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May 22, 2005 - Pesticide Exposure Beyond Farming

Many Americans water their lawns incessantly, even as people in other parts of the country need water to drink.They cut their grass short, like barbers who give crew cuts for a living. And to get a deep, lush mat of green beneath their feet, homeowners apply chemicals that knock out nuisance weeds and promote growth.

Generally seen to be the problem of farmers, pesticide pollution in the air and water is increasingly a problem among suburbanites when considered in the context of 78 million households that buy and apply lawn chemicals each year.

"It's amazing how many people don't read the label or think more is better," said Heather Anhalt, a pesticide specialist for the EPA's regional office in Chicago.  The EPA estimates that the density of chemicals applied per acre among households can be up to four times as great as what's applied on farmland.

Pesticide bans in the US have emerged in varying degrees. Some cities, such as San Francisco and Buffalo, N.Y., have banned pesticides on municipal property. In Minnesota, known as "the land of 10,000 lakes," some cities ban or severely restrict phosphorus because that fertilizer is a nutrient that promotes the growth of alga in water.In Madison, Wis., a federal lawsuit has the potential to give cities more autonomy in such decisions.

Pesticide bans are generally more difficult to enact on the local level because 41 states have laws that forbid communities from acting on those measures without state approval. Canadians are not bound by such laws. Society may debate the extent to which organic gardening enters the picture. But it cannot deny that a bond exists between humans and landscaping, he said.

"It's the American way of life. People want to be living in a garden," said Phil Fogarty, who owns a lawn-care company franchise in Cleveland and was chairman of Project Evergreen. "This stuff doesn't happen by accident. Landscaping is the kind of thing you only miss when it's not there."

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