The grass will always be greener with these non-toxic alternatives!

How to Keep Your Lawn Happy Without the Use of Harmful Chemicals

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Even though it's still spring, we are already dreaming about summer lawn games, BBQs, and playing catch with the kids outside. And for many Americans, a nice blanket of green grass in the backyard is just the perfect setting for all these summer memories. If your lawn is looking a little worse-for-wear after some cold winter months, then you may want to pay attention because spring is the time to start getting your lawn ready! Spring is the perfect time to reseed, add compost, fertilizer, water, and get all your equipment in order. But how about pesticides and herbicides? Should you be adding them to prevent weeds from ruining your lawn? Are they the only solution if you want the perfect backyard for summer fun? Let's take a deep dive into what pesticides are used in lawn care and how to get the lushest, greenest grass for all your summer backyard picnics without using harmful chemicals.

What are pesticides and why are they harmful?

Glad you asked! Let's dig into what's hiding underneath the lush green lawn. Did you know that an astonishing nearly 80 million pounds of pesticides are used on U.S. lawns annually!

Pesticides are toxic substances that are designed to kill any living organism perceived as a pest, which intrinsically make them harmful. (2) These pesticides can be found in grub control, weed killers (herbicides), fungus treatment (fungicides), and insect spray (insecticides). The most common pesticides found in lawn care are two herbicides, glyphosate and 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D for short). It's no surprise most gardening sheds will have products containing pesticides, as most people rely on these chemicals to treat their lawn and keep the weeds away.

Most weed killers contain 2,4-D and are oftentimes a part of "weed and feed" products. (2) "Weed and feed" products are a combination of herbicides and fertilizer (oftentimes synthetic fertilizer), that are designed to kill weeds and provide nutrients for the grass, all at once. These are one of the most toxic substances, as they are loaded with pesticides to accomplish both these tasks at the same time. Most synthetic fertilizers rely on pesticides to provide nutrients to the grass. (17) Studies have found 2, 4-D to be a carcinogen (cancer-causing), linking it to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, childhood brain tumors and soft tissue sarcomas. (15, 5) It's also been linked to Parkinson's disease, immunosuppressive effects, hormone disruption, and thyroid problems (hypothyroidism). (6) And it's also been found to affect reproductive functions, and cause neurotoxicity (nervous system damage).

Glyphosate, the most widely applied pesticide in the world, has also been found to be a carcinogen and is found in many lawn care products. These products are commonly known as RoundUp. (3, 4)

Yikes! That's a lot of RoundUp (a picture personally taken while at Home Depot).

As with 2,4-D, scientific studies have shown glyphosate to also be linked to immune and nervous system disorders, learning disabilities, and behavioral problems. Glyphosate has been shown to increase the risk of asthma, infertility, and birth defects. (15)

How do these pesticides harm our health?

Pesticides can harm adults, children, and pets, through the skin, inhalation and ingestion. The most common type of exposure is through the skin. For example, a person can be exposed to a splash or mist when applying product to the lawn. A person can also be exposed by inhaling airborne droplets. Pesticides can even get into our waterways by seeping into the soil and can be brought into the home through clothes. Children are particularly vulnerable due to their size (they take in more pesticides relative to their bodyweight), rapid development, and hand to mouth behaviors. Pregnant people are also a vulnerable population to pesticide exposure. (2, 7, 12) Pets are exposed the most as they spend more time outdoors and some pets tend to eat grass, directly ingesting the pesticides. For example, cats regularly lick their paws, which means they could easily ingest pesticides that way. (2)

So how can I maintain a nice looking yard, while avoiding pesticides?

There are safer ways to get a "perfect" lush lawn. Plus, did you know applying pesticides on your lawn just creates an unhealthy chemical-using cycle? (9) It's simply a band aid solution, as it's a fast approach but doesn't target the root of the problem, which is the lack of healthy and rich soil. Applying pesticides tricks your grass into thinking it needs to rely on synthetic fertilizer to look and feel fresh, instead of actually drawing nutrients from the soil. However, here are some safer alternatives that will grow the greenest and healthiest lawn on the block while keeping you, your family, your pets, and friends safe.

Try some DIY lawn care tips:

Follow a yearly schedule to prevent your grass from needing toxic chemicals. It's recommended to start your lawn care in March. But no matter the time of the year, it's not too late to apply organic fertilizer. Check out these simple homemade and store bought organic fertilizers. Or better yet, use grass clippings as fertilizer (recycling and non-toxic? That's our kind of thing!). Add corn gluten meal to prevent weeds from sprouting. Corn gluten dries out the emerging plant's initial root, preventing a new weed from growing. Keep in mind, this will also prevent grass from growing, so only apply where there are emerging weed seedlings. Then, after fertilization (through the months of April - October), be sure to dethatch (remove the dead layer of old grass) and overseed (spread grass seed over existing lawn to fill bare spots) in September. Weekly tasks throughout the year include watering only when the lawn starts to show signs of dryness, and mowing. Be sure to set the mower 3-4 inches high to get rid of any weeds and then don't forget to leave your clippings around for fertilizer (extra nitrogen)! Here are some organic tips for common lawn problems:

  • Have brown spots? This is likely due to too much nitrogen (usually from pet urine). Water the grass right after a pet urinates to dilute the nitrogen.
  • You see brown tips on your grass? This is probably due to dull mower blades, be sure to sharpen your blades each Spring!
  • Are their patches of dirt, where grass didn't grow? Be sure to add compost and grass seed, then water the area!
  • If you have yellow grass, this most likely means your grass is low in nitrogen or may be over-watered. Dethatch or aerate lawn before applying fertilizer.
  • If you start seeing dandelions or crabgrass (or other weeds for that matter), cut off the heads of the weeds to prevent the seeds from spreading and then spread corn gluten meal in the Springtime to prevent weeds from popping up.
That sounds too time consuming, what are my other options?

If you don't have the extra time for DIY care, but maybe have the extra money to invest in lawn services, try integrated pest management (IPM). IPM is an organic based lawn care management that provides for better and safer methods to control insects, weeds and diseases. Find more information here.

FYI - If you plan on looking into non-IPM lawn services, there's a chance they may claim their services (which may include the application of harmful pesticides) are safe to use. While this may seem like a good thing, it can actually be a red flag, as the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) prohibits manufacturers from making safety claims, even if the product is used as directed. Just because a chemical is used as directed, does not mean it is safe to use. If you're ever unfamiliar with a product used or recommended by lawn services, you can look up the toxicity of the product at www.pesticide.org.

I'll stick to products from my local home improvement store.

Or if you still prefer to stop by your local home improvement store for nutrients to use on your lawn, that's fine too. But please just be sure to read the label before purchasing. Avoid ingredients such as 2, 4-D (2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid), and glyphosate. This does not mean all other pesticides are safe to use, in fact, most (if not all) pesticides are harmful. As mentioned before, you can check the toxicity of a product here.

Please take note: many pesticides and other chemicals used in lawn care persist in lawns and soil long after the posted 24-72 hours. If treatment is absolutely necessary, make sure to wear proper personal protective equipment (PPE) and stay off the lawn for a few days after application. (19)

Although the use of harmful pesticides is widely used and this information can be overwhelming, we hope these safer alternatives will serve as a start to avoid these harmful chemicals. Suspending the production and use of these chemicals by manufacturers is a bigger problem that may take a while to resolve. However, the good news is, we can do our part by doing the following: taking the time to take lawn care into our own hands (DIY gardening and lawn care), placing it in the hands of a trustworthy IPM service, or by reading the label and avoiding toxic chemicals when purchasing products.

If you're interested in other pesticide related topics, such as pests in your home or why going organic is beneficial to your neighbors and planet as a whole, check out these other Because Health articles:

Struggling With Pests at Home? Here's What To Do

Going Organic: Why it's Worth it for Your Neighbors, Animals, and the Planet As a Whole.

References:

  1. https://www.ehhi.org/lawnpest_full.pdf
  2. https://www.ehhi.org/pestBroFINAL.pdf
  3. https://www.ehn.org/monsanto-papers-2650517822/hazardous-chemicals
  4. https://www.ehn.org/monsanto-papers-book-2650597124/i-dont-really-know-what-this-is
  5. https://www.ewg.org/news-insights/news-release/dow-crop-chemical-labeled-possibly-carcinogenic-humans
  6. https://factor.niehs.nih.gov/2019/12/science-highlights/parkinsons/index.htm
  7. https://www.jstor.org/stable/25662648?casa_token=IG4zGhg0l58AAAAA%3A1kvIzhF4Xblg9lpTu7zCPIPDCPADQoCqzwnSeQFrDHyoZY0KgghDDg0zjtgHG5eND42hjPbLcz6fRazmUGcb_sRkZhhFrQRLVZvGuNF5KMSQ-P8vWyX_&seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents
  8. https://learn.eartheasy.com/articles/6-reasons-to-...
  9. https://www.nanaimo.ca/culture-environment/environment-and-sustainability/pesticide-use
  10. https://naturalawn.com/meaningful-differences/why-is-ipm-important#:~:text=IPM%20is%20a%20complete%20lawn,Monitoring
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1128552/
  12. https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/pesticides/index.cfm
  13. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19752299/
  14. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24064777/
  15. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26339156/
  16. https://www.saferbrand.com/articles/do-it-yourself-organic-lawn-care
  17. https://www.schilllandscaping.com/blog/reasons-to-...
  18. https://www.thespruce.com/best-weed-killers-4173508
  19. https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/chemical-...
Roundups

The Best Water Filters

These easy to install filters are perfect for renters or homeowners!

Sometimes we take tap water for granted. If it comes out of our tap it has to be safe, right? Unfortunately, that's often not the case. While our water treatment plants do a great job filtering out the obviously toxic stuff, harmful chemicals like lead, pesticides, PFAS, and pharmaceuticals can still make their way into our tap water. That's why we always recommend a water filtration system! If you're a homeowner, you can install a filtration that integrates with your own water throughout your house.

There are also a ton of great options if you're renting or can't install anything in your home. A small water filter pitcher or countertop dispenser are great options if you're looking for something hassle free. If you're feeling a little more crafty, you can install a faucet mount. These mounts require no tools and can easily install on most faucets!

These water filters are all meet NSF standards and remove dozens of contaminants.



a) Zerowater 10 or 23 Cup Pitcher

b) PUR Faucet Water Filter

c) AquaTru Reverse Osmosis Counter Top Water Filtration System

d) PUR Lead Reduction Pitcher

e) Culligan Faucet Mount

f) AquaSana Countertop Water Filter

g) Lifestraw Home Water Filter Pitcher*

h) Berkey Water Filter*

i) Brita Tap Water Filter for Faucets

j) ZeroWater 40 Cup Ready-Pour Glass Dispenser


*Meets NSF standards but is not NSF certified


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We rely on EWG's consumer databases, the Think Dirty App, and GoodGuide in addition to consumer reviews and widespread availability of products to generate these recommendations. Learn more on our methodology page.

*Because Health is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program so that when you click through our Amazon links, a percentage of the proceeds from your purchases will go to Because Health. We encourage you to shop locally, but if you do buy online buying through our links will help us continue the critical environmental health education work we do. Our participation does not influence our product recommendations. To read more about how we recommend products, go to our methodology page.

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Don’t Let Old Lead Paint Ruin Your DIY Plans

Change up your decor while staying safe

Summer always feels like a great time to tackle a few DIY projects. Long days and warm weather inspire us to be renovation weekend warriors! But if your building was built before the 1980s there's probably a good chance lead paint is somewhere in your home. Whether you're installing shelves, hanging a gallery wall, mounting a new tv, or installing curtain rods, lead paint can complicate renovation projects even if it's under layers of newer paint.

But don't worry! It's easy to keep yourself protected while giving a room a much needed makeover. We have some tips for how to do a DIY project safely even if you're disturbing hidden lead paint.

Why Lead Paint and Renovations Can Be a Problem?

Lead paint was especially popular up until 1978, before stricter paint safety regulations were put into place. The older the house the higher the probability lead paint was used; if your house was built before 1940, there's an 87% chance it contains lead-based paint (1)! There's no way to visually tell if your paint has lead in it; you'll need to buy a special testing kit to know for sure. You can usually pick these up at any hardware store. Many times, lead paint isn't removed- it's simply painted over by layers of newer paint. And this is generally safe, but if the paint is peeling, cracking, or chipping it could be exposing the lead paint layers. Or if you're doing a DIY project that involves drilling into the wall or that disturbs the hidden layers of lead paint in some other way, then it could lead to lead dust in your home.

Lead is especially problematic for children and babies. There is no known level of exposure that is safe. Lead exposure can lead to developmental issues, brain and nervous system damage, and learning problems (2). Lead paint in a home that is disturbed during a home renovation or DIY project can lead to children being exposed.. In fact, one study looking at home renovation and lead paint found that "children whose housing underwent interior renovation had a 12% higher mean B-Pb (blood lead level) by two years of age compared with children whose housing units were not renovated" (3).

What To Do

So what do you do if you suspect your home has lead paint but you have projects you want to complete? We have some tips

1. Have a dust cloth down for DIY projects. Disturbing the paint by drilling, hammering, etc. will create dust that contains tiny paint particles. Quickly vacuum (using a vacuum with a hepa filter!) up any dust that forms and then go over the area with a damp cloth to pick up any additional dust particles.

2. If you're doing a big job that will kick up a lot of dust, remove all furnishings from the room. This includes things like rugs, furniture, picture frames, and clothing. That way you can clean everything up afterwards easily. If you can't remove something, make sure it's completely wrapped up and sealed in plastic.

3. If you're tackling a big project like knocking out walls or a complete room redo, you might want to call in the professionals. Many companies specialize in lead paint abatement and will remove problematic paint in the safest way possible. Lead abatement can get pretty expensive, which is why we recommend it when you're already tackling a big home reno project.

4. Wash areas with lead paint weekly with an all-purpose cleaner. This includes walls, window sills, door frames, and decorative trim. Also make sure to clean the floors, since dust may accumulate there. Weekly cleaning is especially important if the paint is chipping or peeling, or if children under 6 live in the household.


References
  1. https://www.epa.gov/lead/protect-your-family-exposures-lead
  2. https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/features/leadpoisoning/index.html
  3. https://ehjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1476-069X-12-72
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Painting Your Home? Here's What To Look For To Keep Those Paint Fumes From Getting To You

Find out about the surprise ingredients that might be making you feel sick

Whether you're painting your new house, or just giving your home a makeover, the satisfaction of a good paint job is SO real (hello to a new area of the house that is now instagrammable!). However, during the painting process, let's be real, the paint fumes suck and it's really no fun having to run over to the open window to gulp a few lungfuls of fresh air before heading back in to paint. Luckily, there are safer paints on the market and simple things you can do to ward off those headaches and avoid the nasty fumes.
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What to Know Before Your Next Big DIY Project

Protect your health without sacrificing creativity!

Whether you're inspired by a recent Etsy binge or are a Weekend Warrior who practically lives at Home Depot, DIY projects can be super fun and fulfilling. Before you get started on your next project, we have some tips on what chemicals to avoid, the safety hazards they pose, and ways to keep yourself safe.




Avoid Methylene chloride

It's always fun to spruce up furniture with a new coat of paint but methylene chloride, a seriously dangerous chemical, is found in paint stripping products. In the body methylene chloride turns into carbon monoxide (1), and too much carbon monoxide can cause dizziness, confusion, and asphyxia. Methylene chloride fumes quickly accumulate and are heavier than air, which means workers bending down over projects in poorly ventilated areas are easily susceptible to the dangers of this chemical (2). There have been many accidental deaths from Methylene chloride, so you should completely avoid paint strippers that use it. Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families has created a great reference on safer alternative for paint strippers.

Paint

Before you pick up your paint brush to tackle that dresser revamp, make sure the paint you're using is low VOCs. VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, are chemicals that are emitted as gasses from products like paint and can cause headaches, eye irritation, and nausea (3). VOCs are part of the reason paint can be so smelly when it's drying! Look for a paint that says low or no VOCs on the packaging and make sure to keep the windows open while the paint is drying!

Wood Stains

Updating your wood table or decking? Reach for a water-based wood stain or finish! Traditional wood stains can contain harsh chemicals and emit a ton of VOCs. Luckily a lot of brands have a VOC rating on their label, which makes choosing a product a lot easier. We recommend choosing a stain with low VOCs (under 250 g/l) that is also Green Seal 11 (GS-11) certified (4).

Always Have Proper Ventilation

This is key for any DIY project. Chances are, you'll probably use some chemicals that are not great for you during your project. The best place to work on your project is outside but if you have to work indoor, make sure to open windows and doors, and use a fan to ventilate the area.

Wear a Protective Mask

DIY projects can expose you to a TON of dust, which is why it's a good idea to always wear a protective mask. Dust is bad for you in general, and can also contain particles containing toxic chemicals, which is why we recommend using an N95 mask while working. Normal masks can help protect you, but they don't protect you from all dust. N95 masks filter even the tiniest particles (0.3 microns) (5), which can keep you safe during those extremely messy projects.




  1. https://saferchemicals.org/get-the-facts/chemicals-of-concern/methylene-chloride/
  2. https://prheucsf.blog/2017/11/14/risky-paint-stripper-will-continue-to-kill-while-epa-delays/
  3. https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/volatile-organic-compounds-impact-indoor-air-quality#Levels
  4. https://www.ewg.org/healthyhomeguide/wood-stains-a...
  5. https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/personal-protective-equipment-infection-control/masks-and-n95-respirators
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