The Dandelion Wars: The Costs of Lawn Cosmetics

By Madronna Holden

“The earth wants peace.  The birds who eat the corn do not want poison…The wind does not want to carry the stories of death.”

–Linda Hogan, Dwellings

In many home improvement stores this spring, the first thing you will come upon is a display indicating that humans are engaged in a war against weeds and insects—a war that we can only win with the help of the featured chemical weapons.

These chemical weapons– such as the herbicides Weed and Feed, Round Up, and Week B Gon are poisons, pure and simple.  Thus the EPA states that it impermissible to claim any of them are safe.

But they are poisons on our side, the names are carefully geared to get us to think.  Who wouldn’t want to weed and feed their lawn with a helpful sprinkling of granules? For those who still like the image of the frontier quest of the unruly wilderness, there is Round Up. And for those who would like to banish dandelions as easily as pressing the nozzle button on a sprayer, there is Weed B Gon.

What good gardener would take up their work without getting the weeds and insects under control by enlisting these weapons? One that cares about the quality of our rivers and the salmon that swim there, for one. Certain of these pesticides have been directly linked to destruction of endangered salmon.  All pesticides work their way into groundwater, which works its way into rivers and streams. As a result of a court ruling in 2003, pesticide sales displays in Oregon, Washington and California  are required by law to display a warning stating that these chemicals are harmful to salmon.

Someone who wants their garden to set fruit might also avoid these, since usage of pesticides is linked to “colony collapse disorder” that is currently causing wholesale destruction of honey bees. The links are strong enough for some European countries to outlaw the nicotine-related pesticides that are most directly implicated. In the US, the state of California, whose almond crops have been hit especially hard by the death of bees, is re-evaluating the registration of particular pesticides as a result.

And one who cares about children should opt out of this war.  We can now trace in profound detail the chemical steps by which the most commonly used household insecticide in the US, chlorpyrifos  or CPF, disrupts the brain development of the human fetus and growing child.There are verified “cancer clusters” among the families of agricultural workers who apply pesticides as well.

As a result of its health risks, herbicides with 2,4-D in them–along with many other agricultural chemicals–  have been banned  in Sweden since 1977.  More and more European countries have joined Sweden’s ranks.  Quebec also joined their ranks this spring and is currently standing firm in the face of Dow Chemical’s legal suit in response.

When is enough proof enough? Sweden’s cancer rate has fallen since it banned a number of agricultural chemicals.  By contrast, the breast cancer rate of Israeli women during the period when large numbers of agricultural chemicals were used to remake the land was double that of other industrial nations.  Ten years after they developed stricter controls on these chemicals, their breast cancer rate fell into line with that of other industrial nations (which is already  rising alarmingly). In one study, biopsied breast material of women with cancer had twice the concentration of a class of pesticides  (chlorinated hydrocarbons) as did the breast cells of their peers without cancer. It was this same class of chemicals (organophosphates) which was confirmed as the cause of the death of four children in India on June 1.

Study after study associates commonly used pesticides with numerous cancers, autism and other neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, thyroid abnormalities, asthma and other respiratory diseases, early puberty of girls and sperm decline in boys and other general endocrine disruption, and bone and skin disorders.

All three herbicides above mimic plant hormones that cause plants to overgrow and die.  These plant hormones are chemically similar to human ones:  which is why 2 4-5 T (a key ingredient in the infamous Agent Orange along with the 2,4- D in Weed and Feed and Weed B Gon) is off the market after its byproducts caused abortions in humans.  The combination of the prevalence of 2, 4-D in the environment (including in amniotic fluid and in breast milk) and the clear indication of harm to developing humans has caused the EU nations and Quebec to pull it off the market.

But in the US, chemical companies have lobbied for a standard of proof of harm that is hard to reach in humans. For one thing, as we know from tobacco/lung cancer data and data from soldiers subjected to radiation in early A-bomb tests, cancers may only be detectable twenty years after exposure to their precipitating cause.

I venture that if one found cancer the day after spraying these chemicals, they would be off the market immediately.

There is also the fact that these hazards hit only a certain percentage of those subjected to them. But to use this as an excuse not to limit their use is tantamount to saying it is fine to give a serial killer a rifle and permission to shoot it—as long as some of his bullets are blanks.

The very reason that it is difficult to absolutely prove harm in humans to the current US chemical industry standard (we don’t want to subject humans to experimentation) is the reason why we should invoke the precautionary principle as the European Union has done with respect to man-made chemicals in its REACH program. To prevent making humans into experimental subjects for toxic chemical effects, we should require proof that these chemicals are safe before they are released.

This also leads me to ponder just what is it about the dandelions that incites us chemical warfare?  Is it the fact that they have the audacity to trespass on “our” lawns?  A friend noted that they are so blatant in their yellow flower– they tell the world we are not in control.

One pioneer  story has it is that the dandelion first arrived in Seattle in a doctor’s case, brought along for its medicinal properties.  Dandelion is still grown as a gourmet salad green, and the flower (not the white part, which is bitter), is a sweet addition to salads, as well as the main ingredient in dandelion wine.  Picking off the heads and putting them in salads is a good way to keep them from going to seed so as not to annoy your neighbors.  Of course this is the last thing you want to do with dandelions that have been sprayed.

Check out this site of the University of Maryland medical school for the many medicinal properties and uses of our humble dandelion.  Indeed, we might  see the dandelion as a gift instead of using dangerous chemicals to make war on it. One of the traditional and now research-supported functions of dandelion root is  as a liver cleanser in this modern world in which  our bodies are beset by so many toxins.

Who enforces the aesthetic standard that deems the dandelion so repugnant? Some of the same folks, I daresay, who declare wrinkles and gray hair  disreputable– and urge us to pay to remove them, even if it takes surgery.  As elective plastic surgery rises, so does the death toll from it.

Who decides the standards for which we are willing to make such trade-offs  on  our health?

The European Union and parts of Canada have looked at this issue rationally and decided that flawless lawns are not worth the health risks– especially to those, like children, unable to defend themselves. The ban on lawn chemicals used for “cosmetic” purposes in Quebec joins similar bans in a growing number of Canadian municipalities.  (117 as of 2006) Measuring the potential harm to  human health as evaluated by a professional organization of 6700 physicians, Quebec decided removing a few dandelions was simply not worth  it.

I find it heartening that these Canadians are countering the notion that we must risk our health to achieve an aesthetic that exhibits control of nature: a notion that advertisers are all too ready to have us uphold with respect to our bodies as well as our lawns. Check out the dangerous ingredients in commonly used  personal cosmetics. With eating disorders such as anorexia, adolescents risk death to look good by a standard they can never meet.

There is a dangerous element  in our inherited worldview that tells us we must battle  uncontrolled nature (in the dandelion or the wrinkle in our skin) in order to be an upstanding person.  In accepting the wrinkles on our faces, we must give up the sense that we are at war with the nature that ages us.

In accepting a few dandelions into our lawns, we must give up the sense that gardening is a war over the nature that would go back to its own devices without us. That means giving up on the part of our Western tradition expressed by early fur traders on the Columbia Plateau who wrote in their journals that they put in gardens not to harvest the produce but to illustrate to the Indians how to control nature.

But it is time to end the war on the natural world that sustains us—before we actually win it.


Here are some ways to help end that war with respect to home chemical usage:

  1. Check out the very helpful pamphlet, Natural Gardening, published by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality,which gives info on beneficial insects, as well as detailing least toxic controls for weeds and plant diseases.
  2. Investigate the least toxic alternatives libraries at NCAP.
  3. Inquire about the warning signs about dangers to salmon if they aren’t on display along with pesticides in home and garden stores.
  4. Give your local home and garden store positive feedback for offering least toxic alternatives, as many are now doing as a result of both customer feedback and information coming out on pesticide dangers.
  5. If you see someone applying spray in windy conditions, talk to them. If they are a neighbor, have a neighborly conversation with them.  If they are doing this for money, contact the appropriate agency to file a complaint. In Oregon, call the State Department of Agriculture.
  6. Talk to your neighbors and neighborhood organizations and share information about the dangers of pesticides and options for less toxic alternatives.
  7. Many municipalities have stormwater divisions with programs to help stem pesticide use:  call yours and find out if you can support their effort or help distribute their information.
  8. Avoid buying and using “broad spectrum” pesticides that kill all plants, all broad leaf plants, or all insects.  And if you have any of these around the house, don’t simply throw them away. They are hazardous waste:  call your local solid waste facility to see when they have hazardous waste collections and bring them there to be disposed of properly.
  9. Here are links to information on organic lawn care (site for both professionals and homeowners) and ten reasons to ditch your lawn care chemicals, since they are not only dangerous but unnecessary.

Together we can make peace with the land.

281 Responses

  1. Madronna,

    Thank you for yet another informative and elegant reminder of the responsibility we have to care for the earth. It is often so frustrating to try to work so hard to do what you know to be “the best” for the earth and to be thwarted by the often uninformed efforts of others. I rent a home and was away for a couple of weeks one summer. When I returned I had a note on my door that told me the rental company had come and slashed all of the blackberries (that were just ripening) and poured toxic chemicals on the stalks and roots hoping to “completely exterminate” them (which is very difficult with blackberries) in order to appease the neighbor’s concerns about the vines growing on the shared fence. Needless to say the vines have grown back. I wish they would have given me the chance to just trim them back. Now I had to keep my children from playing in a large portion of the yard in order to stay away from the toxic chemicals that were poured there. I too felt attacked, invaded, violated.

    Education seems to be the key here. If people realize what harmful effects these toxic chemicals have — I would like to think that they would not continue to use them. Although, the manufacturers and our government have not proven that to be true yet. Thank you for providing such great resources for us to better educate ourselves. Perhaps it is our duty to spread the word. We can only hope to be openly received.

    • Thanks for your feedback and comment, Dazzia. I am sorry that this happened to you.
      We have regs to protect tenants from other types of physical harm– perhaps we ought to protect them from the use of poisons in their living space if they aren’t given an opportunity to eradicate whatever the problem is by other means– or negotiate less toxic solutions.
      Blackberries are very hard to eradicate–and an invasive weed all over the Northwest. Though I do love those berries, I don’t want them started in my yard or my neighbors. I spent some of yesterday afternoon digging them out of one neighbor’s yard (not the one who sprayed) so they wouldn’t invade my garden. Before they form a thicket, I have had success with digging them out, and hanging them up to desiccate before I compost them. Of course, this won’t work if they have berries on them.
      I agree with you about spreading information. I also think that we should put health before profits when are assessing the use of such things in our environment.
      I have dug them out of the yard of the neighbor behind me and also the yard of the one who sprayed– figure it helps keep me fit.

      • That’s so nice of you! Another wish I had in this scenario was that the neighbor would have just talked to me about it. Being a single-working-school-going mom, some things get past me. However, if the neighbor would have come to me about the blackberries growing into her yard, I would have responded quickly. We don’t do that very much anymore, do we? Neighbors don’t have the same relationships that they used to.

  2. I cannot understand why people hate dandelions so much. Just because they are considered a weed does not make them bad. They are beautiful in their own way, and like everything else the creater had a purpose when making them. Right behind my apartment there is a little untended meadow type place, where everything grows in harmony weeds, flowers, and insects alike. I think it’s best that way, they’ve done it forever in peace until we came along. All our vanity and perfect manicured lawns are going to be pointless in the long run when pesticides and pollution kill everything off.

  3. Yet another example of why we should buy organic. My wife became pro-organic after she read “The China Study”, and ever since then we have both done our best to either buy organic only, or to soak and scrub non-organic fruits and veggies. I had no idea that the apples I’d eaten my whole life were covered in pesticide and then sealed over with wax. Whoever came up with THAT idea should have to answer to the FDA once the debate over pesticides is finally over.

  4. I am not sure why I didn’t bring this up in earlier discussions. But my grandfather has worked extensively with the OSU experiment station in eastern Oregon to develop a method to reduce erosion and runoff pollution from agriculture using a method called straw mulching. The principle is very simple, straw layed in the furrows retains water. For herbicides and pesticides, the runoff pollution is reduced significantly because the amount of water used is reduced significantly. My grandfather even created his own company that produced implements to apply this practice on a large scale. Recently he told me that research has found that the straw harbors predator insects that ward off insects that eat produce. Therefore this method is becoming very popular with organic farms. All this research info can be found at: http://www.cropinfo.net/bestpractices/strawmulchreport.html , my grandfather is pictured top right.

    • Very cool, Matt. Looks like your grandpa is toasting us all! Those who are closest to the land often see ways to improve our relationship to it. The sustainable logging movement has many small loggers at the forefront.
      In our class forum on urban garden straw bale gardening is brought up as a way to garden well in even inhospitable climates.
      Giving the land what it needs is the best way to prevent needs for chemical boosts of any kind, as this example indicates.

  5. Madronna,

    This was a great article, thank you. I really enjoyed reading it. I have been gardening for a long time; I have not used any chemicals for quite some time now. It really bothers me that the United States seems to be behind a lot of other countries in promoting organic use. The United States has probably more potential than any other country out there. For whatever the reason, it seems the U.S. is always so slow to do the right thing. I live in California, I try to not to eat regular strawberries, because I see the constant spraying of pesticides, so if I want to eat strawberries or other berries, I grow my own, it is easy and they taste much better.

    Thank you again for all the great information in your writings.

    Troy

    • Thanks for the feedback, Troy, and congratulations on your garden! Strawberries are one of the products listed on the Good Guide webpage as important to buy organic, since they ahve such a high level of pesticides on them otherwise.
      I look forward to the time when the US is in the leadership position in terms of doing the right thing! I think you are right about our potential in this. Time to act on it!

  6. First, I have always liked Dandelions. I never understood what was so bad about little yellow flowers in the grass. I guess it may have been that when I was in Germany, there were buttercups that I always loved to walk through, so dandelions reminded me of the buttercup fields. Dandelions have always been a good thing. That may be why my back yard is full of them. When we lived in Arizona, we used “round up” and weed be gone a few times however, mostly it was go out and pull up the weeds. And after reading these articles, I am done with these chemicals. My parents used to spray their yard with all these chemicals, and my children who now are teenagers rolled around in their yard. Now, I understand possible why my daughter has partial attention deficit disorder as well as other learning problems.

    • Hello Tiny, thanks for sharing your personal experience. So many of us did not (and still do not) know the repercussions of these chemicals (there was also a time when I did not). Hard to be knowledgable when, for instance, the EPA scientists are under pressure from their supervisors not to reveal research findings negative to industry (see essay on “the one that got away” here). It is sad indeed when our children suffer the repercussions of this. Time to change this; thanks for being part of that change!

  7. Many individuals regard the concept of interconnectivity to be too abstract and therefore, they remain unable to grasp it. As a matter of fact, one does not have to be part of an indigenous culture to know what impacts interconnectivity does have on us indeed. It is not just an issue of extincting animals and various food resources, but a cycle that affects our organism and quality of life. Companies dumped chemicals into rivers. There are reasons, why one might doubt that these decisionmakers were not aware of the crime they committed. It is illusionary to believe that one can get rid of something just by dumping it into rivers or the earth. Everything enters into natural cycle and humans are at the end of the cycle. Thus, the water faucet in our home and the wells will provide us with poison instead of the elixir of life.

  8. Professor Holden,

    Thanks for such an insightful article. I, like many, used to think that these herbicides were simple and really no harm to anyone. Boy, was I wrong! It is amazing how many ill effects there are to both the environment and human health! I hope that all can soon get onboard soon and join the other countries who have stepped forward in banning these products in their countries.

    I look forward to sharing this criticial information with others in my network of family and friends.

    Paul Nash

    • I appreciate your response, Paul. We need to spread the word person by person– since the EPA isn’t protecting us on this one. Thank you for helping to do this!

  9. I get really tired of hearing the media push these chemicals on us. Most chemicals today we can live without and be perfectly fine. I remember having to use a weed killer before and the looking at all the warning labels of the potential damage it could do. I found myself barely able to risk picking it up let alone using it. People today disconnect the idea that these chemicals are getting back into our bodies whether or not its apparent or immediate. The chemical companies remind of your essay about “Pricing the Priceless”, the few human deaths and sickness they find them selves accountable for are worth the mass amounts of money they are sucking away from the public in false war. I think the government needs to take firmer action against these companies and stop the slow death of humans and our world around us.

    • I certainly concur with the need for firmer action in protecting our health with respect to these chemicals, Kevin. If we can’t be world leaders in this respect, the least we can do is follow the lead of the European Union and some wise Canadian provinces and municipalities.

  10. There are so many other natural alternatives to weed management. I have seen whole gardening books that are devoted to alternatives to fertilizers and pesticides. You can use a composting system for richer soils, lady bugs to control aphids, and weed barriers to keep the weeds from growing up through the garden. There are so many other ideas as well that in some cases may work better than the synthetic versions.

  11. The natural state of the grass in this area in the summer is not a rich verdant green. It isn’t natural for the grass to always be green. Also there are other options for plants in the space of a yard. Water could be conserved also if a yard wasn’t maintained to the highest standards. By reducing irrigation and chemical enhancement, our yards will turn brown. Thas is the natural summer state of grass here. As soon as we get used to the sun it will be raining again anyways and our lawns will be green again. Other plants that require less water can be planted in the space of the yard and maintained easier than grass.
    Home-owners-associations sometimes require a strict irrigation regimen. This is a mandated community practice. It will take generous amounts of teaching for these associations to change their ways.

    • I very much concur with what you have to say about lawns–as soon as we get used to the sun, the rains will come back and green our lawns.. as a matter of fact, the sun has disappeared even as I write. As a culture, we definitely need some perspective in this arena. Thanks for your, Ross.

  12. My neighbor has created an incredible garden next door. He often shares his harvest with our house (I am sick of zucchini). The other day he came by expressing concern over a number of aggressive weeds – the name eludes me – that have taken root on our property. “No big deal,” I thought, “We can pick them.”
    My neighbor’s wish got around to my friend, roommate and landlord who chided our neighbor that if he chemically treated his garden, he wouldn’t have to worry about weeds. Our lawn, pathetic by the American standard, has become home to numerous blooming dandelions. I think i may petition for their survival if my buddy takes to pesticides. Perhaps, I’ll throw my body onto the lawn before he sprays. When the situation arises that we discuss the lawn, I’ll make sure I’m well informed to guide him down an environmentally friendly solution provided by the links on this site.

    • Hi Joe, thanks for defending not only the land, but the water and air–and each of our bodies in refusing the spray scenario. Someday our grandchildren (if we get some things right and soon) will look back on our ignorance in using such products as as unthinkable as human slavery is to many of us today.

  13. It almost seems like dandelion killer is a really lazy way to deal with a weed infestation. In my own experience (it might be different in different parts of the country, I’m not sure) its not *too* hard to control them without using chemicals. Digging them up by the roots and putting them in a bag seemed to do the trick for at least a week or two…

    This concept really hones the idea of a reciprocal natural world. Any action that we take against some agent of nature will eventually and unavoidably come back to us, so we should be prepared to “take what we dish out” and allow considerations of what might happen to ourselves when we use the chemicals that we do. I’m also fairly certain that we will probably someday find some way to deal with weeds that everyone is happy with and won’t cause unintentional harm to ourselves or any other living organism.

    I know it is a step in the right direction, but how effective are signs warning about side-effects of weed killers? It seems like someone using them has probably already adopted the attitude that whatever happens is not their problem. In other words, how many people think that weed killers are harmless?

    • Hi Daniel, thanks for your comment. I think you are right about laziness–also laziness in assessing the results of our actions.
      In this sense, your comment about warnings at point of sale are correct–but I also think that the way these are advertised makes them seem so harmless–so that a warning sign wouldn’t hurt.
      As for taking out all the weeds in some harmless way in the future: there is vinegar and cornstarch, etc. now, but it also seems to me that we need a change in worldview that accepts more of a diverse landscape instead of one that announces to the world we have nature under control.

  14. When I was a little kid, the dandelion was my favorite flower. I thought that it was very pretty when it was yellow, and when it got ready to spread its seeds, I had endless fun blowing the seeds off of their stems. I saw no problem in the fact that my actions were only spreading more of the plant because I loved dandelions.
    I think that our actions on the dandelion front have been despicable. I don’t know how it ever got into our heads that getting rid of this plant is more important than our own health, as well as that of our children.

  15. I admit that I like walking barefoot on a soft green lawn, however, just as I wait for berries in the summer, enjoy the colors of autumn, and love the rain in winter, I now wait for spring for this particular pleasure. It’s mid August and my lawn is a patch of yellow among my neighbors green, but soon the rains will come and the yellow will fade. One idea we’ve been considering is xeriscaping (planting native drought tolerant species) which is growing in popularity in Central Oregon and many other water poor regions. It would make it possible for people to have a beautiful yard that they can obsess over minus the gallons of water and chemicals.

    Driving through any suburb, it is easy to see that Americans are obsessed with the perfect lawn. However, people are sadly underinformed when it comes to the harmful effects of the chemicals that they use to obtain it. While it is encouraging that other countries are beginning to ban the chemicals and use the precautionary principle, it’s not really shocking that the U.S. is lagging behind once again. I also had no idea that chemicals in Oregon had to be marked saying that they were unsafe for salmon since I didn’t see any of those signs when I was buying my gardening supplies this past spring. I agree that it probably won’t stop people from buying the chemicals, but perhaps it might make them make a small connection – if it’s that bad for salmon, is it really safe for me and my family? In the future I’ll be on the lookout for signs and will be sure to ask why they aren’t there because every little thing adds up to big change in the long run!

  16. This articles concepts were shocking to me. The fact that so many different idnications that these toxic weed killers have pointed towards cancer, and that they are still legal, astounds me. Cigarettes are similar to this problem; they clearly cause damage to humankind, and the enviornment around us, but nothing is done to make them illegal. The dangers that humans are willing to put themselves and the enviornment in simply to allow their lawns to be dandilion free, is disgusting. The alternatives presented, such as using the plants for salads instead seem to be better alternatives than poisioning one’s self and the world around them.

    • Hi Katie, I certainly agree that it is unwise to be so self-destructive–and I think it is also unethical to be so destructive toward the environment that sustains us all. Though many may plead ignorance (especially given the dearth of public info n this issue), there comes a time when it is part of our taking responsibility for our actions to make ourselves aware of their consequences. Thanks for your comment.

  17. This is another interesting article that further shows a drastic need for a change of attitude. It is also another very scary article. The fact that anyone can produce such poisonous products is still just vexing to me, especially for something as intrinsically useless as killing little flowers in one’s yard. How is it that anyone can let pesticides such as CPF still be produced when they are essentially killing us, harming fetuses, and creating super-pests that are resistant to pesticides?!

    Your point that people kill dandelions because it’s existence shows that the persons are not in control is very intriguing. People are always trying to control everything in their environment to give them peace of mind, and it is a sad peace of mind. People are constantly trying to defy nature with anti-aging practices, but they don’t practice the best anti-aging methods of eating right and exercising, instead they do ridiculous things like undergo plastic surgery. This is a fascinating phenomenon, everyone is trying to get a quick-fix when they should have been preparing for the future.

    The medicinal uses of the dandelion really surprised me, I wouldn’t have thought they could be used for so much. It’s sad that people see them as scars on “their” lawns and not the precious gifts from nature that they are. I don’t know why people are so uptight about their lawns either, I mow mine like once a month (mostly because I don’t have a lawn mower and neither does my land lord) and I am perfectly fine with it, I like walking around in tall grass as well as laying down in it with dandelions all around me, feels like I’m away from the city when I’m looking up at the sky with my vision framed by the tips of tall grass…

    • Getting a quick fix when they might instead be preparing for the future– very interesting take on our modern psychology, Paul. I think you have something there! It is actually healthier for your lawn to mow it less often (up to a point), but a month seems perfectly reasonable. It really does seem bizarre (as well as frustrating) that we would be willing to utilize such poison to kill a harmless little flower. What price control? Our health and that of our children and the children of other species. I hope we will soon be able to look back on such behavior and recognize how truly foolish it was!

  18. I ate a dandelion once and it did NOT taste sweet.. clearly I had the bitter part. Dandelions were actually my favorite flower before I knew they were “weeds”. I love the bright yellow color. This essay was worrisome in a very real way. It seems like the majority of people who I’ve acquainted with and known to die had some form of cancer. My mother had breast cancer and so did her mother, so this hits pretty close to home. My mom was also cautious and did all the things recommended to decrease the risk of developing cancer. I don’t know where she got her information or whether or not it’s accurate, but she would never sleep with a bra on, and would only use natural deodorant, and breastfed each of her kids for as long as she could. Since she got it at a young age (28) it seems more likely that she carries a gene for breast cancer that makes her more prone to it. It is possible that I inherited this same gene, and so I have to be extra cautious. With so many carcinogens in the world on top of some people already being predisposed to certain cancers, it seems obvious that we should band any pesticides who effects are unknown. It’s insane to think of how many deaths could have been prevented, had the precautionary principle been applied instead of exposing people to chemicals when we don’t know the affects. I had to roll my eyes when I read the part about it not being ethical to test on humans. Of course if a pesticide, fertilizer, etc. is too dangerous to test on humans it is not safe to release to the public! I can hardly believe what large corporations can get away with. Honestly though, it seems that they get away with it because people don’t know. My dad is the most safety-conscious person I know, and he has never let me drink diet softdrinks or use public restrooms, etc.. because he’s afraid I’ll get get cancer some day or hepatitis. He does, however, use round up to control the weeds in our garden without worry. He’s a wheat breeder for Oregon State, actually.. he works in crop&soil science. I’m surprised now that I think about it that he would use round up. Maybe he’s involved in the conspiracy. Anyway, people need to find greater meaning in life than how weed-free their gardens are or how many wrinkles they have. If the most beautiful person in the world has a bad soul people won’t like them. Likewise, if the owners of the world’s most beautiful garden die from cancer they can’t take their garden with them.

    • The yellow part of the flower is sweet, Karen. The greens are bitter depending on how young their are and where they are grown. The bitter, incidentally, helps stimulate digestive enzymes: some European countries think one should thus eat a bit of bitter greens every day.
      I am sorry about the breast cancer in your family; you may have the gene, but you may also be part of a cancer cluster related to environmental toxins–or both. I don’t think your dad has done anything on purpose: obviously, we need to get better information out to everyone!
      Good point about beauty; if we had a sign on these “perfect” landscapes that said “cancer causing”, they might not look so pretty to any of us.

  19. First of all, I’m glad to hear that there are so many uses for a dandelion. I also used to love that flower as a little girl and was very saddened when I heard that it was a weed that “needed to be taken care of.” The effects of the release of chemicals into our environment is just more evidence that what we do to our earth will come back to us. And it’s a little misleading that the pesticides and herbicides suggest in their advertisements that we are creating beauty and a healthy natural world when all we are really doing is harming not only certain plants and animals but ourselves. It doesn’t make sense to me that, with all of the evidence of the harm done by these chemicals, they are still on the market. Nature is not something that needs to be conquered, and, whether its a dandelion or a wrinkle on your face, some things should be embraced for their natural beauty and not “taken care of.”

    • It is indeed misleading when pesticides intimate in their advertising that they are creating a cleaner and healthier environment. Yikes! We ought to hold them to some truth in advertising there. Give me the dandelion rather than 2-4D any day. I think these poisons only stay on the market because of the force of the corporations who make them: which always leads me to muse. Don’t they think they live on the same earth as we do? How much denial do they have to be in in order to make their cash? There is a documentary called Pesticides and Children about the hold up in taking some of these chemicals off the market that are dangerous to children (made many years ago, but unfortunately still current)’ in it is a scene in which a grape grower in California decides to go organic when his son gets sick. He says, “What was I going to tell my son? An unblemished grape was more important”?
      What gives us the right to risk our children’s health? Thanks for your comment, Lauren.

  20. I loved this article because it speaks so eloquently about narcissism in America. We are so intent on keeping up with the Jones’ that we will put the health of our planet, ourselves, and our own children at risk in order to do so. And what about dandelions in our yard speaks so loudly to our narcissism? I think when we see dandelions we think “wild and out of control.” But it may not be the dandelions we’re talking about. Some might see an owner of that property as someone who’s lazy and doesn’t care, because if they did, they’d surely get out the Roundup.

    My mom recently told me a story of how, when she was growing up, her grandfather would pay her 5 cents for every bucket of dandelions she pulled. In the event one is not fond of them, I’d say that’s an effective, safe, and cheap way of dealing with them.

    Now that I’m a parent, I have taken a liking to them. Those “noxious weeds” feed the dreams of my children. Is there anything more delightful than watching a child blow them out into the universe, confident that those “wishes” will scatter and someday come true? I must also admit I have a newfound respect for them. They choose life. They send themselves out into the world as tiny little wishes determined to carry on their legacy. They have hope in a world that seems more than ever hopeless.

    • I like your point about narcissism here, Staci. What IS it that makes us risk the health of our families (or deny there is any danger involved) in order to have a lawn under our control?
      I love your poetic homage to this little flower that “chooses life”. Thank you.

  21. The Idea of dandelions as a weed always intrigued me. I have always thought of them as quit nice yellow flowers. I guess it is all relative to the individual. Corn is considered a weed in a soybean field and visa versa. Regardless of weather or not we consider them weed we shouldn’t be able to cause hard to others in the attempt to get rid of them. I really like the reference to the Reach Program. The idea that a company should provide proof that a chemical is not harmful before they can use it is great. It seems like common sense to me to error on the side of caution instead of just hopping for the best.
    I really like the idea of eating the dandelions as a way of controlling them. Why not use what nature is providing for us. If only more people put more the same amount off effort that they put into their green lawns into a garden they could at least eat the fruits of their labor.
    Maybe I will move to Canada where they at least have the sense to realize that “flawless lawns are not worth the health risks”. And of course they have a little thing called free health care.

    • Thanks for your comment, Zane. I agree that the REACH program is a good one; it is outright folly to pour these toxins on our environment and just “hope for the best”. Like running across the street at rush hour and thinking a car will not run us over if we fail to look at the traffic!
      Free health care AND some healthier environmental choices for Canada– time for the US to catch up!

  22. It is all the more ironic that we try so hard to eradicate dandelions which are edible, nutritious, and have potential medicinal value, all because we have been taught to view see them as entirely bad. I wonder when people see dandelions on public land, in a park, or out in the country, do they think it is a shame that someone does not come in and dump poison on them, or does this standard only apply to their lawn? While remembering the arguments that I have heard for the reasons that people feel the need to get rid of dandelions including: “they’re ugly because they stand out in the otherwise green grass”, or “they were not planted so they do not belong ”, or “they are just another unwelcome weed”, I am amazed at the energy and resources to get rid of something that is so much a part of nature.

    I think that the reason so many people obsess about the need to have everything in their lives neat and tidy and “perfect” is because it is one of the very few areas of their lives that they feel that they can control. The people that I have known who have perfect lawns are the same people who seem to spend all of their time trying to make everything in their life perfect, their children- their house- their self image- their car- their looks, even though they will privately admit that they only thing in their lives that ever truly nears perfection, is their lawn. Everything else usually just disappoints them.

    Nature is not perfect, and therein lies part of its charm. We will need to embrace nature and natural processes if we ever hope to find balance within our own lives.

    • Thanks for your comment, David. I obviously agree with you on the issue of dandelions- those excuses sound pretty lame to me and they also echo that sense that they deserve to be poisoned (even if we poison ourselves along with them) because they signal that we are not precisely controlling the natural world.
      I think you have something about a sense of relative powerlessness in other areas of our lives: in nature’s lack of perfection (and our lack of control over it), not only lies its charm, as you point out, but its fertility and abundance.
      I appreciate your response.

    • Much agreed. I noticed that about a few of my friends. All five of them are men, and ironically, they are absolutely obsessed with their lawns. They will spend hours on the weekend mowing perfect lines, edging, weeding, raking, and trimming the trees and bushes. I think for a few of them it is a control issue. For the others, I think they may enjoy getting out of the house, and it is mindless work. My dad used to say he would enjoy it because it was his only time away from his three daughters and nagging wife! 🙂

      • Interesting observation, Danielle. Whereas I can’t relate to the control issues in my wild yard (I am glad aesthetic standards have changed over the years so that my neighbors not only put up with me but often complement me on my yard), I can certainly relate to frittering away time outside. I can’t think of anything more enjoyable– though I certainly wouldn’t want to play with poison while I am at it.

  23. A foreigner once asked someone what kind of cute little yellow flower that were growing everywhere…they were dandelions! Yellow is my favorite color and in the summer time when my yard is all brown the dandelions are the only thing that still is green! They have a cute name too. What is someones trash is another’s treasure. I really have such bad luck with growing plants that I have given up. When ever I am offered a plant I must reply that “I am a plant murderer” because I’m just no good at it. So dandelions are fine with me. Moss is too. I have a shady roof so I get alot of it but I know that the squirrels drink from my raingutters so I won’t use moss poison. Some people are so particular with their lawns that no one is even allowed to walk on it! My whole neighborhood has so much shade from the mature trees that there really isn’t anyone that has a nice lawn so I guess no body stands out as looking like they don’t care about their yard. Poisons are so hazardous for everyone involved with them. It is amazing how easy it is for American’s to think of the economic side of using poisons and not the aesthetic side. We are slow learners, I guess. Poison use really all boils down to money. It doesn’t take much sense to figure out that the poison that is applied to food to prevent pests is bound to end up in our bodies. I remember a few years ago when the garden stores sold bags full of live lady bugs for pest control. I wonder what ever happened to that idea? I guess it wouldn’t be cool if you were the lady bug in a bag like that but it was a cute idea!

    • Hi Kelley. Actually, lady bugs are still sold in some garden outlets (mail order) to control aphids. The problem is that you have to have good habitat for them or they will leave your yard. Perhaps fifteen years ago, I had neighbors who kept buying and releasing ladybugs, but their yard never had any, while my yard enjoyed the boon!
      There are many non-toxic ways to deal with “pests”– after we figure out they really are pests. And as for money– I think the main money goes into the pocket of the companies that produce those poisons.
      We do seem to be slow learners. I am hoping our current environmental crises like climate change will teach us to do better at learning from our history–and paying attention to all the effects of our actions.

  24. While I never really thought about dandelions, one thing I always wondered was why we mowed our lawns. I think about how much money our government alone spends on mowing the green spaces in the community, and how much fuel is expended to mow the lawns, as well as transport the equipment to and from the sites. Even my father spends a gallon or two for the mower and blower, and then spends more money on getting the fuel for the equipment.
    I always thought natural grasses and flowers growing were so beautiful. And, what is quite odd, I noticed that these natural fields did not seem to have the dandelions…
    Perhaps the dandelions cannot reach high enough above the natural grasses to survive?
    Either way, I know people enjoy their manicured lawns way too much out here… I don’t think they would go for allowing the grasses to grow.
    In concern to the dandelions, it was quite interesting that even the neighborhood association mandates that you cannot have dandelions, nor can you leave your grass to grow, as well as many other things. As well informed as I am sure the board is, I am sure none of them want to change the code. Just like the big corporations, they want verifiable proof. They choose aesthetics over the safety. Although, in our neighborhood, interestingly enough, I know almost all of our neighbors. I know of only one person in my 30 years here that has had cancer. There is no autism, or other abnormalities. Our neighborhood probably has about 200 homes… so it is quite small. If there were a cluster of issues, then I am sure there would be more action in our neighborhood.

  25. I admit that in the past I have definitely been part of the problem instead of part of the solution. The last couple of semesters at Oregon State have rocked my worldview as well as challenged me to make changes in a many areas of my life. It is funny that I still would even pause when considering stop using weed and feed on my small lawn. Convenience is a crutch and the path of greatest ease can be a cancer (in this case it quite literally is!). Responsible, circular living will take more effort and I think its time I start practicing what I preach when it comes to my lawn care. I have slowly been converting more of my yard into organic vegetable gardens and seeded the south side of my lot this fall as a native meadow. I commit today, in front of you the worldwide web and Oregon State peers, that I will swear off manufactured herbicides and fertilizers, and will use only mechanical removal methods and compost going forward.

    • Wonderful, we are all witnesses =). This is also a gift for your newborn son, who may want to crawl around on that lawn by the time the weather turns warmer again.
      Congratulations on your growing organic garden, Peter.

  26. Living in a rural area and working at a local farm store I see many people every year coming in to look for something to kill dandelions. Neighbors even go to the extreme of hiring a private company to come in to kill these little pesky plants. I on the other hand do not mind these little yellow flowers growing in my yard and have never even tried to eliminate them. I am sure that my surrounding neighbors would prefer that I do but I just don’t like the idea of using any type of pesticide in or around my property. The article mentioned 2,4-D caused abortions in humans and I find this disturbing as it is readily available at the local co-op down the street. I’m not surprised that U.S. chemical companies lobby for a standard of proof of harm but maybe we should start our own lobbying for proof safety.

    Rita

    • I could not agree with you more, Rita. It is disturbing that such chemicals are readily available in farm stores when other nations have the good sense to ban them. The good news is that Lisa Jackson, our new EPA director, has asked Congress to uphold the precautionary principle that you state here as a standard for chemical use, following the EU’s REACH program. We should all watch for ways to support this move. Thanks for your comment!

  27. From personal experience I can attest to the dangers of garden and lawn chemicals. We had a sweet kitty that suffered liver failure from, our vet speculated, licking weed and feed off her paws after walking through our neighbor’s yard. Since that time, we keep kitties indoors and get rid of our dandelions the old fashioned way; we pull them by hand. My mother swears by vinegar, pouring it directly onto the weeds. The dandelions whither and no animals are endangered by its use. Vinegar also costs a mere fraction of what chemical weed killers do. I hope that even if the U.S. government doesn’t see fit to ban harmful chemicals, U.S. residents will see the benefits in reduced costs and increased safety.

    • I am so sorry you lost your kitty to this pesticide, Susan. Thanks for the information–and the lesson. What does this to a cat cannot be good for humans–or any other living things.

  28. I am so glad that organic gardening is growing in popularity. I think we are moving in the right direction as far as sustainable gardening is going. More people are using less pesticides on a personal and commercial level. People are finally beginning to care and take the time to find out where their food is coming from and what processes it goes thru. I have become more aware of things like this. That is why I’m building me a greenhouse so I know what is in my food, and we now have a local butcher that can dress meat, we also have a meat cow farm that will be missing a steer this season.

    • Congratulations on your personal garden, Renae. Another way to know what is on your food is to know and trust the farmer who raises it. Yet another way (though not quite as sure) is to check out some of the info under the “consumer info” links.

  29. I appreciate your irony in the last sentence–I, too, hope we never win the “war on nature.” I wish we could exercise more common sense! I really admire what Europe has done in implementing the precautionary principle in its REACH program. But in America, we seem to want instant gratification, which is probably why the companies release the potentially-hazardous products, and THEN see if anything goes wrong. It should operate the opposite way, because it’s better safe than sorry. We also want to see instant results, which is why the standard proof of harm that the chemical companies are lobbying for is so hard to implement. Everything takes time. It’s unfortunate our government doesn’t understand this in regards to our safety concerning toxins. I feel sorry for all these mothers who don’t know they are washing their children’s clothes with toxic laundry detergent and wiping down their babies’ cribs with chemical wipes.

    I can’t help but ponder why it is that we (by we I mean the majority of those living in America operating under the western worldview) feel so threatened by “uncontrolled” or “wild” nature. Like you pointed out to me in another comment, our selfishness stems from the individualism and competition our society encourages. I think another aspect of our egos in this regard is believing that we are “above” perceived “lower” forms of nature, such as viruses or dandelions. We have this delusional pressure to be perfect, and so we try to eradicate any threat to this ideal. This leads to toxic anti-aging creams, toxic household cleaners, and chemical-laden pesticides. It’s very tragic. We need to be humbled and learn to live in harmony with nature. I don’t even mind the little cockroaches that scurry around my kitchen. They’re harmless! Eventually, one might come to admire the resilience and determination of dandelions to persist! It’s amazing how plants find a way to flourish in the most unlikely of places; in little spaces on the sides of highways surrounded by cement, in the cracks of old church building walls a hundred feet high, or on our lawns despite the chemical war against them.

    • Thanks for your comment, Natalie. You have put your insightful points very well. I remember an interview of a grape farmer in California speaking about changing his farm into an organic one after his son got cancer. He said he wasn’t sure that those chemicals he had been applying were what had given his son cancer– but if he found out they were later, what was he going to tell his son, “The profit was more important”?
      What an odd kind of perfection it is that leads us to be unblemished– with porcelain skin, for instance. In fact, it is only objects that have skin without pores– the only way one can achieve such “perfection” (as educator Jeanne Kilbourne notes in her analysis of advertising images) is to emulate death rather than life.
      Life is vibrant and surprising and full of diversity rather than controlled uniformity.
      Ironically, Natalie, I think our hope for our future as a species on earth lies in the resilience of natural life– like that of the very dandelion we are spending so much effort and creating so much danger in trying to eradicate.

  30. I know there are legal issues that probably make this a ridiculous question and contradicts the simplicity with which I’m asking this question, but I have to ask. How on earth is it even a legal possibility that someone could sue anyone for not buying or selling their product if it contains dangerous chemicals??? So, I do realize that that would have to include just about everything, from french fries (they could potentially lead to obesity) to cars (they run people over!) but this is different. There are alternatives to these chemicals that don’t pose a fraction of the hazards to human and non-human health, don’t destroy entire ecosystems, and don’t require the use of gloves and a respirator to implement. This is a clear example of large corporations carrying way too much political influence.
    I have to say, we are a crazy collective group of animals. This is a great example of having just enough knowledge to get yourself in trouble.

    • It is not a silly question, Marie, but a logical one that seems straightforward. The problem is the World Trade Organization, whose members have signed a “free trade” agreement not to “discriminate” against imports according to means of production (that is, labor or environmental means of production) or contents. This same wonderful organization also nixed the Massachusetts law refusing trade from Myanmar because it was a genocidal dictatorship. But Ma. was ruled as “discriminating” against Myanmar’s products based on means of production.
      Just in case you were wondering what protests of the WTO were about…

  31. Something that I read recently requested the reader to take note of all the chemicals that are encountered throughout a typical day in the reader’s life. I followed this request and was horrified that I willing expose myself and environment to such a variety of chemicals throughout my day. I’m not even sure how all these chemicals got into my life, and I feel very saddened that I have let myself become an “experimental subject for toxic chemical effects.” I’m also not sure how the dandelion became our enemy, and I love the idea that “they are so blatant in their yellow flower – they tell the world we are not in control.” This illusion of control has blinded us to the gifts of nature. Even a dandelion holds the power of the sun. I am making an earnest attempt to defy those who “have lobbied for a standard of proof of harm” in the face of such obvious dangers by discontinuing my use of harmful chemicals. This is the first step of many to show that I no longer wish to be at war with respect to home chemical usage, and I can only hope that my defiance will one day be as profound as that of the dandelion.

    • Wonderful, Jordan. Congratulations on declaring a truce in the pesticide war with nature. I love your last statement about the profound defiance of the dandelion. And watch for ways to support the precautionary principle which reverses the standard that makes humans inadvertent experimental subjects of the pesticide industry: Lisa Jackson, new EPA director is working to institute the EU standard in US chemical usage.

  32. I think part of the problem behind using poisons to kill weeds is the motivation behind it. People don’t want to kill weeds for the benefit of their yard in any ecological way. It’s vanity. People want their lawns and yards to look a certain way and want to assert some dominance over nature by not allowing anything to grow where they don’t want it to. There is never any thought given to the fact that a house was built on land where the dandelion grows only that the dandelion is now on the way of the house and yard. If people could view the dandelion as equal to the grass in their lawn or flowers in the flower beds, even as equal to their own place then they would realize that everything has the right to live and grow. It’s the perception that weeds are somehow less worthy of space on the planet that contributes to the insistence on destroying them because they are in the way.

    • I think you are right that vanity and dominance are not legitimate reasons to spread poison on our lawns– which inevitably move into the rest of the ecosystem, Katy. And sometimes what we declare a “weed” is only that which we have trouble controlling. Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

  33. “Standard proof of harm?” What about a standard proof of safety? If the general public had any idea of the murder corporate lobbyists can get passed through congress there would be a riot. They are like evil ninjas. You never know when they will strike or what they are after. They strike with lightening intensity and we are left to deal with the aftermath. We don’t hear about their actions until the media plays it back long after the fact.
    Average citizen can’t afford to wine and dine lawmakers like corporations can. We have no democracy. This country was founded by capitalist, is driven by them, and to our misfortune will die by them -just like every major empire before us. Citizens will move on but greedy governments crumble.
    Gaviotas is a true democracy and it has served them well.
    With all of this technology we have no excuse for not know what’s going on in the White House “Lobby”.
    Here’s an idea, give me some democratic feedback, or let me know if it already exists. I’m going to post this on the class forum also.
    —Create a .gov website that all lobbyist are required to submit to before lawmakers can make any decisions. They will post their complaint/need along with their supporting information of case studies, etc,. The public can post opposition, ask questions, and voice comments on the issues. Lawmakers will be required to read and engage public opinion. —

    • We certainly need something to make lobbyists’ actions public, Dana. “Standard proof of safety” is precisely what we need before allowing such toxic chemicals to be released into our shared environment.

  34. I never knew that these pesticides have been linked to cancer and quite frankly that’s just plain scary to think about it. I’ve always sort of tried to buy organic fruits and vegetables but the price really dictated what I was going to buy. Just to be safe, I think I am for now on going to buy organic only for ethical reasons.
    Although I understand the message presented in the essay I feel that nature should be controlled to a certain extent. There has got to be another way to fight off intruding weeds in gardens that is safe for not only the garden but human beings. We can’t just let a garden grow without maintenance. It just doesn’t work that way. When the Europeans first arrived on the North American continent, they were met with a bountiful array of gardens and forests. However they thought this were natures doing and not something man could ever accomplish. What they didn’t know was that it was work of many generations of indigenous tribes who had maintained these bountiful gardens and forests through practices such as controlled burnings and plant domestication. Europeans stopped these burnings from happening because they were oblivious to the indigenous agriculture practices. We know see overgrowth in forests and I feel if we were to lose control of our own gardens the same will happen too.

    • You pose and interesting perspective, Dylan. We do have many invasive plants that might overgrow things, but my sense is that we don’t have to be quite so afraid of “weeds” taking over our gardens as we might think. My yard is basically naturalized– I pull much by hand, but I love the diversity, checking out the new things that constantly come in. And much of what we call weeds (e.g. dandelions) make great early spring salads. They are now tender and sweet and I have been enjoying them in the past two weeks. I do weed certain things by hand, which I don’t mind– in fact, it is a wonderful break from my computer. And those things we might plant that need such pampering that everything would overgrow them if given a chance maybe the wrong plant or in the wrong place for a certain ecological niche.
      I must say that I don’t let blackberries grow in my yard– too invasive–and build a tall fence to only partly successfully hold back ivy and vinca encroaching on my yard from my neighbor’s– I just have to keep taking it out by hand to keep it in check.

  35. It is disheartening this dualistic view of nature as we make attempts at controlling what is inertly wild. Similar to the FDA the chemical companies have the ability to put their poison on the market and it is a grand human experiment. It falls upon individuals to prove harm, and how can that be done when often many years must pass before signs of sickness appear. Somewhere we have lost sight of what true beauty is. Beauty is at its finest when it is not contrived, a field full of dandelions and purple mustard in the spring time is a sight to behold. It is our job as stewards to put in the time, nourish our soils and introduce helpful plants and insects to help manage our gardens, not target specific weeds and pests blindly assuming there is no collalateral damage.

    • I very much like your point about true beauty, Stacie. Your last line is a standard to uphold: “stewards…put in the time, nourish our soil and introduce helpful plants and insects…not target…weeds and pest blindly assuming there is no collateral damage.

  36. Yes, I agree that chemicals like Weed-B-Gone and Roundup are far more dangerous than people realize. These chemicals are household names and are seen as being virtually benign by the average American. While I was previously employed in the biotechnology industry, I noticed that much of the propaganda surrounding the use of bioengineering revolves around the idea that chemicals while be less necessary once plants have become genetically modified. However, many of the plants are intentionally genetically altered to work in conjunction with certain herbicide and fertilizers. This fact therefore nullifies the notion that eventually there will be a phasing out of the use of chemicals in agriculture production. Considering that nearly every biotechnology agriculture company is actually a subsidiary of the larger chemical company, it is unwise to believe that they have any interest in limiting the use of pesticides and herbicides in America, as this would undoubtedly cut into their own profit margin. The herbicides and pesticides are manufactured by companies with immensely powerful political pull and nearly unlimited legal resources to push things through the regulatory process. So, the idea that these chemicals are somehow safe and normal to use is far from the truth. In many cases I have seen people spraying these chemicals in shorts and tank tops. There is indeed a great amount of ignorance surrounding the used of these compounds, and there is a push to keep perceptions this was by the biotech companies.

    • Not only spraying these chemicals in shorts and tank tops– but their kids (two young to walk) playing on the lawn, Joshua. There is the tragic power of advertising here, to turn something benign, harmless and even medicinal (the dandelion) into an enemy while a chemical which so many toxic effects is portrayed as benign. Great reminder about the ways in which gmo crops are linked to pesticides (“round up” ready gmo crops are set to resist the chemical that kills other plants)– part of this linkage is found in the corporate connections between those that make gmos and those that produce pesticides (as in Monsanto and Dow).

  37. I have taken several classes in my educational career that suggest one of the advantages of modern technology is that a small percentage of people can grow enormous amounts of food. As we have become more technologically advanced we in the US have gone from a society of (as I remember it) about 75% farmers to a population of about 2-4% farmers. I suppose the technological achievement is that instead of most people being forced to be farmers we can pursue other careers. One tradeoff is chemically enhanced agriculture that is often hazardous to our health. In some ways this is related to lawncare. We have developed an ideal for our lawns that we can best achieve with the use of certain chemical technologies or tools. Many of them are used to save time so that we can have more time pursuing other interests. Again, the tradeoff is that these chemicals are often hazardous.

    • Thanks for your comment, Brandon. I think the other trade-off to remember is that what seem like short term yield increases often lead to long term disasters– and failed yield increases in the end, as in so many examples from the “Green Revolution”.

  38. When I was little, I remember helping my mom take care of our garden. We both would put on some crummy working gloves, and set out into the garden, pulling all the weeds we could find.

    Years later, I remember seeing Round Up being advertised on television. I thought to myself, “Ah, modern technology at work”. Of course, I didn’t consider that it was full of poisons. My mom reminded me that cutting corners may get the job done quicker, but it may hold many consequences.

    Even though these poisons make gardening more efficient, they also harm much of our earth, and ourselves! Lame. Information like this needs to be mentioned on the advertisements so we as consumers can make an educated purchase.

    • Thanks for sharing a bit of your personal history here, Lincoln. I don’t see why we couldn’t require a warning as to the side effects of such chemical usage the same way we require one for pharmaceutical effects. Great idea!

  39. One of the areas of research that I would like to see get funding is a behavioral observation study of herbicide users. As horrifying as these poisons are, the guidelines are for “appropriate use.” We had a neighbor who would use Cross Bow at full strength for poison ivy and would always use “Weed and Feed” at double the “safe” strength. As a child, my parents would not allow me to even walk in her yard. Recently, we learned that she has leukemia. Of course, we immediately thought of her reckless usage of chemicals/ poisons. The idea of talking to your neighbors is a good suggestion but my mom’s “concern” fell on deaf ears in this case. Anyone who is that reckless is not likely to believe the warnings.

    • Thanks for your response, Taylor. I think a study of the attitudes that lead to such careless pesticide use is certainly warranted. One reason I know it is so hard to speak with folks such as your neighbor is that they feel they are doing a “civic” duty in beautifying their lawns. It is certainly time to try to change such attitudes toward beauty.
      And there is also the attitude that if a little is good, more is better (haven’t we seen the problems with this in fast food and truck advertising)? Who says bigger is better, anyway?

  40. This reminds me of the neighbor that used to pay us 25 cents for every thistle we pulled out of his old cow pasture of a front yard. I never knew that we already had such strong evidence of the direct correlation between herbicides and cancer in Sweden, India, and Israel. As you said, it would be hard to show that link because of how long it takes for cancer to develop in some cases, but those examples are good enough for me. Even without those examples, you’d think it would be easy to draw a link between something that kills plants and being harmful to humans. The funny thing about this is that most of the farmers that I know are also the people that I consider to be the most interested in being stewards of the land. I think they just might feel like there’s no other option and don’t know any other way than to use those chemicals. Even worse, though, in my experience, is golf courses. The amounts of chemicals they pump onto their land to keep it pristine is shocking.

    • Thoughtful points, Jamie. We need to figure out how to educate folks on these points. There are growing “green” golf courses, but by and large, they are pretty wretched. And farmer’s have been sold a bill of goods that becomes addictive– as more and more chemicals are used on a parcel of land, more and more are needed to make it produce.
      I do know many small farmers who have cancer in their families have turned away from such chemicals. And if anything can convince them, it ought to be the recent report of the President’s cancer panel. The Kid Safe Chemicals Act just introduced in Congress is another step in the right direction– though it has many hurdles to jump through before it becomes law.
      And much of our pollution comes from lawn chemicals. Time to change our view about things like dandelions– which are a primary source of nectar for our beleaguered pollinators, dying out in large part because of chemical stress– and which all farmers need to produce a crop.

  41. Interesting and informative article and I definitely think that the United States should apply the precautionary principle when in comes to regulating hazardous chemicals as well as other technological developments that pose significant environmental and socio-economic consequences such as genetically modified foods. It is really disturbing to read about the numerous impacts that these pesticides and herbicides used in industrialized agriculture as well a by individuals in order to maintain a specific aesthetic have on the environment as well as human health. This is a little bit off subject but I also recently read that the air quality inside households is on average five times more polluted than outside air due to the cleaning and other chemicals that people use. I think that as individuals and as a nation we need to seriously consider the consequences (both short and long term) of our decisions and actions that are made on a daily basis.

    • Indoor air pollution certainly illustrates how we must live with what our industries spew into the atmosphere. Thanks for your comment, Natalie. See the latest entry on this site for a link to info about the proposed Kid Safe Chemicals Act– it is about time!

  42. Great article! It definitely opened my eyes to seeing what we put on our lawns and gardens. People around the world are beginning to understand the impacts of such chemicals and how we can avoid them. More countries around the world seem to be making strides toward removing chemicals from people’s lives. This seems to be an issue for our government to tackle. Why aren’t they more aware of the negative risks associated with these chemicals? They probably are aware but unwilling to recommend against the chemicals or large chemical corporations. Once again we consumers must educate ourselves in order for our decisions to be based on facts. We cannot rely on companies or the government to educate us on the pros and cons.
    I knew about many edible plants and flowers but never heard of eating dandelions. Too bad I don’t have any in my lawn.

    • I like your comment about the dandelion, Renea. These flowers are also a major source of nectar for pollinators like the honey bee whose pollination work is worth 27 billion annually in the US–a reason why the agricultural departments of several states are asking that farmers not spray their fields with pesticides while plants are in bloom– and also plant wild biodiverse hedgerows along side monocrop fields to provides both honeybees and native bees with the variety of food they need- which they are doing in Britain along with outlawing some of the chemicals linked to “colony collapse disorder”, a mysterious bee die off that has contributed to the loss of thirty per cent of bee colonies per year for each of the last four years.
      Another problem for bees may be crops genetically engineered with BT (a bacteria that attacks insects) in them– it is not clear that bees who pollinate such crops are not effected as well.
      Time to get smarter, indeed. The farmer that loses pollinators for their crops is not gaining a good deal by using pesticides to increase yield.
      Time to get the facts, as you note. Companies aren’t likely to give them to us, given the track record indicated in the post you commented on before this one. But we could follow the lead of other nations, as the President’s Cancel Panel urges us to do (see the “quote to ponder” for this week) from the panel.
      Thanks for your comment.

  43. Who decides which plants are weeds and which ones are not? Just because a dandelion is growing where it is not wanted? Dandelions in particular have gotten a bad rap. I only recently discovered that they have medicinal qualities and are also edible. It is hard to understand why an edible would be considered a weed or why having a little yellow in your green is so undesirable.
    Thank you for the informative article. I am glad there are resources with extensive information about herbicides and pesticides. We should follow other countries’ examples in analyzing the harmful effects of such chemicals and taking them off of the market. Your approach in educating the masses is an important factor in starting this process.

    • Thanks, Ashley. We can all help pass on education in terms of this issue. And now dandelion gets another plus: it is a principle nectar producing plant to help along the pollinators that we need for crops–and whose populations are currently in crisis. Next time you decide to leave a dandelion on your lawn, you might think, “this one is for the bees”–as well as for your own and your family’s health.

  44. 18 May 2010
    This post reminded me of a class I’m currently taking called “Pests, Plagues, and Politics.” As you may have picked up from the name, it’s more than an entomology course as it looks at the interaction of humans an insects and what makes a pest. Much like a weed, a pest is based upon human perceptions. And we are indeed engaged in a self-provoked war with weeds and pests. Although our chemical concoctions usually work extremely well to begin with, not only are many of them generalist and kill more than the intended pest, but insects and plants develop resistance to the chemical. It takes more and more of the chemical to do its intended job and can eventually be rendered useless. For these reasons, in addition to many others, It seems pretty clear to me that this war is unnecessary. Compared to insects and plants, we have been on this earth a tiny fraction of the earth’s history. Shouldn’t we be looking to them for wisdom and guidance through example rather than trying to destroy them? We should at least realize that their survival is linked to our own survival, as such is the interconnected web of life, and work to preserve rather that poison and destroy. It was not surprising to read that “Sweden’s cancer rate has fallen since it banned a number of agricultural chemicals.” What we try to harm nature with will not just go away—it seems inevitable that we will experience its effects in some way or another (thinking of “Wild Justice” right now), as indicated by the biopsies of women’s breasts. Nature is showing us what is wrong and hurtful to all life and it’s time we, as a general public, listen. Rachael Carson’s Silent Spring was a catalyst in the efforts against pesticide uses, particularly DDT. She listened before there was nothing left to listen to and arguably ignited the modern environmental movement. Surely we have come far from the time of Silent Spring, but we are still finding news ways to continue this war instead of searching for peace are harmony. As an example, organic farming is a good start, but lets make that the norm not the exception.

    • I absolutely agree with you about making organic farming the norm, Kirsten. Since I have gotten a backyard hive of bees this year, I have become fascinated with native pollinators– of which I have been seeing countless varieties in my unsprayed yard, but neighbors who decided to spray next to my yard in a wind could wipe out diversity that took countless years to develop.
      This is the real bottom line: we cannot sustain ourselves by destroying the intricate life cycles that sustain us–and about which we know so little compared to what we still have to learn.
      This war is not only unnecessary but fundamentally self-destructive.
      Thanks for your comment.

  45. The throwaway culture and products of the current developed world is a major issue. Rarely do we stop and consider the results of our actions or product purchasing decisions.

    We spray chemical onto our lawn, into our water, and onto our food “to keep us safe” But what we are really doing is undermining those very efforts.

    We need to stop with our foolish vanity and instead concentrate on ensuring that we are not poisoning ourselves. By using dangerous chemical around the household we are directly intoxicating our water supply. Add this to the ongoing industrial and corporate pollution and you can see a problem taking shape.

    The only way to truly keep ourselves healthy is to address these issues now. By curbing the use and disposal methods that are so badly damaging our ecosystems, we can begin work to restore it to a healthy status.

  46. There are certainly many problems with using poisons to control. These poisonous products products can cause wide spread harm especially over time. I don’t feel like people realize the true cost of their use of these chemicals. The statistics and correlations you list in this article are pretty chilling and should provide pretty good evidence to the truth of the matter. the U.S. should consider using the precationary principle in all matters pertaining to human health especially chemicals which can be dangerous. I find it very ironic that the cultural trend is to eliminate the dandelion when it has healing properties that would solve the very problem that was caused by eliminating it. I think that its a good indicator from nature that the many in which we try to control nature often backfire on us.

    • I’m glad you picked up the irony of our cultural “war” on dandelions, Ben. I absolutely agree with you about the precautionary principle–and so, by the way, does our new EPA director as well as the President’s Cancer Panel. As citizens, we might watch for ways to support them however we can. Thanks for your comment.

  47. I am a big fan of Robert Fulghum, who really isnt known by name by the majority of people, but by his famous “All I Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarden.” As I read this blog entry, I was reminded of a short essay he did one describing a neighbor and his stance over dandelions.

    “Mr. Washington was a hard-core lawn freak. His yard an my yard blended together in an ambiguous fashion. Every year he was seized by a kind of herbicidal mania. He started fondling his weed-eater and mixing up vile potions in vats in his garage. It usually added up to trouble.

    Sure enough, one morning I caught him over in my yard spraying dandelions.

    “Didn’t really think you’d mind,” says he, righteously.

    “Mind, mind!–you just killed my flowers,” says I, with guarded contempt.

    “Flowers?” he ripostes. “Those are weeds!” He points at my dandelions with utter disdain.

    “Weeds,” says I, “are plants growing where people don’t want them. In other words,” says I, “weeds are in the eye of the beholder. And as far as I am concerned, dandelions are not weeds–they are flowers!”

    “Horse manure,” says he, and stomps off home to avoid any taint of lunacy.”

    Now, having a good handful of children and then some, dandelions hold a special place, they are the special flowers the kids found over the years to bring home to their mom. They are the reason I would hold off mowing the lawn for as long as I could. Mowing over dandelions was sacrilegious.

    They are a part of nature, of growing up, or being a cycle of life that everyone should have the chance to go through in life. By working so hard to eradicate dandelions, we are working to wipe out all those beautiful moments of growing up and life.

    • Lovely, Sam! I think every time we let a dandelion bloom in our yard, we might say with some pride: “this one is for the bees” or “this one is for the health of our children” or perhaps, “this one is for the healing power of the natural world”.

  48. How can we say that the world wants peace, the birds who eat the corn do not want poison and the wind does not want to carry the stories of death, when we are constantly told that we need to wage a war against any weed that dares enter our yard or our fields.

    As an organic faarmer, and landscaper, I can tell you that these chemicals are not on our side. One day, I was applying compost tea to a yard when a neighbor girl came over her father told her to get off the lawn because there were chemicals on it. After I explained to him that it was OK to be on the lawn because it was not chenicals, he was Ok with her playing on the lawn.

    The money and influence that these chemical companies have is horrible. People do not realize that we can control weeds with the proper type of soil balance. We can tweak the balance with the proper type of compost tea. Completely naturally without any sort of chemicals.

    • It is sad that we need to warn our children to be afraid of grass because of the chemicals sprayed there…I am glad you were able to tell this child she could play on your lawn, Jeff. Obviously there is a contradiction between the ecological systems that have learned to work in partnership over millions of years and the wars we wage against those this we find less than convenient for ourselves. Of course what those who wage such wars often forget is that to wage war on nature is to wage war on the health of ourselves and our children. Thanks for your comment.

  49. There are some very great facts and studies in here that I have never heard of before. The use of chemicals on ‘our’ lawns and plants always baffles me. The contradiction of using such horrible artificial aids in a space that is supposed to represent nature and natural beauty is proof enough that the Westernized worldview is totally warped. I especially enjoyed the idea that the dandelion is showing that man does not really have control over the land and earth. I think subconsciously this really scares people and causes them to resort to chemical usage. This concept also reminds me of how not only as a child, but still to this day I blow the dandelion seeds into the wind for a wish. My favorite thing is seeing gardeners scowling as i pass by after spreading their sworn enemy’s seeds all over the neighborhood. A newly sprouted dandelion is like a big middle finger to the dualistic warring western worldview, if you can excuse the imagery, and I think on one hand it is sad to see this war, yet comical that man is afraid of little yellow flowers disrupting his perfectly manicured turf.

    • You have pointed out the irony here, Cheyanne, in our battle with this little and prolific flower. It is comical indeed to declare such “war” on these plants–if only the arsenal we are using weren’t so hazardous to all natural life.

  50. This essay is another example of how important it is to educate yourself on what you are buying. My husband and I were just looking at a weed and seed product the other day to try to kill the weeds in our yard. Thankfully we haven’t bought anything yet. I wasn’t aware of how bad they can be for people and nature. Living in Dallas I wouldn’t have thought that my using those products could have a negative impact. Now that I know I will take more care when purchasing these type of products and I’ll be sure to tell my friends too.

  51. I’m pretty sure my neighbors just think I am lazy for not spending hours upon hours spraying and watering my lawn. They thought I was crazy the first time they saw me pouring uncooked grits over fire ant mounds. Then they thought I totally went off my rocker when I hand picked all the weeds from my flower beds without spraying them in round-up first. I may have a weeds in my lawn, but it is green and I never have to water it. Pesticides kill more than just the weeds as you stated in this essay. Our groundwater is only a few feet below the surface so infiltration into our water sources is very quick. The companies will one day be held accountable for the destruction they cause. The more I read, the more I want to move to Europe!

    • Thank you for tending your law in this way: your avoidance of pesticides helps care for the earth we all share: as you noted, the groundwater is just below where such pesticides are applied. When your neighbors are curious enough to ask what you are doing, perhaps you will explain in such a neighborly way that you will express leadership rather than mere oddness in your neighborhood! I appreciate your sharing your personal strategy here, Megan.
      And as for moving to Europe– there is that, but there is also watching for ways to support Lisa Jackson, our EPA administrator, who is pushing for legislation instituting the precautionary principle with respect to chemical usage in the US. Those on the side of this will, of course, have to battle the chemical industry and its lobbies, but it will certainly be worth it to give our children a world in which chemicals clearly associated with cancer according to the American Cancer Society are not allowed for profit’s sake.

  52. Talk about an alarming red flag! The fact that cancer rates in Sweden CLEARLY were in relation to agriculture chemicals, as well as breast cancer in Israeli women should play a role in regulating in the U.S. Just marking on the labels that a chemical is harmful to salmon does nothing because there are plenty of people who don’t care. They don’t want to take the time to get on their hands and knees and weed, so they’ll opt for using the chemicals… The “not in my back yard” concept comes into play here.

    I agree that there should be requirements of proof that these chemicals are safe before being distributed into OUR earth. I am completely baffled that there aren’t restrictions on something that clearly causes cancer- in turn killing people. And it could very well be the people who aren’t using the chemicals that are the victims. SO sad…

    • It is sad indeed, Stefani. It seems like we should all have a right NOT to have these chemicals in our bodies because of the (likely ignorant) usage by others. The biggest red flag came after I first wrote this: the President’s Cancer Panel assessed the data (just this year) and came out with a strong statement on the relationship between cancer and environmental toxins. In fact, they noted we will never win the battle against cancer until we stem our environmental toxins.

  53. I like the way a natural yard looks. I love to see the clover and the tiny daisies that get chopped down if you mow every few days. I especially like a flower called Queen Anne’s Lace, but I’m sure that many people would consider it a nuisance (a weed). I let my lawn get yellow in the summer because that’s just what lawns do.

    This article talks about how pesticides can have harmful effects on salmon populations. I’ve never made this connection before, but it makes sense. I like the bumper stickers that say “we all live downstream” because that probably sums up my way of looking at the world. We are all affecting each other, and every action has positive or negative effects. The issue of pesticides, fertilizer runoff, and other sources of pollution entering our groundwater is the most literal example of this, but it can work on a number of different levels. This saying reminds me to take care that my actions are responsible, and to anticipate and ameliorate any negative impact to others.

    • I very much like this reminder that “we all live downstream” as well, Tivey. Time to act out of consideration for the others effected by our actions (including future generations)– which is ultimately in our own self interest as well. I too prefer the look of a naturalized yard–and I actually don’t have any lawn left. More and more homeowners are taking out lawns and putting in more environmentally friendly landscaping.

  54. I remember feeling perplexed as a kid by everyone’s assertion that dandelions were bad, because they were weeds–when I was little, dandelions were my favorite flower. I thought they were really pretty, and they were always all over the yard because we’ve always been too lazy to spray pesticides, figuring at least *something* was growing in the yard. (As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to appreciate this particular aspect of our familial laziness toward yard work.)

    The description of the difficulties in “absolutely” proving the harm of such chemicals to human bodies is the best argument for the precautionary principle–even if we’re not 100% positive that these chemicals cause cancer or other health ailments, why take the risk until we are 100% sure that they don’t? I also find assertions that these chemicals do not present a clear and significant danger to be disingenuous, as I distinctly recall one particular instance from my childhood in which my neighbor freaked out on me and my brother for playing around on his yard after it had been treated with some sort of pesticide, telling us we could get really sick (the little orange or red warning signs sometimes placed on some areas also warn that these chemicals are not safe for us).

    It seems to me that we would do better to simply be more accepting of others, human and otherwise–even bugs and weeds serve some purpose in the world.

    • A great argument for the precautionary principle, Crystal. The assessment of potential chemical harm is confounded by the fact of who pays for this research. A recent analysis of such assessments found that industry-funded tests on certain new products were four times more likely to deem them harmless than was independently funded research.
      I agree that we need to change our aesthetic standards: for myself, I like the look of a dandelion as opposed to a lawn with brown holes all over it from weed killers. Thanks for your comment.

  55. My mother is one of those people who spend hours during the summer to make sure her yard is green, and there are no weeds in her yard or garden. Growing up I never liked how she took out the pretty flowers that were all over the yard. I never understood why it mattered so much to have your yard look like the picture perfect yard, yet people try so hard to fight against nature to get their yard green and weed free.

    I don’t have my own yard yet because I live in an apartment, but when I do get my own yard I know I am going to let the weeds grow, and if I really want the weeds gone I am going to pull them. I don’t like using chemicals to do things since we really don’t know what they do to the environment.

    • Good for you, Ayla. Not using chemicals is a wise choice for yourself and for the environment– it seems that we ought to be spreading information around about the harmful effects of these so that more people could make ethic choices in yard and garden care.

    • I think it is a really good idea to start off your gardening life as a non chemical gardener. It is hard to understand what the chemicals are doing to the environment and to many other things that we are spraying them on.

  56. Morning Edition on NPR for August 6, 2010, had a story on Genetically Modified Conola that I think speaks to this idea of controlling the environment and keeping it “weed” free and the dangers contained in the worldview that says we can eliminate the “pests.”

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129010499

  57. I really appreciated this article. I liked the list of helpful hints in order to help use the pesticides in a better way, or not at all. This is a very helpful essay for any gardener, farmer or homeowner. I never took any of this into consideration untill i took a class last term about Native American basket weaving. We had a native woman come into our classroom and show us the basics of weaving. She told us that she sometimes has to pick the specific plants that she needs illegally because she is unable to grow the type of plant on her land. What was most interesting about this is that when weaving the women have to put part of the plant in their mouth in order to separate it. She told us that alot of native women have gotten sick and died from being exposed to the pesticides on the plants that they have been gathering.

    • Thanks for sharing this example, Jessica. I have heard the same thing about native craftspersons. I also understand that when bear grass is sprayed with herbicides,. it will no longer take traditional dyes.

  58. Professor Holdren,

    I believe that technology in the case of pesticides/herbicides has turned out to be a negative. I don’t like the fact that many of the chemicals that are used have negative health effects that aren’t fully understood and yet, we still put it out into the environment. Hopefully, through better regulation and consumer choices, we can start to clean up some of the over use of pesticides and herbicides locally, and in time improve the global wellness of the environment.

    • I am with you in hoping for better, healthier choices for both humans and the environment. I think profit rather than any real science is behind the use of these dangerous chemicals–and a bit of laziness coupled with a strange sense of what is pretty. Thanks for your comment, Kurt.

  59. Jessica:

    Thanks for your example, you really bring down to earth the real world effects of using pesticides to those people who are unaware of their use.

    I think of this each time I buy produce from the store – how much to I need to clean it before I can be sure I have everything that may have been sprayed onto it off of it?

  60. It has always been a bit strange to me in understanding our need for controlling the aesthetics of our environment directly surrounding us. I shouldn’t be surprised considering the primary worldview of our country is focused upon the stance that humans are held above nature as the dominate species and are responsible for controlling how it functions. This can be seen in the typical images of the perfect home constituting the American dream with a perfect yard and neatly trimmed trees and hedges. Even if controlling nature through enlisting chemicals to our aid risks our own health, it will still grant us the power to rule the small portion of our natural world we get to own along with our home.

    I see the technologies related to cosmetics (for nature or for humans) as entirely part of a long list of technologies that we must ask ourselves, “just because we could, does that mean we should?” Just because they are there and easily available doesn’t mean we should be choosing to use them. In fact, I feel cosmetics should be the very last thing considered. I am personally the type to place function over form and therefore believe we have much bigger issues related to the function of our environment to focus our attention over before we even begin to consider frivolous concerns of how it must appear to us.

    • Thanks for the analysis, Mathew. I agree that when we way cosmetics over the dangers to health, the former is not very important. But as I was reading how you described the perfect lawn scene, another thought came to me: in our control over nature perhaps we think we can defeat death–and avoid our own connections to seasons and generations. Perhaps one reason why our cultural behavior is so negligent toward the future generations? This was, incidentally, a bit issue for some of the early Greek philosophers, who disdained women’s bodies since they signed birth-and thus also death to them. Better, philosophers such as Parmenides saw it, to adhere to the stable and “loyal” concepts of mathematics. where neither change nor death ever entered in.

  61. A very simple solution with dealing with weeds and insects is to simply remove them by hand and to import certain predatory bugs into your yard. Not only does hand removal of weeds speed up the process, you are not really saving all that much time by spraying them with chemicals. You still have to target each specific weed with Roundup and spray them, so why not just bend down with a spade, and dig them out by the roots?

    If you enjoy your garden enough to want to remove weeds, this small extra labor step really should not be viewed as a hardship. I have never really understood how things like Roundup can have such a huge market, the point of maintaining a garden was for the labor involved, and for caring for your plants, so why spray poisons? It really makes no sense to me.

    • Great points, Kamran. I especially like the observation that using Roundup means you have to target each weed anyway, so why not dig it out? Thanks for your comment.

    • I also agree with and see the benefits of this simple method. It really doesn’t consume that much more time to put in the labor and remove the weeds by hand. This is great for practicing in a home lawn but not so practical in large agricultural fields. Though there are environmentally friendly ways to control weeds in agricultural settings such as flooding the weeds.

  62. It seems as if our western culture has become obsessed with control and sterilizing our world. whether it was the cold war with its fear-mongering or an inherent drive in man that makes him fear change and fear that which he cannot control we find ourselves increasingly removing whatever we deem (incorrectly sometimes and to our detriment often) to be a threat. We remove all microbes with our soap and attempt to sterilize where we live while simultaneously making ourselves more susceptible to sickness. We find ourselves giving up long term stability for immediate security. Unfortunately if we dont change this, we may find ourselves in a world spoiled by our own inability to think about the future.

    • Sadly so–and of course, the only way to “sterilize” the world is to deaden it– to obliterate the natural life we don;t want. Ironic, for instance, that we are declaring war on bacteria when bacteria are what keep us alive in our own bodies.
      Breeding super disease organisms and dampening our own immune systems is not a wise combination. Thanks for your comment.

    • Great point about sterilizing our world. When we use pesticides on our lawns, not only do we kill the weeds, but the wildlife as well. Have you ever noticed that after you put down pesticides, you don’t see ladybugs, preying mantis’ or caterpillars anymore? We are wiping away the biodiversity of our planet, one bottle of pesticides at a time. We need to be aware of the disasterous consequences that these actions have for our future and the future of the planet.

      • Not only this, but one of your classmates just cited an article that indicated that certain plants being attacked by bugs send our a chemical signal that attracts a predator for the attacker. This system certainly gets messed up with pesticides. Nice responses from both of you.

  63. Another sad reality is the mob mentality that takes place in subdivisions in this country. We had a neighbor a few years back that practiced green gardening and lawn care. He did not use any pesticides and allowed nature to “grow what it wanted” as he put it. After a while, several of the other neighbors complained that his yard was an eyesore in the neighborhood and reflected poorly on their homes. They even started a petition to get him to mow down any weeds and control the mess in his yard. After several months of fighting, the man finally gave in and mowed down his entire yard, dandelions and all, and created a lifeless patch of dirt. We moved shortly after this incidence, so I am not sure what the situation is today, but the mob mentality to be like everyone else stuck with me and still upsets me to this day. Why does everyone have to have the same cookie cutter yards with sod and nothing else? In my opinion, dandelions are not an eyesore, in fact the yellow color is quite beautiful on dreary Oregon days.

    • You bring up an important point about the differing perceptions of beauty, Jamie–and how our cultural notion of aesthetics is linked to getting things under control

    • You have a good point Jamie. One of my neighbors planted a bunch of wildflowers in their yard this past year and the HOA where I live came through and sprayed weed killer on them. It was very sad because I liked the bright cheerful colors of the wildflowers.

      I think that the need for perfection, order, and control that many property owners feel they should have over their houses and property borders on obsessiveness in our culture. Instead of wasting huge amounts of time and money keeping a pristine green lawn, wouldn’t everyone be better off if they grew vegetables and fruits in their yards.

  64. I completely agree that the precautionary principle should be invoked wherever man-made chemicals are used and in regards to altering any natural processes. It’s definitely sad when you think about how all these gratuitous deaths and illnesses are derived from a capitalistic financial system that places prosperity over wellbeing in a hierarchy of significance. It’s sad to say, that the proof isn’t enough as long as the “masses” continue to allow those few empowered groups to contain them through division and fear. And as you were saying, Dr. Holden, they probably would remove many dangerous products if people responded negatively within a short period of time. But, I still believe that these entities will continue to enact there responses to such issues by the influence of financial outcomes rather than cultural well-being, like in big tobacco and recent auto manufacturer recalls (Toyota). This is why I feel that the most dangerous aspect of modern culture isn’t just the inherent worldview to control nature but this social inferiority complex those empowered groups have managed to suppress us with. At least it’s good to know that some countries have taken the side of their society and not standing by with a blind eye.

    • I would also re-define “prosperity” as something other than that which benefits a few at the cost of the health of so many, Ryan. Thoughtful point about the “social inferiority complex”– might you see this as entwined with an attempt to control nature. Seems to me that those who feel the least secure in themselves are the most prone to attempt to take over and manage the lives of those around them– and it is an addictive process, since the more “management” we attempt, the less intimacy (and thus insecurity) we feel.
      Thanks for sharing something to think about, Ryan.
      And the Safe Chemicals Act (see our “action alerts” list is before Congress at this very moment, strongly supported by EPA administrator Lisa Jackson. There is a way to lend your support to its passage here.

  65. “…The wind does not want to carry the stories of death.”

    This quote was amazing, Professor Holden.

    This essay is just another example of our drive to annihilate anything we deem as an “enemy”, as you cited in one of our earlier essays. It reminds me of the demonizing that has taken place against any religion that has ritual based spiritual observations (Judaism included in this). Society has turned rituals into rites of passage for cults and turned rituals into a negative thing. It’s the same thing for weeds. “Weeds” and “rituals” are both looked at with a negative context by many, instead of what they are. Weeds are not a bad thing, they are plantlife that contribute life force to our world. Dandelions have a great deal of vitamins and nutrients in them for our health, not to mention they are the kind of flower that invokes childhood smiles.

    Why are we so quick to demonize and turn things into the enemy? As a person who believes in reincarnation, I feel okay saying I miss the times when we couldn’t simply kill things we deemed a nuisance or inconvenient. Oh, and this poisoning of my groundwater through the quest to kill weeds is really chapping my ass, too.

    • I love Linda Hogan’s words,Crystal. She is such a powerful writer! This is yet another case of a label (“weed”) causing a reflex action. It automatically means we need to get rid of it–and we label anything that is not under our control in this way.
      It should be discussed as a central issue of democracy that we should not have the water we drink poisoned without our permission. If there is no taxation without representation, there should certainly also be no pollution without representation.
      Thanks for your pointed perspective: it seems to me that accepting a plant full of vitamins and minerals (that also brings delight to certain children) rather than poisoning our groundwater ought to be a no brainer.

  66. This is a great article. I, personally, have always liked dandelions and am not a big fan of lawns. The only reason I don’t currently use dandelions for tea and salads is that I always doubt myself when I go to pick the flower. I have this kind of society-induced doubt when it comes to picking plants out of the wild and eating them. Still, this article has encouraged me to try to create a little dandelion patch for myself in my own garden.

    • Thanks for your response, Michele: of course, you also don’t want to be picking dandelions where they might have been sprayed. But dandelions are pretty distinctive, especially if you pick them from your own front lawn.

  67. It seems crazy that people would be willing to risk their health and the health of the natural environment that they live in, all for just a well manicured lawn. I do agree that the larger issue is our deep-seeded desire to control nature, but I feel like the more pressing issue is that using these cosmetic herbicides is not an informed decision for most people. I really can’t imagine too many people would use them if they were aware that the chemicals in them could make them or their family members seriously ill, not to mention do serious, long-term damage to the environment in unforeseen ways. It is more the fact that they are being given harmless sounding names, advertised on television, and sold at your local Home Depot by the trusted “home improvement expert” they have working there. I would imagine that many people do not even question that they are doing something wrong. This post ties in well with the precautionary principle post because these dangerous chemicals are the perfect example of why such a policy is crucial. It’s time we let well-informed scientists help make decisions on important public policy decisions such as this, rather than corporate advocates and lobbyists.

    • I think you are right about the use of pesticides not being an informed decision, Roman. This is a very important point when too many consumers get such information only from industry ads.
      Home Depot is an interesting example, in that they were the subject of a consumer boycott a few years back that caused them to introduce sustainably raised and logged lumber into their product line. On the other hand, I am concerned with the pesticide displays that are meant to sell products about which, as you point out, employees know so little of the dangers.
      I agree with you about the necessity of science-based decisions–decisions of scientists, that is, not subject to industry pressure. This leads me to state once again the importance of groups like the Union of Concerned Scientists.
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  68. I really enjoyed the list of ways to help reduce the amount of herbicides and pesticides used today. I think it is really important to encourage your local home improvement store, gardening supplier, and even nurseries to provide less toxic options for home lawn care. Although a turf lawn requires more maintenance than a dirt or rock lawn, it provides so many benefits. A typical home lawn releases enough oxygen into the air in one day to provide all the O2 you consume in a day. A turfed lawn also reduces temperatures, soil erosion, noise, and allergy related issues.

    • Thoughtful points, Emily. There are also alternatives to turfed lawns (which, if not created with native grasses, characteristically take herbicides and pesticides to maintain): using native landscaping, or replacing lawns with food gardens or fruit trees, for instance. Many of these (especially the use of trees) have even more of the benefits you mention than do lawns.
      Also, it is my understanding that lawns do not reduce but may exaggerate allergies through their pollen release– the grass seed grown in the Willamette Valley is responsible for a hay fever epidemic here at certain times of the year.
      I would never suggest putting in gravel or bare earth instead of something green and growing…

  69. Several years ago I bought a house. This house quickly became known as the “bunny house” because of all the bunnies that came into our yard to eat our grass and plants in the fall and winter. My fiancee and I were leading very busy lives at the time and while we maintained our yard, we were not overly concerned with its appearance. Soon however, my fiancee took notice to the other yards in the neighborhood. These yards were weedless and had perfectly mowed dark emerald green grass bordered by perfectly trimmed shrubs. Before long envy set in and my fiancee started his own “dandelion wars”. I tried to discourage him because I had heard that yard chemicals could be harmful, but he was convinced they were perfectly safe. That spring and summer we had a weedless yard and dark emerald grass, but to my disappointment the bunnies did not return that fall. Around the same time my dog also began to develop a rash on his feet and hives from the grass. I soon began to suspect the lawn fertilizer might be the culprit, but my fiancee reassured me it wasn’t since we always made sure to keep the dog off the lawn for at least a week after application. Then one day our dog accidentally got out on the grass after my fiancee got done fertilizing. This time he developed a horrible rash on his paws and I knew it was the fertilizer. I was furious and I began my own “war”. The chemical use had to stop. It took some time and several arguments but I finally won my war and our yard has been chemical free for three years. My grass may not be emerald green, but I’m happy to say the bunnies are back and my dog is rash free.

  70. As a kid I never really understood why my parents were against having the yellow flowers grow on their lawn. Personally I thought that they added a homey feel to the lawn that the other plants my mother had planted. One would hope that our country will soon realize the dangerous effects that these pesticides have, but is that not facing a big industry that has beent hrioving for years? It would be one tough battle to ban these pesticides since the idea of a perfect lawn has been in the American mindset for as long as I could remember.

    • I think the idea of a “perfect lawn” is changing, Kim–and I find this hopeful. There are many cities throughout the US that now encourage native plantings–and there are in my neighborhood many more front yard vegetable gardens and far fewer lawns than there once were.
      I like your sense of the dandelion as “homey”.

  71. Thanks for the article. I remember the use of DDT. I have lived through 2 Tussock Moth and 2 Spruce Budworm infestations in my local mountains. The first Tussock Moth outbreak was in the 70’s and I am sure they sprayed DDT. The last one and the 2 Spruce Budworm they used a biologic agent. I know the DDT was a big thing. But how safe were these biologic agents? Now they are finding out that these infestations are a natural thing. So I wonder if the next time it happens if they will let it go its course. Just like the dandelions. Isn’t a dandelion healthy for you, yet we are using things that harm us and nature to kill them. It doesn’t make scene. If you don’t like them in your yard dig them out.

    • Good points, Bob. It does not make sense indeed to use such toxins against an innocuous plant. Especially since the bad news keeps coming in about pesticides and health risks. Just this week, research has confirmed that two commonly used herbicides are implicated in Parkinson’s disease (is this really the trade we want to get rid of dandelions?) and those who spray Raid around their house are lowering the IQ of their children.

  72. I can remember picking dandelion greens with my grandmother for salad as a child. popping the yellow heads off at my sister, and blowing the white parachute seeds were all rites of summer growing up. Dandelions are just as important to me now, as they are always blooming , helping my bees find pollen for three of our four seasons. I have always loved them and ever understood their classification as nuisance or weed. I guess one mans trash is another’s treasure. I used to think my neighbor’s efforts to have green lawns were egotistical and silly attempts to impress the proverbial Joneses, but there is no way elimination of this small flower or weed should be more important than the health of our children. I was never one to use many sprays and chemicals, but now that I know more about the extent of the toxins permeating our tissues, breast milk, water, and soil, I will be making an even stronger effort to stay clear of them.

    • Hi Sheryl, thanks for your comment– and your effort to stay clear of toxic chemicals that radically effect natural lives, human and more than human.
      The yellow tops of dandelion flowers are quite sweet– don’t eat the white part, it is bitter.
      Some of us have a strange penchant indeed for control, that we are willing to poison our intimate environments in order to get rid of a plant whose every part is healthful– as you point out, to the bees, if we don’t want to eat them ourselves.
      And bees are especially susceptible to pesticides: I just read a report (linked in the latest essay here on vulnerability) that their genome is missing enzymes to detoxify pesticides; instead they have body hairs that pick up both pollen–and toxic chemicals. We can’t afford to lose these friends that pollinate billions of dollars worth of crops worldwide.
      Congratulations on your bees– I find them fascinating myself!

    • Such a great memory you have with your grandmother. I sadly use to use these chemicals to rid my yard of dandelions. I did not know how wonderful they are for the body and wish I could have had an experience like yours as a young child to connect me to nature and know of the wonderful bounty from nature to add to my salad right in my front yard. I don’t use chemicals anymore and am very thankful for the awareness that I gain from sources such as this.

  73. Dandelions definitely bring a homyness to mind especially since I am allergic to everything outdoors. Back where I was from Dandelions were everywhere. I prefer a natural lawn which is why I live in the high desert. I don´t like to have to maintain a yard. I would much rather grow beautiful vegetables and fruits naturally if possible without the use of pesticides. I once took a potato from a bag I bought at the grocery store and planted it in my backyard. It was fun digging them up a year later.

    • Any potato that sprouts is good for this– though these days many inorganic potatoes as genetically engineered and you might want to consider this before planting. Garlic can be planted out the same way.
      It is great that you are using your yard to grow things other than lawns.

    • I agree with you about the desert, when I lived in Nevada we didn’t try to coax grass to grow because not only is it a losing fight but it just doesnt seem right. Keep the sagebrush back a little and pick up the big rocks and there’s your yard!

  74. I had to sadly admit there was a time in my life I visited the store to purchase the chemicals to rid my year of dandelions and my field of blackberry’s. I was not aware that the chemicals were so toxic and harmful to the environment. Nor did I know the amazing heal benefits of such things as dandelions. Thankfully, I no longer do such horrible things to the environment. In fact, I use dandelion in such things as teas for the wonderful detoxing it provides the body. It doesn’t taste that good, but it is amazing to detox the body and helps with allergies. And blackberries are so yummy that I cannot believe I ever use to rid my back yard of them. I was not connected to the earth or nature when I did these practices and now I am thankful for the awareness such forums as this to raise the awareness of people so they do not use toxic chemicals to get rid of the wonders found in nature.

    • Dandelion is bitter–but there are also societies (I think this is traditional in Germany) where bitterness is considered a “good” and essential flavor. I know it is a taste I sometimes crave– and there is a wonderfully sweet aftertaste to drinking dandelion root tea.
      It is no surprise that many of us used such chemicals when we had less information about them. Changing our ways in response to new information is the best we can do.
      Thanks for your comment.

  75. I had no idea how much weed and pesticide products could negatively effect the rest of the environment. It is very scary that these products are similar to Agent Orange. I will definitely consider a different weed control technique, and will spread the news to those I know.

    • Great: this is very important. We don’t need these in our water systems or in the umbilical cords of our unborn children (where they have also been found).
      Thanks for your response.

  76. As an avid fisherman this article discusses a global problem that I am facing locally. Here in New Jersey I live on an estuarine river system that is home to a terrific gamefish the striped bass. The fish uses the local rivers as its late spring spawning grounds. The problem in recent years is that the amount of non-point source runoff from lawn fertilizer, horse farm waste, and agricultural chemicals have taken a toll on the conditions of the waters the fish utilize. These chemicals, whether organic or inorganic are resulting in a spike in plankton blooms which are sucking the oxygen out of the water creating a river conditions that not condusive to larval striped bass. The poor water conditions have led to a sharp decline in young striped bass according to local fisheries surveys. If this continues on its current path the local population which will grow to mature adults, which anglers can enjoy will become very limited. The state is working to solve the problem, but its the changing of people’s habits which can help the most.

    • And I think changing people’s habits can come from changing their consciousness. It seems that so many of us are uninformed about the dangers of pesticides used on our lawns, for instance– that accumulate into the non-point source pollution you mention here.
      Though dealing with non-point source pollution is frustrating, it does remind us of the interdependence of all the aspects of an ecosystem–and whether we are fishermen or not, the decline of those bass are related to declines in human health– that is, what attacks them also attacks our well being.
      Thanks for your comment, David.

    • It’s interesting to me how every once in awhile things line up and your comment lines up amazingly well with the offhand comment my dad made about his small town he grew up being a place where people would just go out and fish and catch enough to survive on and then a few years after a chemical plant of some sort came in his home town and the business died completely. It’s amazing how certain places can be effected so quickly by what we do and yet, because that place isn’t in the consumers direct view, nothing changes.

      • The way these experiences line up is sad testament to the toxicity of certain chemicals which, all in all, there is no excuse to produce.
        The lack of a “direct view” of consequences is also one of the reasons that we should not rely on proving chemicals harmful before we withdraw them from the market. It is sometimes takes many years of research to prove a direct connection between a particular chemical and cancer, for instance.

    • Wow, it’s nice to hear about the problem from someone who see’s this in their own life! That’s horrible, and I hope more fisherman stand up and advocate this, and maybe that will make a difference for consumers. You seem very educated on how the chemicals effect the water, and I hope that the state is able to stop the problem before it gets any worse!

      • Thanks for the supportive response, Melinda. The kind of work that David does is done on behalf of us all. So we all owe him thanks for the energy put into caring for our shared planet.

  77. We use these chemicals when we delude ourselves into thinking we are separate from the environment we live in. By realizing that the plants around us share the same land and water and air we depend on, we will find a reason to stop trying to create artificial plants.

    Plants you don’t care to see in your garden can be removed with a trowel without long term harm to everything around it. We must come to adore the look of a garden that is grown without chemicals – to love to see true nature and not a plastic imitation.

    • I agree absolutely, Anders.
      Another reason to accept dandelions: honey bees use them for pollen and nectar and goldfinches love them. Goldfinches– the state bird of Washington– are suffering from the application of herbicides to their central food sources: dandelion and thistle. Yesterday, I watched a beautiful goldfinch methodically consume a dandelion flower, strand by strand. I felt happy to know that what s/he consumed in my yard was poison-free, but kitty-cornered across the street, the front strip of my neighbor’s lawn is an awful sick brownish yellow from spraying: neither my honey bees nor the finches will be happy sipping from the flowers left in his yard. And it has always amazed me that anyone would think that gruesome color more attractive that anything green and growing.
      Thanks for your comment.

      • My wife mixed dandelion petals with honey recently and it was delicious. And the leaves add tang to any salad!

        • Makes great wine, I understand, and the roots make a medicinal tea. You can just take the yellow parts of the flower off and eat raw– they have sweet taste. And the greens, when young, are good as well.

    • You took the words right out of my mouth, and in a more eloquent way. There are definitely other solutions that don’t have negative long-term impacts on the environment. Something humans are lazy and take the easy way out, which tends to be the root to many of the problems with the environment.

  78. War seems to be horrible weather it be against a country, a friend, or even the weeds! The end result never ends well. When the article mentioned that the Sweden’s cancer results have dropped since they banned particular chemicals, it makes it bluntly obvious how life threatening these chemicals are. It’s sad to think that America cares more about profit and economics than a human life.
    As far as Dandelions go, it’s also sad to think that our society is so vulnerable to social stigma that we automatically assume dandelions are retched. When you look at a dandelion, it is nothing more than a small yellow flower. I don’t understand the problem with them, but it’s simply because we are taught by society that they are bad and ugly.
    I think we are obsessed with the idea of perfection. Our lawns have to look perfect for our neighbors, our cars need to be shiny and new, and our faces need to be soft smooth and wrinkle free! If we all took a step back from all the pressure to be perfect, we might find life to be a little easier.

    • If we stepped back away from the idea of “perfection”, as you indicate, Melinda, we might not only be more relaxed–but express more personal vitality–since our idea of perfection seems to be having everything under control, including our own skin. Meeting that standard is certainly a drain on our energy.
      Two days ago I watched a goldfinch carefully consume a dandelion flower, thread by thread. Enough to make you love a dandelion!

    • I think you are right, that we are obsessed with perfection. And our ideas of perfection are really skewed and unhealthy. Life would be easier without the pressure to be perfect. There is so much time, money, and stress around attempts to maintain perfect.

      • Perfection is a strained and impossible ideal, as you note, Isabel. But perhaps the striving to become perfect will forever drive new consumerism– since it can never be reached.

  79. It seems that its common sense that something designed to kill insects can’t be safe for every other living creature. However, its possible for a lot of people to be naïve to the dangers of pesticides beyond killing insects. A lot may not understand how a groundwater system works and that water and liquids in our lawns seep into the ground and can make its way back to a major water source. The contaminants can also affect human health so we need to take greater care in what we spill and spray on the ground.

    I had no idea that Oregon, Washington, and California were required by law to display a warning about the dangers of pesticides to salmon. And now I am not even sure that I have ever seen such warning. I could have been oblivious to the sign or maybe it was not there at all. Are the warning messages too small? Should they be made more noticeable?

    • Important questions about the warning signs regarding salmon, Morgan. When that law first came out, folks concerned about this issue were going around reminding retailers about it–since far too many either did not have such a sign or did not have it visible. Unfortunately, I haven’t checked on the status of that law lately. But it certainly seems that we need all the alert consumers we can get reminding retailers about this.
      Most people I know who misuse lawn care products simply feel they are safe because the government watches out for them.
      Thanks for your comments. This is a very important issue in terms of human health and the environment.

    • What you said about not even being sure that you’ve seen the warning labels that are required by law brings up a really good point. Just because a law requires something, doesn’t mean that people (and corporations) are going to follow through with the appropriate actions. This is just another case of ignorance being the main cause to our carelessness with the earth.

  80. This topic is one that I don’t know all that much about, but the essay brings up some points of extreme concern. Their are aspects to nature that are not so pleasant, like weeds. The problem is that we again try to find the easy solution, which tends to harm the environment and human beings. How do people not realize that pesticides are not only harmful to plants and animals in nature? We spray these chemicals in our yards, sometimes on edible plants, and don’t think about the consequence that this has on the plants and also us. Again, this is another situation where we need to think more before we act.

    • The thing about “weeds” is that they are just volunteer plants growing in a place where we don’t want them– it is we who define plants we don;t plant and control in this way.
      We certainly need to think before we use chemicals that are designed for toxicity.

  81. I don’t understand why people want these boring, ‘perfect’ yards, covered in a blanket of chemicals. I personally love over grown (even out of control) yards, with long grass and lots of local flowers and insects. And why do people kill the local plants and replace them with exotic flowers that don’t belong in their area? It seems like a desperate need for control over nature.
    Eliminating chemicals from gardens seems like such a simple thing to do. I wish that people would realize that their actions have far reaching consequences. When someone puts chemicals into the environment, the consequences are not only felt by the individual doing so. It spreads to animals, water, and other people.
    The idea of a standard of proof of harm is ridiculous. As is the idea that we don’t want to make humans into experimental subjects – because that is exactly what we are doing by throwing untested chemicals into the environment.

    • I’m with you on not understanding the push for “boring perfect yards covered with chemicals”, Isabel. The brown strips resulting from spray seem pretty unattractive to me as well.
      You make some very good points in support of paying attention to what we are doing– which should rationally lead to cutting back on toxic chemical use in the homes and yards in which our children play.

  82. What change occurs in people from picking dandelion ‘flowers’ for mom as a kid to attempt to poison ‘these weeds’ out of existence? Is it peoples cultivated perception of nature; manicured lawns, edged sidewalks, trees perfectly spaced and equal in height and fullness dotting a well-lit road, gardens free of weeds and bugs and flowering plants that bloom in perfect sequence. The thought that chaos is bad, planned cultivation is perfection. This domineering and cultivated view greatly benefits the companies that make chemicals but wrecks havoc on the natural world. And what is it doing for the kids picking dandelion ‘flowers’ for their mom’s today; how are the chemicals from the weed killers impacting their bodies? Does anyone stop to question the increased cancer rates, immune-deficiency disorders, neurological and metabolic disorders? Instead of stopping the use of the chemicals that have been linked to these medical issues, more chemicals are being introduced to fight these diseases. Does anyone view this as insanity?

    • Startling image of innocent children picking the toxified dandelion flowers for their moms today, as well it might be, Rory. I would be with you in viewing this as insanity.
      A student, along with her friends, used to pick strawberries for extra school money as children: the only trouble was that they would play in the spray from the spray trucks that came through the field to cool off in. By the time they reached 30, only my student remained cancer free among her strawberry picking buddies–and one of her friends had already died of breast cancer.
      This is a terrible toll to exact on a group of children playing in a strawberry field.

  83. While it is obvious to me that pesticides are harmful to the environment and are poisens, I had no idea that they could seep through the ground and end up in ground water. I always had assumed that they were absorbed by the soil or plants and weeds. I also didn’t know they were linked to so many diseases and genetic problems. I find it absurd that if we know that they cause these things and that the pesticides will eventually come back to haunt us, we still use them so often. It is very like western culture to ignore that which doesn’t affect them immediately.

    • Thoughtful response, Caleb–and things just keeping getting worse as long as lobbyists skew our laws and allow corporate license to pollute. While the EU is taking more chemicals off the market (247 of them recently) because of their dangers, US industry is complaining to the World Trade Organization that the EU’s care for human health gets in the way of their earnings and thus violates the WTO agreements supporting free trade.

  84. Thank you for this article! I appreciated the listing of ways to end the war at the end of your article and was a little shocked at the cancer statistics that surround the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. I guess I was a little blind- while I knew fertilizers had an effect on water quality I did not think about how they would effect our own risk for cancer. Yikes! Makes me glad I don’t use fertilizer or pesticides on my lawn!

    What are your favorite websites for finding native seeds? All my non pesticide and fertilizer use has left a garden of weeds and I am in no shortage of dandilions. I don’t use any chemicals on my lawn because I live on the water- to do that would be a slap in the face to what I stand for. However, I think a yard of native grasses might do better than my yard of whatever was planted there before I moved in. Any suggestions?

    • Thanks for your comment and question, Raquel. I know local native plant nurseries in the Pacific NW, but that is not where you are, but perhaps you can find something applicable or linked here: http://www.seedambassadors.org/.
      These folks are all saving local seeds everywhere…
      And thank you for not using chemicals on your yard: if you needed any more data, there is a current epidemic of kidney failure in Sri Lanka due to the high cadmium levels in some of the phosphate fertilizers they are using.

  85. There are numerous resources for gardeners who want to grow native plants. The problem is that many gardeners think if it will grow in their location then that must mean that it is fine to plant. This essay makes me think about Japanese Knot Weed. It is used in a number of dishes and is marketed as a great plant to grow. However, the species is highly invasive and almost impossible to get rid of once it has been established. Another species that this makes me think of is blackberry. You cant drive anywhere along the highways in Oregon without seeing blackberries growing wildly on their own. Just because it CAN grow does not mean the it SHOULD be grown. Taking time to do the research can pay off in the end.

    • All of us might well make a little if not a large space in our yards and gardens for the native plants that have been so important to our ecosystems for so many years. An added benefit to native plants is that they often need less care (water and fertilizer) than other plants– though they may also be hard to re-plant or establish (even if you plant them from a pot).
      Often there is a native replacement for every plant we might otherwise grow.
      I think there is a place for non-native plants, if one is judicious– as were the Gaviotans with their pine trees, which eventually brought back the native rainforest.
      Unfortunately, knotweed is a serious problem that is not alone in the category of invasives. I do have a serious problem with the use of herbicides and pesticides to eradicate such invasives, since I think the cure is worse than the problem.

    • Good point Amanda. When we buy seeds to plant, a little reasearch will tell you if it can grow in your area. Whereas it should tell you if you should plant it in your area. Bringing in non-native species in plants and animals is a huge problem, and can ruin enviornments.

  86. Came upon this article by chance, great job?
    Did you know there was a Dandelion Appreciation Society? There you will find my thoughts on the same subject you wrote about, and other information on the uses of this precious plant. Please check it out: http://www.thedandelionappreciationsociety.org/p/extraneous-thoughts.html

    • Delightful idea and site, Alan! As a beekeeper, I have come to realize how important dandelions are to insect pollinators and I recently watched a goldfinch methodically feed on a dandelion flower. We are not only poisoning ourselves, but the creatures that pollinate our food crops and bring us joy when we declare war on such healing plants because they are out of our sphere of control. I appreciate your comment and your work.

  87. Such a shame that pesticides and herbicides can cause so much damage to a population of insects. I worked on a chemical test farm for 2 summers and saw first hand the amount of pesticides and herbicides that were being tested. I agree that they are bad for the enviornment, but I can also see it from the other point of view. For each chemical test, we would spray some plants with the chemicals, and leave others as they are. More often than not, the plants without pesticides would be attacked more by insects, yielding less of the plant.

    • The trouble with pesticide application in this scenario is that it might seem successful in the short run, but be entirely different in the long run– due to resistance and destruction of beneficial insects, for instance. Thus in one recent study Colorado grain crops lost twice as much to pests than they did before spraying began in those fields forty years ago.
      Now we have some wise science on organics– why not use it?
      Thanks for your comments.

    • I appreciate your thoughts, Troy. I agree that it is overwhelming the amount of chemicals that are put into the environment. I can relate to what you saw in your work. I have worked in noxious weed control and seen how effective chemicals can be at controlling these weeds. However, we also used biological methods such as insects that feed on the weed and goats which target the noxious weed species. The biological methods take more time and a little more effort, but once they get going they are a safer method that does not rely on chemical control. I think it is an evolving process and, hopefully, we will continue to develop safer, sustainable, and more economical methods.

      • Thanks for sharing your important perspective here, Brandt, regarding wise ways to use technology that works in the long run. I am thinking, for instance, of the backlash of broad spectrum pesticides that wipe out beneficial insects as the same time that targeted species develop resistance to them.

      • Nice point, Brandt. This time of mutual nurturance is deeply ingrained in us–and I think this a point that bodes well for the future of our life on earth. Thanks for your comment.

    • Yes there is a difficult balancing act that a farmer needs to decide when using pesticides. They could leave their plants open for attack and lose their investment or they can use pesticides to limit the possibility of insects attacking the plants. I agree with what Professor Holden wrote in that Organic pesticides might be a better option. Yet I can sympathize somewhat with the farmer in that they are constantly being pressured to reduce the cost of producing crops at the same time that organic solutions are more expensive than what has been used in the past. The farmers really can’t just move on and choose a new career path because they have invested their whole life and family’s lives in the agricultural industry. There would be little work outside of farming that they could actually retreat to if they were not able to compete in business. Many of the small farmers are losing their farms that they have had in the family for centuries due to not being able to compete against the crop giants.

      • The trouble with pesticide use, as a grape grower in transition from commercial to organic put it, is that it is an addictive process. Once used, the pesticides set up the conditions in the field where more and more of them are needed as farmers become more and more vulnerable to pests and diseases as their local ecosystem (including good insect populations and soil) become less resilient. As this farmer put it, it is like the same person who makes you sick (the pesticide salesman) appearing in the guise of doctor to make you well.
        We might well offer some financial support for transitioning farmers (some local communities are doing this on a grass roots level through community supported agriculture and local marketing) rather than giving away money to ethanol producers whose product takes more fossil fuel to produce than it yields in energy.

  88. I think it is important to consider what we are putting into the environment when we use chemicals and pesticides. Just as any technology or science is created, it goes through phases of change and development. In our “war on weeds” we have gone through phases of chemical control and we are now on the verge of a new phase, organic/biological. As technologies progress they should improve, we have that potential here. To improve our methods from expensive and potentially harmful chemicals toward means that are less costly and more natural.

    • Thoughtful idea of technological evolution here, Brandt. Yours is a hopeful vision that, given care for both the environment and the human community, we will modify our technology in terms of our learning. Technology, of course, does not change in a vacuum. The Secret History of the War on Cancer, written by a Nobel Laureate and former researcher at the National Cancer Society, documents how industry leaders have knowingly hampered the well being of their workers and public health to safeguard their profits for at least a hundred years. We have known that particular pesticides have created Parkinson’s Disease for at least two decades–and still we sell them as more people suffer from this disease. If only we applied all we knew with integrity, we might even be exercising leadership in the international community rather than lagging behind the EU and Canada in matching our research to our public health choices.

  89. There has been a push, at least in the Los Angeles area, for safer lawn care products that are used on plants within the home. I’m not sure how organic or clean these pesticides are but there is a small gardening store that I go to that sells products that are supposed to be toxic-free and organic. I’m not sure how they come up with this claim because when I used the pesticide it looked just like any other pesticide. They also promoted the use of yellow sticky paper for certain winged insects. It seemed to work, however, it took a while before all of the insects had been removed from the house plant that had them. Your essay got me wondering about how they could call these pesticides organic and so I’ll have to ask them next time I’m in the store.

    The problem with dandelions being used for different good purposes is that a single person with several dandelions in their front yard will have no use for the dandelions. They would like to get rid of those weeds so that their lawn looks exactly like the Better Homes and Gardens journal. I think there needs to be a push to come up with better non-toxic methods that can be used by lawn owners to manage their lawn while still maintaining a toxic free space.

    • I know there is a push in certain school districts in LA spearheaded by parents, to use safer lawn care products– perhaps that spilled over into a larger concern as well, Jon. “Organic” is as capable of being misused as any other English word with money attached to it.
      Your mention of the Better Homes and Gardens ideal leads me to suggest we also reconsider our aesthetics. I have seen a pretty great change in the Eugene area in this regard in the last few decades.

  90. I never could understand the need to remove Dandelions and Clover from our yards when people will pay a lot of money to get them surved to them in a salad or tea. Why do we cultivate plants that grow in the wild yet kill the wild version? These things are food plain and simple. I actually encourage my kids to spread the seeds around our yard. I feed them to my bearded dragon and make tea out of the clover flowers. If someone wants to control insects then use natural means. Beer is great for getting rid of slugs, lady bugs and preying mantis are wonderful for getting rid of garden pests, and plant a rhododendron and peppermint to get rid of ants and mosquitos. We do not need the chemicals!

    • I agree that natural ways of “pest” control should be used before going straight for the chemical equivalent. People tend to go straight for the most extreme measure to ensure success without taking into consideration what damage they might be doing. It can lead to large scale damage and pollution if not monitored.

    • I agree that chemicals are not needed and am excited to hear your tip of using beer to control slugs. I love creating natural pest-deterrents from whatever I have around me. I knew chili pepper water fights numerous bugs such as mealy and the cabbage moth, so when my favorite hot sauce started to smell a little funky…you can guess where it went! I thinned it out with water and then poured a little circle around the dirt of my okra plants, found that it worked greatly in stopping ants and mealy bugs.

      • hey thanks for the tip. I did not know about chili pepper water. To use beer to combat slugs just put a little bit in a tuna can or cat food can and place it level with the ground. For some reason slugs love it and will drown themselves in it. At least they go happy. ^_^

      • Thanks for sharing these tips, Priti. A bit of hot sauce also deters squirrels attracted to soft ground in which to bury their nuts– and eat a tender plant at the same time.

    • Thanks for sharing some alternatives to poisons, Tamara– there are many of them out there these days, though they may not give an instant and dramatic results (like those horrid brown spots herbicides create in one’s lawn). One thing about lady bugs, etc. They need a habitat they like. My next door neighbors got them for years and they flew to my yard. Now I have quite a thriving lady bug population indeed!

  91. There are numerous resources for gardeners who want to grow native plants. The problem is that many gardeners think if it will grow in their location then that must mean that it is fine to plant. This essay makes me think about Japanese Knot Weed. It is used in a number of dishes and is marketed as a great plant to grow. However, the species is highly invasive and almost impossible to get rid of once it has been established. Another species that this makes me think of is blackberry. You cant drive anywhere along the highways in Oregon without seeing blackberries growing wildly on their own. Just because it CAN grow does not mean the it SHOULD be grown. Taking time to do the research can pay off in the end.

  92. The irrational tick of controlling “wild nature” of our front lawns is due to the disconnect of humans and nature. There are numerous types of “weeds” that are extremely medicinal. While farming in Hawaii, I learned that nearly every weed I was eager to pull had some sort of healing property. One particularly invasive vine called “honuhonu” actually alleviate stings from centipedes to mosquito bites because of its ability to pull the venom out from the skin. Another termed “maile honu” was highly medicinal when made into a tea due to treat infection and congestion. I was happy to find out that my garden not only contained food sources but was a natural pharmacy of untapped potential. If we had a better understanding of the power a plant may have, we would fear it less and wouldn’t go through such unhealthy lengths to remove it.

    • I know of two common native plants in the Pacific Northwest, which most people perceive as “weeds”, which have really neat properties. The first is the stinging nettle, which- just like it sounds- gives you itchy, stinging welts if you brush against it. However, it is possible to harvest the leaves without stinging yourself by plucking them between your fingertips where your skin is thicker. Steam them and you have a delightful green much like spinach, full of vitamin C. Should you happen to get stung while harvesting them simply look for curly dock, which often grows among the nettles. Simply crush up this plant’s leaves and rub it against the welts; it makes the stinging stop immediately! I spent much of my childhood rubbing curly dock leaves against stinging nettle welts inflicted from hours of exploring the woods and wetlands near my home.

      • Nettle is not only high in vitamin C but minerals–and has one of the highest protein percentages of any green; further, the tincture of fresh leaves is an effective hay fever remedy for some. Great plant! It does grown on fertile ground; on the San Juan islands, native people put in early potato crops where the nettle also grew, as it was a sign of fertile ground.

    • Great point, Priti, you shared some very important knowledge here. There is a bit of heedless ignorance in obliterating everything but one species in our lawns– shows our blindness to the things that actually grow in our yards.

  93. How ironic it is that dandelions, whose presence inspires many people to dump toxic chemicals all over their yards, posses the healing power to help cleanse those same toxic chemicals out of our overburdened livers! I support and advocate for landscaping with native plants and eliminating lawns altogether. Yards full of native plants can be beautiful, tasteful, and require no chemical inputs and no watering.

  94. Recently, a friend of our’s just found out that her dad has a very nasty brain tumor and was given only a few months to live. His life in the last 2 months has been terrible, the tumor has caused his mood to change and his memory to go. His entire life he has been a farmer, and used many many different pesticides and insecticides on his crops, when reading this weeks articles I thought of him and the possibility that this tumor may have been caused by those many chemicals. I ‘m sad, angry,and fearful that the U.S. is dragging their feet when it comes to the distribution of harmful chemicals. When drinking from my facet, eating or drinking from plastic containers, or washing my hair has the potential to harm me and my family it makes me feel helpless in an environment where I should feel safe. Yesterday at dinner I was discussing this article with my partner and she was baffled that chemicals poured down our drain or sprayed on our lawn ends up in our wells, rivers, streams, and lakes. I was shocked to say the least. I asked her “well, where do you think that they end up?” Her response was ” I don’t know?, I guess I never thought about it.” This is unfortunate, and maybe this is why the U.S. is so behind when it comes to environmental safety because we refuse to think about it.

    • I am very sorry about your friend’s dad, Kiley. That is a tragedy.
      Commercial farmers and agricultural workers have a high incidence of particular forms of cancer. Those who work to feed us deserve better.
      I am glad you were able to have that conversation with your partner– she wasn’t expressing anything that too many US citizens wouldn’t express. Now we have come to the time to “think about it”. Your knowledge and discussion is an important step in the right direction.

    • This is something I was trying to get across to the scientists with whom I was speaking today. In the scientific community there’s this idea that they need to err on the side of caution, which I generally agree with but I was trying to tell them that they’ve been cautious with their messages long enough. I told them it was time for them to speak LOUDLY in solidarity and inform the general public what they know to be true. These scientists are afraid to act because their predictions might be wrong. But my question to them was, “Well, if you act on your predictions (which are dire if no one does act), and it turns out that you were wrong, what harm have you done, since your actions were to make repairs to the ecosystem?”
      I’m sorry for your friend, and I think you are absolutely justified in your beliefs that her dad’s illness was caused by his exposure to chemicals. As Dr. Holden said, it’s a sad and terrible truth, and our food producers deserve much better.

      • Thank you for both a passionate and compassionate response, Neyssa. It is ironic that these particular scientists are being so aptly careful, while others who have been bought by the pharmaceutical company or big oil are faking experiments and publicly declaring as facts that about which they have no knowledge. We don’t need to make any shaky predictions in the case of salmon: we could just quote the difference in populations between a hundred years ago– or even decade ago–and today.

    • I’m sorry to hear about your friends dad. This article is very educational, I have a young friend who has been farming for two years now and I will be sure to let him of some of these side effects.

  95. One of the things that came out of the State of the Salmon conference I attended this week was the dire need for scientists to get their message out to the general public in a way that will make them take action. As we were brain storming on how to do that, one of the attendees stood and said, “The public knows more about chemicals to make their lawns free of dandelions than they do about the state of salmon. Why? Because they see it on TV.” It made me think of this essay, of course, and I thought it was such a funny coincidence that he would use that example specifically.

    Walking through a well-manicured, upper-class neighborhood one evening, my partner and I saw a for sale sign planted in the lawn of one of the homes. We love to look at houses so we stopped and were about to cross the lawn to retrieve one of the papers in the box when we noticed another little sign planted at the edge of the lawn close to us. It stated quite proudly “THIS LAWN TREATED WITH ROUNDUP.” Then we noticed it wasn’t as proud as it seemed. Above the large bold print was written in a much smaller font the simple word “CAUTION.” I can’t imagine why someone would want to live surrounded by a lawn they can’t enjoy because it will kill them!
    My landlord in a house I lived in several years ago tried to insist that I poison the dandelions in my lawn. Fortunately, the neighbors also had dandelions in their yard, and I was able to convince my landlords that I was keeping to the standard of the neighborhood. I also ranted a bit about not wanting poison around my children.

    • It is a concern that the use of herbicides such as RoundUp (which is advertised everywhere on TV, as you note– it would take some big bucks or some public control of the airwaves to give salmon equal time) are used everywhere. It is a strange and dangerous thing when we come to equate beauty with poison of any kind– which can only happen in the context of a worldview that sees control of nature as aesthetically pleasing. I am glad you won your own fight against toxins.
      And actually, this open house with their sign was one) protecting themselves against lawsuits should dogs or children pass by the open house and tromp across the lawn and have a bad reaction two) properly providing information in notifying people this was there. Unfortunately, far too many pesticides are applied with no notice and therefore possibility for others to avoid them. Of course, in the long run, no one can avoid these as they enter our drinking water, as discussed in another recent comment here.

    • It is sad that they words caution were in tiny letters and the words this lawn treated with roundup was bold and large. It would seem common sense that the chemicals are killing one organism that they will do some sort of damage to people.

      • Indeed, and since we are larger than blade of grass we ingest relatively more than the lawn does.
        I like your observations about the tiny “caution” and large “treated with roundup”– seems that we might well announce this in reverse emphasis.

  96. I realize that this may be a somewhat odd-seeming point, but if most people have an ‘average’ subdivision lot or even a ‘generous’ .2 or more acres, and if they dislike the dandelions so much, why not just dig them out and save the money otherwise spent on chemicals? My view may be a little skewed, but I was fortunate enough to be paid for digging them out of the lawn as a kid (of course the root needed to be included), and that has always seemed to me like a normal course of action for dealing with dandelions.

    Lawn chemicals are not a tremendous expense, but compared to the few dollars my brother and I earned while diligently digging out dandelions, they seem rather expensive. Our front lawn always looked fairly nice because of our work, but as our property stretched out over about .4 acres (most of which was not fenced and blended in with the neighbors’ unfenced properties), my parents were never overly concerned with a few weeds in the side or back yards.

    It seems sad to me that so much damage is done to various ecosystems for the sake of yard vanity, and it really irked me that chemical companies are trying to sue various provinces over a ban on what are essentially unnecessary and fairly new treatments. Then again, I feel similarly towards most vanity surgeries and body modifications, not including of course those that undergo them for health reasons or due to birth defects such as cleft palate. I also did not grow up in a subdivision, so I may have different aesthetic values than many people, and I understand that.

    • I think your term, “yard vanity” is an apt one, Adreinne. Too bad we don’t get the same pride for being able to proclaim that our yard is free of toxins and we have not been responsible for adding them to our air and water–or our neighbors’ yards and residents’ bodies.
      And those dandelion roots make a very healthy (coffee bitter) liver-detoxify8ing tea– but only, of course, if they haven’t been sprayed with toxins.

  97. This essay brought up some good points on why the US needs to adopt the EU’s “Precautionary Principle”. This principle states that if there is no data there is no market. The US lets to many products on to the market before they know the consequences of those products. A good example of this is when they biopsied breast material of women with cancer and found these women had twice the concentration of Organophosphates from pesticides in their system then women without breast cancer. This study just goes to show that the US government cares more for the profit of a few chemical companies then it does for its own people’s health. We need to do something to change this and develop our own “Precautionary Principle” before more of our family, friends and coworkers get harmed by these dangerous chemicals.

    • I completely agree Chris. To think that many other countries have already banned such chemicals and we still allow them to be legal is mind-boggling. Apparently people need to directly be killed by something for it to matter. Some of these chemicals are obviously not safe for women, children, or even men I am sure. And to see that Sweden had a direct drop in the rate of Cancer after outlawing some chemicals, we should do the same!

    • It is sad indeed when lobbyists help create a situation in which a government (as you note) cares more for the profit of a few than for the health of the many.
      The precautionary principle is a great way to protect our human and natural futures instead.

  98. As a kid I was given the chore of digging up dandelions in the yard. Then when I wanted to earn money I would go around to the neighbors and clear their lawns of dandelions. This act taught me that I had to work hard for my money and that I was out side doing something. It seems silly that people complain of their kids sitting in front of the tv or computer so much that they do not make them get out and pull weeds instead of buying weed killer.

    • I guess you and other kids who had this experience were the truly non-toxic weed killer, Nathan!

    • This is a great idea! When I was younger I would shovel snow or mow the lawn. I like the idea of picking dandelions for money, it’s something easy that a small child could do and no chemicals are needed. I actually kind of like dandelions, but not so much when they are popping out of cracks in my walkway. When I have children I plan on implementing this, it teaches that chemicals don’t solve problems, and maybe my child will learn to appreciate nature from being outside all the time.

  99. Like others have previously mentioned, paying children to pick weeds seems like an excellent idea. It allows children to get exercise, sunshine, a little cash and keeps them free of pesticides and other nasty chemicals. The U.S. has outlawed some chemicals in the past and needs to continue to do so. We can not let all these other countries continue to outlaw unhealthy substances while we allow the same substances to tear down our bodies. It doesn’t seem logical at all to me. Not to mention, dandelions do have benefits….and I can think of many uglier things that could be in the yard.

  100. I visited the link to the University of Maryland site to read about the benefits of dandelions. While none of benefits were spectacular, its interesting to see them portrayed as something other than a nuisance. Hopefully future studies will be better designed to confirm their benefits, then maybe people won’t be so concerned with removing them.

  101. I have also wondered why dandelions are hated so much. I have often looked up a yard full of plants, weeds and all, and thought of how beautiful it looks. Not in the typical manicured lawn but in that it is life growing and green popping out of ever crack it can find. I have lived in Las Vegas almost my entire life, except when I moved to Oregon to go to school and one day it rained and it continued for a couple days. This already being an unusual occurrence was even more bizarre when everything started blooming. It’s one of those rare times that not many people get to experience, but the desert opened up and green came up from everywhere. Mostly weeds. If you were to go where native plants were you would see a spectacular view of flowers and colors. My backyard was green even if it was with weeds, but to me it was beautiful. To this I would never spray.

    Besides this the other thing I have been wondering after reading many of these essays, is why does it seem like the US lags behind in so many areas? Why is it that while it seems like every one else is stepping in the right direction we are just standing still or moving backwards? I just don’t get why in the EU and many other parts of the world they understand that the precautionary principle needs to happen in order to keep the population healthy and the US doesn’t. I guess not that it doesn’t, but that it refuses to listen and makes it so damn difficult to change anything. It even seems like they make it so difficult that many just give up or give in. Just as the “Why Genetically Engineered Foods Won’t Feed the World”, where the farmer who had gmo seeds blow into his yard. Monsanto sued him and it seems like it was such a pain that even though he eventually won he still burned his natural seeds that had taken time to create. There is something that definitely needs to change in our system.

    • I think that if we appreciate natural life, we will experience an aesthetic like the one you expressed here. It is an important consideration that we not just accept the “ugly” status of the dandelion but question it as we determine our own changing community aesthetic. For instance, I find it heartening that front yard gardens and/or “wild” yards are more acceptable today than twenty years ago, when a Wisconsin homeowner was sued and force to plow under her wild yard.
      I also think it is very important to ponder why the US lags behind in caring for the health of its citizens– hopefully such pondering will bring up to ways to remedy this- beginning perhaps with small steps in personal choices.

  102. Wow what a great enlightening article, I had no idea weed killers were so harmful. I live in a suburb were homes and yards are underlying judged, and even in some cases warning are sent in the mail for things out of place. Our neighborhood is part of a homeowners association and if things are not kept up on your property to certain standards you can be find, funny thing is we have to pay homeowners dues too.

    • An odd playing out of supposedly “democracy” indeed, since the homeowners association you are paying dues to consists of people like yourself. Homeowners associations can be a problem in terms of forced pesticide use to maintain particular standards, but some of these are changing too. Now you at least have some information to share on the standards imposed on you.

    • So you actually pay for people to tell you how your house/property should look. Than if you don’t conform they can fine you. Where does that fine money go, and who makes the standards? I live on post at FT. Sill and the only thing they complain about is the height of your grass. Also every spring we have the option to go to Self Help and get bags of grass seed for free. I think your homeowner ship should give you free grass seed since they want uniformity yards.

  103. I agree there are so many chemicals that we use day to day but nothing it labeled as this will cause cancer. We wonder why the rate of cancer keeps rising this is because our bodies are ingesting chemicals everyday with the food we eat that has pesticides on it and the air that we breathe that is polluted. Not to mention the water we drink that is polluted with chemicals from fertilizers and other pollutants. Then we add more pollutants to our body by the chemicals we use at home to fertilize our lawns or kill weeds with. No wonder why the cancer rate is rising with all these chemicals in our bodies what’s to be expected. But I do agree that many chemicals are not labeled property and that if people knew these chemicals caused cancer upfront they would not use them.

    • I am hoping people would not use such chemicals if they knew their dangers, Christi. I also think there is a tendency toward denial with respect to their use today– the idea that somehow this will not cause ME a problem and I can continue to do what I wish for my convenience.
      Time to change that, yes?
      Thanks for your comment.

    • You illustrate, quite nicely, in your comment the cycle or process that chemicals can take to get into our bodies and yes indeed we do question how cancer is on the rise? I recently found this quote by John Muir that I really like “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe”. It is amazing to me how people do not see the connections between all life – that even though we may put fertilizers on an upraised bed of soil it will eventually seep and move its way through the soil or with the water and into the drains or into our water table. It’s all connected and we cannot box actions in or say “if I put it here in this one patch it will stay there”. I wonder at what point did we being to categorize and separate things and lose sight of the connections? I feel as if there is some flaw in our education as children where when we learn science we learn it as biology, chemistry, historical, natural, etc. – we learn it individually and no one shows us the line or connection between it all. We need to connect all the pieces and teach children (as you and Mr. Muir note) that everything is connected, one action has a domino effect and spurs more actions.

      • Very nice perspective, Michelle. I think an important point is not only all the toxics we carelessly spread about when we forget that we are all interconnected, but how small we make ourselves.

  104. I’ve always liked dandelions (not growing in between the cracks in my sidewalk), they brighten up a lawn and are fun to play with as a child. When enough are in a lawn, it’s a golden sea of flowers, and I don’t see why people constantly go to such lengths to get rid of them. I don’t like using chemicals for lawn/garden purposes because there is usually a safer remedy. If grass doesn’t want to grow, plant an appropriate garden where the vegetation planted enjoys that sort of soil. For plants growing in between cracks on the sidewalk, I boil up some water and dump it on them. It kills the plant completely within a couple of days. There are generally non toxic home remedies for every situation. Adapt to the environment, there is no need to change it to make a lawn “pretty.” All the chemicals we use are going into our water supplies. They cause cancer in us and problems in wildlife. The precautionary principle should be the U.S.’s new policy. Living in Germany has shown me the benefits of strict rules on environmental safety. The U.S. should join the European Union in banning harmful chemicals.

    • It is true that in nearly every situation there is a home remedy and harmful chemicals need not every be used. Our instant gratification society has lost all sense of patience and therefore wants quick results. Unlike waiting a few days for the weeds to die, people want them dead now. This sad “new normal” has us missing out on so much and alongside that we are inserting harmful chemicals into the environment. Delusions has us wanting a “magic pill” rather than the natural one.

  105. I feel like there is a lack of emphasis about the cycle of water, the essence of life on our planet, in public education. Sure, earth science and general biology classes covers the concept but the impact of chemicals and the different ways poisons get into our groundwater are typically glossed over. I’ve known about the process for many years based on high school knowledge but only recently came to a better understanding after taking a crop soil science class at OSU. Certainly high school students could digest the basics that this class offered. Maybe public education needs to raise the bar a bit in the k-12 curriculum? Maybe some are and my school fell short. Either way, the understanding that just about everything makes its way into some source of water, our planet’s water, should be in the forethought of everyone as we flush, dump, spray, spill, burn, ect.
    As for labeling and tricky names for pesticides & herbicides, my recent favorite is: “Raid Earth Options”. Really?
    I

    • Humans are based on a water economy. ll the major cities are built by fresh water rivers and around the world populations are larger in countries that have larger amounts of fresh water sources. It seems as if people would rather just find out the water is contaminated and then figure out a way to clean it up later. Pollution prevention is our best option because it becomes more costly when things do become polluted. Since people will continue to pollute going forward, we need to discover technologies that will lessen the impact of pollutants on our environment.

    • Harold, you’re absolutely right, there needs to be more of a focus on the crisis that we as humans are facing, especially in educating young people. It’s almost like religion in the schools, however, it’s something that is considered a teacher’s own opinion, not based on fact, and as with religion, parents don’t want their children to be taught something so subjective.

  106. I really liked this article because I have never understood why people hate Dandelions so much? It has always boggled my mind – mostly because I have always really liked Dandelions, well I prefer the wild weedier flowers to the pruned ones. In fact, in the springtime I am one of those people who pick the yellow dandelions to put in salads and on pastries or baked goods (to sugar them up and top on a cupcake can make anyone smile!). Where I live and work in Alaska I am constantly telling stories of the Dandelion to my clients – as Dandelions are not a native weed to Alaska but came from Seattle stuck on the soles of the gold rushers shoes. As the saying goes, “if you ever see a Dandelion [in Alaska] it means a gold rusher has once walked there”. Also, Dandelions are a HUGE source of “junk” food for bears in the springtime when they first awake and food is scarce. Bears LOVE Dandelions and sometimes you will see 3 or 4 walking the highway just chomping on Dandelions – it is like a drug for them and they get stoned when they eat them but they sure do love them. I always tell my bikers, that if we ride past a bear lets hope he is eating a Dandelion, stoned so he doesn’t even know what passing by him! Often times after I tell a story I get a tourist who just riles about how much they hate Dandelions….I just don’t get it!

    • I also heard that dandelions came to Seattle because the wife of a pioneer doctor brought them along for their medicinal purposes– ironic, given our concerted war on them now.
      Seems to me your love of dandelions only brings you joy whereas the dislike of dandelions on the part of those who want their lawns picture perfect lawns and apply chemicals to get there leads to many destructive consequences for our whole (human and more than human) community.
      I had never known that bears eat dandelions! Delightful image of this here!
      Thanks for the thoughtful and fun points!

  107. My sister has been practicing a raw diet. Lately she has been raving about dandelion greens. However, on the other end of that, our father prides himself in having the greenest lawn on the street, meaning no dandelions. The bonus is that he doesn’t use any weed killer, he just pulls them out one at a time as they begin to sprout…and then gives them to my sister! I haven’t been able to get myself to try her dandelion salad, or the ‘smoothie’ she adds them too, but I do appreciate her lack of waste and the ambition to continue living a healthy lifestyle. Just like with the essays from lesson six, I feel that pesticides are one of those government approved vices that will ultimately do more harm than good. I would like to see a movement towards creating ‘natural products.’ We can easily solve all of these chemically created dangers by focusing on finding safer byproducts. The only downside is that usually the ‘natural’ or ‘safe’ products are way more expensive, pushing a consumer to purchase the more harmful of the two based on price alone. Does anyone know of a company that is researching safer alternatives? I feel like we focused on this with sustainable housing, and then with electric cars….what about with our food sources and nature?

    • Sounds like a great reciprocity between your father’s image of the green lawn and your sister’s use of dandelions, Jamie! Maybe we should suggest that to more families!
      Obviously sustainable agriculture is important for the future of our planet– maybe as important as any choice we might make.

  108. Some weeds do like nice but people are perfectionists and want that all green grass. I don’t care what grows in the lawn as long as it is cut. Some types of weeds can pose a problem in certain areas. Invasive species that do not belong can actually push out native species that are better for the land. For example, in the Oak Openings region in Ohio has a problem with a weed called Garlic Mustard. This weed can spread so rapidly that other plant species will be affected. The only way these weeds can be killed is with chemicals or by pulling out the root. If we let it grow without controlling it than these weeds would literally be everywhere with noting else but grass growing. People should consider the different types of chemicals they are using and the potential impact it can have on the environment. Soils might become contaminated and potential cause problems growing anything in the area in the future. The soil may leach into the groundwater which will affect animal species or contaminate wells that humans use.

  109. I have always heard how pesticides are horrible for humans, but they are still being used. I am amazed that America is so far behind EU as far a safety. Why is data and research from other countries not applicable to the US. In my military career i have used Round-up often. During spring and summer any types of grass or weeds in cracks of side walks and our Motor pool are frowned upon. So we often go by Round-up and use it instead of pick them out of the cracks every other week.

  110. I agree with the statement that the aesthetic beauty valued by having a perfect a lawn never really made sense to me. I used to watch my father struggle to try to keep our yard like that even though it was an whole acre. After a couple of years of constant weed pulling and several applications of round-up he gave up and just let it be. But again this pressure to have a perfect lawn is completely arbitrary and I find that people who need to worry about the impression or power they assert over others tend to worry more about this onward beauty displayed in the small plot of grass outside their house. Another think I find is interesting is that most people do not know of the harmful affects of pesticides, there is a clear lack of public knowledge on these thing and how the micropollutants that are a biproduct of them can get into ground water and through all filtration processes and into tap water. ‘Silent spring’ may have brought to light the problems that DDT had on the ecosystem but I don’t seem much of that anymore. There are warning labels on the product but cigarettes has that too and people still smoke. This still goes back to the disconnect that people feel from nature. Until the day that they cannot buy their salmon at the super most people won’t care. Standards of beauty need to change, as well as standards of what good for the earth, also how the earth is treated.

    • The lack of public knowledge with regard to pesticide harms is not only sad but frightening, Kayli. I agree with you on the aesthetic of a “perfect lawn”– I actually find a diverse growing platform (with even a few surprises of native plants that show up on their own) much more satisfying.
      It sounds like you may well be one of the ones that is helping to spread the word!

  111. (new)

    First I had no idea dandelions were so versatile. I had heard about eating them but have actually never tried them. Perhaps I will since my lawn has a few of them (which my daughter loves to pick). I find it amazing that there is evidence of the harm that these pesticide do to humans and yet the companies that produce them are able to persuade our government to turn a blind eye. It all boils down to money. I wonder though in our current times, regarding health care if it wouldn’t be monetarily prudent to start removing some of these to reduce our health care crisis. Isn’t cancer one of the top three killers? Seems like removing pesticides would put a big dent in that number.

    • Cancer is one of our top killers and as the President’s Cancer Report found the year before last, removing toxic chemicals from our environment would indeed put a “big dent” in cancer cases. In fact, the report found that the vast majority of cancers are the result of human-caused environmental causes.

  112. The use of chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides has become rampant in most of the suburban areas of southern California and it seems that a persons worth here is determined not by his willingness to accept the natural world but instead for his ability to keep every inch of “his” outdoor space meticulously cleared of anything other than what he chooses to grow. This has led to almost obsessive use of chemical controls.
    As an oral example of this problem, when I used to teach, I liked to tell a story of a town which was proud of 3 things; big vegetables, big trout, and lots of eagles to watch. To continue growing their prized veggies the people began using large amounts of fertilizer, which created weeds and pests, which they used poison to try to control. Soon they noticed that the Eagles were fewer and the trout were fewer and smaller. One citizen realized that they’re drive for perfect rule over nature was causing poisons and nutrient loads to enter the water where it was passed from algae and invertebrates, to fishes and amphibians and ultimately killing the Eagles. Important lessons which are rarely considered in these parts.

    • I am glad you are passing on these lessons. It is unfortunate for all but a few chemical companies that there is such a fight to get the local yards under control
      Sounds like lost more info needs to be spread.
      Your story exactly the one Rachel Carson documented so many years ago– let’s hope we learn sooner rather than later.
      I am also betting those perfectly ordered yards take lots of water as well.

    • Paul,

      Your story is a great lesson that describes the misuse of pesticides. I lived in Central CA and like you the prize of your home is worth more if your front yard is clean and green, and is the reason why many Americans rely heavily on pesticides such as Round-Up and Weed-B gone to clean up their front and back yards. What we don’t realize is that using these chemicals not only destroys plants but our environment as well and especially the environment of that surrounds our wildlife. Even if the bottle states that it is harmful to the environment the individual response will be, “ Well one person using it won’t harm the environment, when the exact same thing millions of Americans are saying all across the country, and that individual thought is the reason why many natural habitats as well as wildlife is becoming extinct. Something needs to be done about this and unfortunately big corporations have are able to spend millions of dollars in advertisement to promote their products but the state and local government cannot spend close to ¼ of that money on advertising the reason why not to use those chemicals. It is a sad world in which we live in and not care for. Thank you for sharing your story.

      Moises

      • Thanks for your response as well, Moises. Your statement that it is a “sad world” that we “live in and do not care for” is a pointed one. Living without care for the lives that share our world certainly impoverishes our own in every way.
        The attitude that one’s actions don’t matter is demeaning to the one who holds it as well dangerous to a society filled with persons subscribing to it.
        Perhaps the media ad blitz that tells us we must buy these “killer” products would have less appeal to an audience that did not subscribe to the worldview that told us humans must express their control over nature to the extent that we place that impulse to control over other not only the lives of other species–but also the health of ourselves and our children.

  113. I took a class on poisons this year and the professor made the point that the science focused on the effects of toxins on humans is always behind, because it is often so many years before any of the effecfs are seen. In some cases even the next generation. However, it seems to me that the utmost caution would always be practiced, considering the devastating effects we have seen from some of these chemicals.
    Weighing the negative aspects of one’s yard having some weeds against the effects of chemicals on our land, food, in our water, etc, would seem a good way to show that the negative effects of the chemicals far outweigh the weeds.

    • Indeed, if knowing the effects of toxins are always behind– often by as much as a generation (and sometimes, research tells us, they do not even show up until a grandchild’s generation, it seems we ought to making and using a whole less of them!
      Good point about weighing negative effects against one another, Kendra. If we want a weed gone from our yard simply to bolster our own vanity in having a neat yard, it seems like no contest to me.

  114. Dr. Holden,

    Herbicides have long been the root cause of many of American health issues, those who live in agricultural areas have a higher risk of developing a serious health issue as well as their family members. When I lived in CA many of my friends worked in the field picking fruits or other vegetables (Primarily artichokes, lettuce and strawberries) many of them became ill and some to the point where they could not even get up from their beds and move. One of my friend son was born with heart issues due to the amount of chemicals that he was bringing home in his clothes and his wife had to wash. It saddens me to know that his son died shortly after a couple of weeks of intensive surgeries. Pesticides, herbicides, insecticides destroy our natural system rather than control a normal occurrence of nature. Major Corporation have claimed that weeds are bad and having them in your house will only cause problems and perhaps issue when reselling your home, but this is all a lie, how can weeds that have been around so long be harmful to humans? The only reason I can see is that society has painted a picture in the majority of Americans where your home and garden need to be weeds free in order to have a beautiful home. It will not be until the vast majority of Americans are sick and dying that society will realize that we are not only poisoning our plants but ourselves as well, it will be then that new studies and measurement to control these products will be made, but perhaps then it will already be too late to undo the damage already caused by our negligence. Thank you for sharing such a positive and provocative article that outlines the modern issue that we face as Americans every day and night.

    • Thank you for your feedback, Moises, as well as your touching expression of the personal costs of pesticide use. It is a sad part of this process that such human costs of pesticide use are too often passed on to agricultural workers– and because of the separation from our food production, the majority of us do not see this.
      One would think the recent President’s Cancer Panel, which showed the clear attribution of alarming increase in cancer rates to toxic chemical exposure, might have made more US citizens aware and ready to change their habits before we get to the stage of being “sick and dying” as an entire nation.

  115. I have done some consulting for private koi ponds, as well as recommending and selling suitable plants, fish, pumps, biological water treatments, and other goods. I have found that while koi ponds are enjoyable, beautiful, and worthy of hobby enthusiasm, those who have ponds often find themselves in need of solutions. They turn to chemicals such as algaecides–harmful products that are easily misused despite the warning “It is against Federal law to use this product in a manner inconsistent with its labeling.” I have also noticed that the more these products are used, the more dynamic the algae blooms–the ponds develop a chemical dependency for the algae-killing chemicals. I made it my mission to inform these guests of the problems with chemical treatments, offering other solutions (like blocking excessive nutrients or light). I have found that many private landowner’s who have a koi pond in Northern Colorado are not aware of pond ecology, not to mention the water and wildlife laws that govern even private land here. There is a need for education and local cooperation to improve the conditions and practices of ponds, because they do offer various values to backyards and gardens. More should be done to address this issue and other dangerous chemicals so readily available to consumers.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience and a bit of your knowledge here, John. It leads to some tragic results that these chemicals are so readily available to consumers– who, unlike professionals, do not have to follow label directions (or at least often don’t do so).
      There is an especially pointed observation you made about those who build koi ponds and yet have no knowledge of the ecological functioning of such ponds. It might be a worthy enterprise to try to educate all homeowners of the ecology of their yards (and they and their children’s relationship to that ecology).

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