Is that green lawn worth compromising the health of your family – furry, or otherwise?
BY LINDA BONVIE
Reaching the milestone age of 17 is a feat for any dog, but to do so with vitals such as heart, lungs, liver and kidneys in tip-top shape and a hearty appetite is a real achievement.
This is the case with my pup, Bumby. You could say he’s in amazingly good health for his age… except, that is, for his brain, which has been seriously damaged by repeated seizures. Bumby’s senior years certainly aren’t what they could have been.
Like his veterinarians (who have conducted numerous tests on him), you could label his seizures as “idiopathic,” another way of saying “for unknown reasons.” And that would be a valid diagnosis. But I have my own idea of what might have been the cause – Bumby’s frequent exposure to lawn chemicals, notably pesticides and herbicides.
These chemicals, by their very nature are meant to poison living things. Sure, the intended targets may be bugs or weeds, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be collateral damage. In fact, a quick look at some recent research tells us that this chemical arsenal we employ to keep our surroundings neat, green and insect-free is doing us much more harm than good.
And that’s especially true for the most vulnerable members of the family – kids and pets.
One especially frightening report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Council on Environmental Health found that although “acute” (where you know fairly quickly that something is wrong) pesticide poisonings in children in the U.S. are relatively “uncommon,” constant low-level exposures (including from food) are not. And a “growing body of epidemiologic evidence” points to “associations between exposure to pesticides in young children and a range of diseases from childhood cancers to autism.”
Landmark research from the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health discovered through pre-natal MRIs that when a fetus has been exposed to “low levels” of the commonly used pesticide chlorpyrifos, they observed “changes in brain structure.” (Although the EPA banned household uses of chlorpyrifos in 2001, it continues to be widely used on food crops, especially corn and other vegetables, fruit and nut trees, and can also be commercially applied on grass).
One of the central findings of these and numerous other studies is that exposure to such toxins can be very, very low – far below what the EPA considers to be “safe” – for harm to occur.
If you’re living in a condo, however, with most outdoor areas considered “common ground,” trying to tell such things to the powers that be will fall on deaf ears. “Just wait a few hours for it to dry and it’s safe,” is a common response. But that’s not exactly true, either.
Research by Purdue University scientists found that dogs were still excreting lawn chemicals in their urine a full 48 hours after grass areas they had walked on had been treated, and that exactly how long you need to wait before allowing your dog on sprayed grass “remains to be defined.”
Certainly, an acute poisoning makes it much easier to point to a specific cause. But as the AAP doctors reported, constant low-level pesticide exposure can do plenty of damage.
For Bumby, condo life meant a steady parade of gardeners armed with tanks of chemicals making sure that any dandelion daring to rear its golden head would soon wilt in a brown heap.
Of course not all the neighborhood dogs suffered from seizures (although a number of his canine pals developed cancer). But I believe that this ongoing chemical exposure (which can enter your home on shoes, and via “drift” through open windows) lowered Bumby’s seizure threshold enough that, despite being blessed with rather robust health, he reached a tipping point.
It seems, however, that no matter what news comes to light it will do little to damper the enthusiasm for spraying these poisons. On a trip to the Home Depot last summer I observed a towering display of on-sale Roundup (long known to be a carcinogen, and just recently found to up your cancer risk by more than 40 percent) being snapped up like a rare wine.
Now that Spring has arrived the TruGreen (formally ChemLawn!) trucks will be cruising around your neighborhood and putting brochures in your box. But if you really want to go green why not cancel the lawn or the stone spraying? Pick them, whack them, or just let them grow. Do it for your dog.
Bumby and I have since left the spray-happy condo life behind, but the damage was done.
He tries his best to stand tall on his short Bichon legs, but a lot of the time his head will tilt down and to the right and he’ll fall or start going in circles. He’s mostly or all blind, and either doesn’t care to hear what I have to say anymore or is deaf as well.
But every so often when someone visits he’ll wake up from a deep nap, point his nose upward and give his very best “woof, woof,” before nodding back to sleep.
Good boy, Bumby. Good boy.
Linda and Bill Bonvie are regular bloggers for Citizens for Health and the co-authors of Badditives: The 13 Most Harmful Food Additives in Your Diet – and How to Avoid Them.