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Maine's Pesticide Board Advocates Less Pesticides on Lawns
(Beyond Pesticides, August 16, 2004)
The Maine Department of Agriculture's Board of Pesticide Control says it wants Mainers to take a more relaxed -- and more natural -- approach to their lawns, according to a recent article in Kennebec Journal. The Board advises people to use fewer pesticides and fertilizers in order to have healthier lawns and a cleaner environment.

Chemical fertilizers can kill natural microorganisms that foster healthy soil. "When they maintain their lawns like that," said Gary Fish, a state environmental specialist, "they end up with more disease, more weeds and more pest problems. Then they turn to pesticides." The Board estimates that 1.8 million pounds of yard-care pesticides were placed on Maine lawns in 2001, up from 800,000 pounds in 1995. Throughout the country, approximately 67 million pounds of pesticides are used each year on lawns.

These numbers and the increasing suburbanization of Maine’s landscape have led the board to turn its attention to household pesticide and fertilizer use, a growing source of pollution for Maine's rivers and streams. The state has long regulated pesticides used by loggers and farmers, who receive training on how to use the chemicals. But it has paid little attention to lawn chemicals, which are much more frequently used. "There hasn't been enough effort and prevention in this area," Fish said. "And the way that Madison Avenue treats pesticides is a little too lackadaisical."

Pesticides used in lawn care are among the dangerous and most prevalent in society today. Of the 36 most commonly used lawn pesticides, 14 are probable or possible carcinogens, 15 are linked with birth defects, 21 with reproductive effects, 24 with neurotoxicity, 22 with liver or kidney damage, and 34 are sensitizers and/or irritants. For more information about lawn pesticides, see Lawn Pesticide Facts and Figures.

The Board recommends that Maine residents raise the blade on their mowers and cut their grass less often. "A lot of homeowners don't realize that their grass is a plant," said Kelly Bourdeau, a spokeswoman for the pesticide board. "They're stressing out the roots."

The pesticide board’s main message is that people can have a nice-looking lawn with less work -- and without harming the environment. "We're just trying to educate people on how to grow grass," Bourdeau said. "We want them to have beautiful lawns. We all want beautiful lawns."

TAKE ACTION: Take steps to make your own lawn pesticide-free. To learn more about alternatives for safer lawn care, read our Least Toxic Control of Lawn Pests factsheet and other resources on our Lawns and Landscapes Program Page.