Ask a Beaumont Doctor: Are Chemically Treated Lawns Safe for Kids?
Dr. Neal Alpiner, chief of Pediatric Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Beaumont Hospital, answers questions about lawn care chemicals and their effect on children.
Our yards are our personal playgrounds – where we relax and have fun. However, some people worry a beautiful lawn will endanger their family’s health.
Are there risks to using pesticides and herbicides to maintain a stellar lawn and garden?
Patch asked Dr. Neal Alpiner, chief of Pediatric Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Beaumont Hospital, about using lawn care chemicals and their effect on children.
Patch: Are there health risks to using chemicals, such as weed killers, on your lawn if you use the product as directed?
Alpiner: As with any household chemical, children can develop acute reactions if they are directly exposed and in high enough quantities. What the exact exposure amount may be is not clearly identified. Exposure can be through direct contact (skin exposure, touched to eye) or through aerosolization (inhaled).
Patch: Are there risks to children who play on lawns that are chemically treated?
Alpiner: Different lawn fertilizers contain various amounts of chemicals that if exposed in high enough quantities may be harmful. Many lawn companies post a sign after spraying. Best practice is to keep children off the exposed lawn for 24 hours.
Patch: What precautions should people take when using pesticides and herbicides?
Alpiner: Always provide a safe home through awareness. Make certain if you are going to use chemicals for lawn/weeds that you know the level of toxicity of the ingredients being used and the dilution strengths required. Use the proper equipment, post signs so others are aware, and know wind patterns so that children are not playing downstream of spray, and, as always, when in doubt ask an expert.
Practice natural lawn care
If you prefer to totally avoid the use of chemical lawn applications, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency offers these tips for maintaining a beautiful yard.
Mow higher, mow regularly and leave the clippings.
Mow more frequently when grass is actively growing so that you are only cutting no more than one-third of the height of the grass. This practice minimizes the amount of grass clippings. The desired height of grass varies depending on climate. Contact your local Cooperative Extension office for local recommendations. “Grasscycling,” or leaving the clippings on the lawn, doesn’t cause thatch build up—but it does make lawns healthier. Soil organisms recycle the clippings into free fertilizer, and you save all the work of bagging. Modern mulching lawn mowers make “grasscycling” even easier and homeowners can reduce their mowing time by 30 to 40 percent by not having to bag clippings.
Use “natural organic” or “slow-release” fertilizers.
Choose “natural organic” or “slow-release” fertilizers to reduce nutrient run-off and leaching. Keep fertilizers on the soil and out of the street! Fertilizers that run off are a waste of money and contribute to pollution of streams and lakes. Use fertilizers sparingly. The more you fertilize, the faster the grass grows and the more frequently you have to mow
Water deeply, but infrequently, to moisten the whole root zone.
Let the soil dry between waterings to prevent lawn disease and save water. Lawns need only about one inch of water a week in summer, including rain, to stay green. Or you can let areas of lawn that don’t get heavy wear go brown and dormant—just water once a month and they’ll bounce back in the fall.
Overseeding can improve the quality of your lawn.
- Core aerate in the fall to improve root development and water penetration.
- Follow by overseeding thin areas of lawn with grass seed blends recommended for your area.
- Then “top-dress” by raking in quarter- to half-inch of compost to cover the seed and improve the soil.
- Repeat these steps annually as needed to improve poor lawns.