Let's face it: when it comes to the environment, the news can be downright depressing. Climate change accelerating, animals becoming extinct, plastic pollution inundating us, and more. On top of that, the health statistics in the US are not encouraging either. Our planetary health is inextricably linked to our health. It can all feel completely overwhelming at times.
This is why we want to share a hopeful message with you. We all have more control then we might think. While we won't solve the big problems overnight, there are things that we can all start doing today that can make a real difference.
One of our central problems is a decline in wildlife habitat and resulting loss of biodiversity. Entomologist and Professor at the University of Delaware Douglas Tallamy warns on his website that "We have destroyed natural habitat in so many places that local extinction is rampant and global extinction accelerating. This is a growing problem for humanity because it is the plants and animals around us that produce the life support we all depend on. Every time a species is lost from an ecosystem, that ecosystem is less able to support us."
"More bad news!" you must be thinking. Yes, the situation is serious and we are close to a tipping point, but this problem is 100% reversible. This is within our control - we can fix this! And we can do it whether we own 100 acres, or live in a city.
We start by recognizing that we cannot live separately from nature, and that conservation areas and nature preserves are simply not enough to sustain our wildlife. Next, we must take the initiative to redesign our landscapes so that they can best support biodiversity, capture carbon, and keep our precious water resources clean. Putting this into practice is relatively straightforward. It revolves around restoring the native plants in our landscapes. These plants that were here before the first colonial settlers arrived, co-evolved with the insects, birds and other indigenous North American wildlife. Native trees, shrubs and flowers are the host plants to insects that are a key part of our food web.
For example, most people are familiar with milkweed being the only host plant for the monarch butterfly caterpillar.
It is the same with many other insects, butterflies and moths being a good example. They rely on their host plants to be able to lay their eggs. Nesting bird pairs rely on the caterpillars produced to feed their young. Did you know it takes 6000 to 9000 caterpillars to raise one clutch of chickadees?
By restoring the native plants in our landscapes, we can help increase the numbers of wildlife around us, protecting biodiversity, and preventing localized extinctions. By increasing the number of native plants in our yards, parks, and other public and private landscapes, we also help to store more carbon and cool rising temperatures. Plants and healthy soil filter our water, letting it percolate back into the earth replenishing groundwater.
The next time you are out in your community, take a look around at the way the landscapes are designed and being used. Do you see all the space that can be utilized to improve our environment, sustain pollinators and other wildlife and add beauty to our surroundings?
We already have a growing movement of people asking their cities, schools and HOAs to switch to organic land management practices. This by itself is a major step towards reversing our pressing environmental and human health issues, and a logical adjunct to these organic policies is a recognition and shift to prioritizing the use of native plants in our public and private landscapes. Native plant ordinances are a reasonable and achievable goal. They are also likely to be well received since they are a straightforward and simple way to make a big difference. Who doesn't like butterflies?
Find native plants suitable for your region.
See an example of a native plant ordinance here. This particular ordinance is designed to be a relief to people who are being challenged or prohibited by their HOAs from having native plantings and wildlife friendly landscapes. Ordinances can also be aimed at requiring the use of native plants in all new installations on public property.
Learn about other issues we can tackle to solve large problems locally and create a non toxic community.
Read our press release
National advocacy group Non Toxic Communities has launched their upgraded website with free resources for citizens concerned about pesticide use in their cities, schools, parks, and HOAs.
Founded by two women who have been successful in helping their own cities to switch to organic policies and management practices on public property, Non Toxic Communities has been supporting others to do the same since 2016.
The website has sample documents, printed materials, links to scientific research, and much more to share with officials in any community. These resources are designed to take the guesswork out of advocating for landscaping practices that do not rely on toxic pesticides. Information on the benefits of organic land management, the risks of using conventional pesticides, and many real life examples of successful organic programs can assist individuals in their own campaign. The updated site makes it easy to search for a non toxic group by state, and provides the tools needed to form your own group.
Diana Carpinone, Co-Executive Director of Non Toxic Communities and founder of Non Toxic Dover NH observed that, “Our new website is coming at a time when an unprecedented amount of people are becoming aware of the negative effects that toxic pesticides have on our health and on our environment.”
Toxic pesticides have been in the news over the last couple of years, with much attention being given recently to the world’s most used herbicide ingredient, glyphosate, due to the number of class action lawsuits being litigated in the courts. The very first trial ended with the jurors awarding tens of millions of dollars to a school grounds keeper with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma who used the chemical to kill weeds on the job.
"Switching to an organic policy on public grounds not only benefits the residents who use that property, but it protects the health of workers who are exposed to these chemicals when they are handling large quantities of them on a regular basis,” says Kathleen Hallal, Co-Executive Director of Non Toxic Communities. As a board member of Irvine’s PTA, Hallal was successful in convincing her school district to stop using toxic products. Other parents came forward, and as a result Non Toxic Irvine formed and convinced the city to follow suit in 2016. From the beginning, it was always her intention to help people in other towns do the same and shortly thereafter joined together with Carpinone to provide support nationally as Non Toxic Communities.
The new website is designed to help people who have no previous experience with pesticides, or grassroots advocacy.
"When I started out in 2013 in my city, I had never done anything like this before. But when I saw a sign announcing a recent pesticide application on our library's lawn where my son had played countless times - I knew I had to do something about it,” says Carpinone. "I knew that if I didn't, children just like my son would continue to be exposed to these chemicals, and probably even without their parents knowledge. I just happened to be there during the 24 hour period that the sign is required to be posted. Before that I had no idea what was happening.” Her city, Dover, New Hampshire, voted unanimously for a commitment to organic land management practices resolution in February 2018. They are currently working with the nonprofit group Beyond Pesticides to implement their policy throughout the city. Dover has also received a grant from the New Hampshire based Stonyfield Farm, Inc. as a part of their StonyFields initiative to convert an athletic field to organic.
From coast to coast, just like in Irvine and Dover, dozens of groups exist all across the country who are fighting for similar organic policies of their own. Nearly twenty states now have non toxic groups. About 80 cities have policies for public spaces, plus dozens more with pesticide free parks, ordinances covering both public and private property, and other pesticide restrictions.
People concerned about pesticides being used at their HOA, children’s school, athletic fields or public recreational areas are not alone. It’s now easier than ever for people to find the tools to advocate for organic policies where they live. To find a group near you, or learn how to put together your own group and find support and free resources, visit nontoxiccommunities.com.
Dozens of municipal ordinances restricting pesticides in public parks, playgrounds, and schools around the country are at risk of being reversed by a rider in the House of Representatives Farm Bill. This provision would create federal preemption laws prohibiting local control of pesticides like glyphosate, dicamba or 2,4-D.
Sec. 9101 of the House’s farm bill could potentially overturn 155 different ordinances protecting residents from toxic pesticide use in public areas.
This rider is opposed by the National League of Cities and the National Association of County Officials. Over 100 members of Congress have expressed their opposition to the pesticide preemption in section 9101 in a letter sent to the committee members this August. Mayors Ethan Strimling and Claudia C. Cohen of Maine say that section 9101 hurts the ability of communities to protect the health, and environment of citizens.
Chemical industry groups like CropLife America are lobbying hard to get this provision to go through and protect their profits. We need to stand with those that oppose Section 9101, and tell the committee to reject this dangerous rider so that municipalities can protect residents, children, pets and the environment from exposure to toxic pesticides.
Read more about the farm bill rider here.
Phone calls make the most impact!
Senate Ag Committee: (202) 224-2035
House Ag Committee: 202-225-2171
Let them know you stand with thousands of other people who support the 1991 Supreme Court decision that rejected the industry position and affirmed the rights of local governments to adopt more restrictive pesticide standards than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Parents, grandparents and many others may wonder what harm there is in hiring a company to treat their lawn, or using the four step programs sold at most hardware stores. The newest book from Dr. Phillip Landrigan, and Mary Landrigan, MPA addresses this issue with practical advice in chapter 8 of Children and Environmental Toxins: What Everyone Needs To Know in the following excerpt.
Are lawn chemicals toxic?
Yes, many are toxic. Dozens of chemicals are used for lawn beautification in the United States, and they include carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, and substances known to damage other systems of the body. CDC surveys have found that these substances are present in the bodies of most Americans.
I don’t use lawn chemicals or other pesticides. How is it possible that my household is still exposed to these toxic chemicals?
Consider this troubling problem: your windows are open and your children are playing in the backyard with their toys scattered everywhere. A green-and-white truck pulls up in front of your next-door neighbor’s house and a lawn maintenance worker in a crisp white uniform unrolls a hose from the truck and starts spraying toxic materials on the lawn next door. A fine chemical mist coats the toys in the yard and your kids. The children also inhale the noxious fumes.
The term for what you are seeing here is pesticide drift—that is, pesticides have wafted from the area where they are being applied into your backyard or from a farmer’s field into a school playground. Pesticide drift can expose households to toxic materials without their knowledge. It can come from a neighbor’s yard or a nearby farmer’s field, or just from wearing pesticide- contaminated shoes in the house. Studies have shown that some widely used pesticides can remain where they were sprayed for weeks after initial spraying. Other studies show that pesticides are easily tracked into the house, exposing the children who play on the floor.
Here are a few simple steps to protect from this hazard.
Conduct some neighborly negotiations to try to remedy the problem. Find out what chemicals are being used on the neighbor’s property and explain your concern about the pesticides’ spreading into your yard and harming your children. You might want to bring along some educational materials on the topic—including this book. Perhaps also have available the name of a company that uses nontoxic products that you can steer the neighbors to.
Contact your local health department or environmental protection agency. Ask if there are any laws or regulations in your area regulating pesticide drift. Many cities and towns in Canada and the United States now have such laws.
Get your neighbors together to address the problem. Some towns have laws that require neighbors to be notified 48 hours in advance of the application of pesticides on adjoining properties. If you know at least 48 hours in advance, you’ll have time to close your windows, bring in the children’s toys, and keep the children indoors. And if there is no local law, consider working with your neighbors and your elected officials to get one passed.
How can I tell if a yard has been treated with pesticides?
Even if you don’t use pesticides on your own lawn, you’ve probably noticed how many of your neighbors’ lawns display “pesticide flags.”
Pesticide flags are the required notices to passers- by to stay off the grass for 24 hours because pesticide has been applied to the lawn. But dogs and children probably don’t observe the pesticide flags, and many of the flags seem to stay up for weeks or longer, so it is difficult to know which warnings are current and which have expired. The pesticide treatment flags on the lawns tell you something else—they give you an idea how many neighbors are using pesticides to keep their grass looking nice. This is called “cosmetic” pesticide use.
Some localities have begun to pass laws against cosmetic pesticide use. The City Council of Takoma Park, Maryland, and the Province of Ontario, Canada passed laws to restrict the cosmetic use of pesticides on public and private properties. These laws reduce pesticide exposures and also help to prevent pesticide drift and pesticide migration from treated properties to untreated properties.
Pesticides are chemicals that have been devised to kill pests. Insecticides kill insects by disrupting an insect’s neurological system—a basic biological system that we humans also have. Moreover, insect brains and human brains share many of the same enzyme systems. Is it reasonable to think that we are immune to such toxins?
Keep your children and pets safe by keeping them away from pesticide-treated lawns. Better yet, encourage your neighbors to use the least toxic materials available to control lawn problems and to rethink their attachment to a weed- free monoculture lawn. A few dandelions can be a beautiful sign that people are not using toxic chemicals to the detriment of people and the environment.
How can I have a nice lawn without chemical fertilizers and pesticides?
The safer approach to a nice, green lawn—give or take a dandelion or two—works like this:
Plant the right grass for your region of the country. Native plants grow the best in any environment. Nature has already made the selection about what grows best—don’t go to war with nature. Find out what types of grass grow best in your region by contacting your local cooperative extension office, a service of the United States Department of Agriculture.
Adjust your lawn mower blade to its highest setting. Longer blades of grass will enable the grass to develop stronger root systems and compete better with weeds. Taller grass also protects the root system of the grass by shading the roots from the harsh rays of the sun. On dry days, the longer blades help the root system maintain some moisture, and therefore they really help to minimize the lawn’s need for extra water.
Leave your grass clippings on the lawn. When grass clippings break down, they add valuable nitrogen to the soil, which in turn creates a healthy self- fertilized lawn. A mulching mower will help the process move along a little faster. In the spring, give the lawn a brisk raking to remove any remaining thatch and allow the baby grass blades to get an early start.
Use nontoxic methods of weed control for weeds you can’t live with. Hand weeding can be a relaxing and satisfying excuse for spending an hour outdoors on a nice day. Don’t keep count of how many are still left— learn to make peace with your lawn.
To discourage broadleaf weeds from taking over the lawn, apply corn gluten to the lawn at the same time that the forsythia is blooming. Corn gluten is a natural, pre- emergent weed controller and is readily available in many garden stores and online. For well- established broadleaf weeds, hand weeding is the best nontoxic control.
Replace some of the lawn with a small rock or native plant garden. Your local library will have designs for small garden areas to suit any style of house. Planting a small rock garden with native plants can cut down on lawn watering needs. Find native plants that like the location you have chosen and they will thrive with little care.
From Children and Environmental Toxins: What Everyone Needs to Know by Philip J. Landrigan and Mary M. Landrigan. Copyright © 2018 published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved.
After a lot of hard work behind the scenes, we are very proud to finally unveil our new upgraded website.
Since 2015 we've had many resources in our Facebook group, How to Create a Non Toxic Community. These included lists of scientific studies, pesticide free zones and policies, sample letters, and more.
Now all of those resources, plus several new ones, are available here in an easy to find format. Please take a look around and let us know what you think!