To the Editor:

Back in the summer of 2012, I became alarmed when I saw yellow pesticide application signs on the edge of Pinkney Park because it’s situated along the Five Mile River, which provides habitat for aquatic organisms, fish, songbirds, amphibians and small mammals.

It is also the site of many community events, such as Shakespeare on the Sound, where families and children sit directly on the lawn.

I learned from the lawncare company it used Quinclorac for weed and crab grass control. I then reached out to the D.C.-based non-profit Beyond Pesticides to get more information about the product and found out that the chemical is a potential groundwater contaminant and considered toxic to aquatic animals.

I worked with commissioners to make Pinkney Park an organic showpiece for the community in 2013, and other public land areas such as the Community Center property, the Rowayton Dog Park and Bailey Beach all are now pesticide free.

But Rowayton will not truly be pesticide free until residents stop using toxic chemicals in their own yards. The Pesticide Free Rowayton movement, which stems from Darien-based Friends of Animals, is encouraging residents to go pesticide free one lawn at a time.

As communities try to protect themselves from COVID-19, a respiratory disease that has brought the world to its knees, claiming 110,012 lives in the U.S. so far, we at Pesticide Free Rowayton were alarmed recently to see a bare foot child playing on a lawn doused in pesticides—the yellow sign still posted revealing it was sprayed just three days earlier.

On the same Rowayton Street, a father of two young children was seen spraying Roundup on some weeds that dared to poke through his gravel driveway.

Pesticides pose a threat to the immune and respiratory systems that could make those exposed more susceptible to the coronavirus. Chronic diseases such as asthma, allergy, emphysema and COPD disrupt normal immune system function that results in inflammation. This inflammation can prompt a heightened response to viruses such as COVID-19. In the U.S., these diseases have been on the rise and are associated with an increase in chemicals used in pesticides and other products.

Of the 30 most commonly used lawn pesticides, 17 are possible or known carcinogens, 18 have the potential to disrupt the hormonal system, 19 are linked to reproductive effects and sexual dysfunction, 11 have been linked to birth defects, 14 are neurotoxic, 24 can cause kidney or liver damage, 25 are irritants, 19 are detected in groundwater and 20 have the ability to leach into drinking water sources. Likewise, 30 are toxic to fish and other aquatic organisms vital to our ecosystem, 29 are toxic to bees, 14 are toxic to mammals and 22 are toxic to birds.

Without bees, butterflies, insects and birds there would be no ecosystems; there would be no us.

Roundup, the most popular weed killer in the world, has as its most active ingredients glyphosate and 2,4-D, which are particularly dangerous. Last year, a jury awarded a couple $2 billion in damages after concluding that sustained exposure to Roundup led to their cancer diagnoses.

The truth is there is no official scientific standard for how long people should stay off a lawn after it is treated. One size does not fit all because different populations— young children, pregnant mothers, the elderly and those who may be immunocompromised—are more sensitive to pesticide exposure.

A 2013 study that tested dogs found that they had lawn pesticides in their urine for at least 48 hours after spraying. A 2001 study also found that a week after lawn treatment, 2, 4-D was found on all indoor air surfaces after wafting in through various openings in 13 homes.

Even if the active ingredient in a pesticide is gone, it may still leave behind breakdown products that can be even more toxic than the active ingredient, according to Beyond Pesticides. One notable example is the neonicotinoid thiamethoxam, which is registered for home lawn use to treat grubs, and is found in the product Meridian 25WG.

All of this data is inconvenient to the greedy pesticide industry, which pushes the “keep off the grass for 24 hours” yellow warning signs that mislead the public into thinking pesticides aren’t as deadly as they are.

The good news is it has never been easier to go pesticide free as organic lawncare has become mainstream.

The first step is testing your soil to determine what organic supplements you should add to make it healthy. If your soil is hard, compacted and full of weeds or bare spots, aerate it. Use grass seed on bare spots to crowd out weeds. Apply corn gluten meal as a pre-emergent for weed prone areas. And instead of using toxic herbicides, weeds can be pulled by hand or sprayed with horticultural vinegar.

Rowayton and Darien residents can be role models for other communities by going pesticide-free one lawn at a time. These unprecedented times have taught us our lives have more meaning when we rescue ourselves and model the leadership and initiatives we hope to see across the state, nation and globe.

Priscilla Feral

President, Friends of Animals

Pesticide Free Rowayton, a project of Friends of Animals, is promoting nontoxic, beautiful lawns.