Lawn chemicals – Cheryl S. Smith

Summer is in full swing, and pets and people are spending their time outdoors. But how safe is your outdoors? Does a gorgeous lawn or snail-free garden have to be a hazard?

ChemLawn® is the largest lawn treatment company in North America, so we talked to their Vice President for Health, Safety and Environmental Stewardship, Roger Yeary, DVM. “Our services include four to six treatments a year in most parts of the country, though there are some regions where we offer monthly service. The whole program is targeted to the specific area of the country,” says Yeary.

Just what are these treatments? Most consist of herbicides to keep weeds out of lawns. One might include an insecticide (Dursban®) as well. These certainly sound toxic – are they a problem?

Steve Hansen, DVM, Veterinary Toxicologist at the ASPCA National Animal Poison Control Center, says, “We get a lot of questions about lawn chemicals, but with most situations the actual chance of having a toxicity is fairly minor.” ChemLawn notes that there is less than 0.1% (that’s one-tenth of a percent) of active ingredient in a treatment.

Both Hansen and Yeary recommend that pets be kept off of treated areas until those areas are completely dry. Grass actually binds materials to itself quite well, and after 24 hours, only one percent of residue is capable of being dislodged.

Homeowners using a service such as ChemLawn should be sure they know what to expect – when treatments will be made, and what they will include. Says Yeary, “We have a policy that we will call and give people advance notice of a treatment if they request it. And if an animal’s running loose in the yard, our people are instructed not to treat that area.”

But what if you do it yourself rather than hiring a service? “Most homeowners,” notes Hansen, “tend to overapply – some greatly.” This is a definite case where more is not better. Amazingly, some people who might be concerned about hiring someone to come and spray, actually let their pets follow them around while they put down granular herbicides. Granules can remain on the surface of the lawn and then transfer to paws and fur. Pets should be kept away from treated areas until after a rain or thorough watering of the area.

If your pet does wander into a freshly-treated area, a bath in water and dish detergent can remove any herbicide or pesticide from the skin.

Snail and slug baits are a more serious threat, by far. Based on metaldehyde, they are highly toxic. “I would be very hesitant to use those in my yard,” admits Hansen. Dogs seem to be attracted to these baits, and often will eat as much as they can reach. “Three to four ounces of pellets are enough to cause a real problem in the average-sized dog,” Hansen warns.

Symptoms appear in as little as fifteen minutes. The dog may appear anxious, and will probably be wobbly. There is usually vomiting, and eventually there are seizures, which often become continuous and life-threatening. It is imperative to get the animal to a veterinarian as quickly as possible.

There are alternatives to these toxins. Organic gardeners recommend a mixture of one part ammonia with four parts water. Sprayed on plants and the ground around them, the ammonia kills slugs. It also provides a nitrogen boost to the plants as a bonus.

A company called Concern™ Natural Garden Products offers a new product in the war against snails and slugs. Their Slug Stop™ is made from pure coconut oil soap, and is completely non-toxic for pets. It is squeezed out of a tube, and resembles green toothpaste. The company says an application lasts for three weeks, even in rainy weather. Hansen at the Poison Control Center had not heard of this product, but was very excited about its possibilities and enthusiastic about a non-metaldehyde alternative.

Before you use any product on your lawn and garden, stop and consider… which is more important, preventing a few chewed plants or some dandelions, or protecting your pet’s health and well-being?

For more information on Slug Stop and other natural pest controls, call Concern Natural Garden Products, 1-800-447-5354.

For possible poisonings, call the National Animal Poison Control Center, 1-888-4ANIHELP (1-888-426-4435). There’s a $30 charge, but some NAPCC  consultations are paid for by the agri-business or pharmaceutical companies that make the products.

To contact ChemLawn, call 1-800-TRU-GREEN.

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