Pesticides by André Leu, Copyright © 2014, Acres U.S.A.