Chris Kouwenhoven

Toxicity of lawn care products

"Now that Spring is fast approaching in my area, I want to apply chemical fertilizers and insecticides to my lawn. My wife is very concerned about doing this since our two cats and young dog spend quite a bit of time in the backyard. Is this something to worry about, or can I have a beautiful lawn and healthy pets?"

Tony, this topic has received media attention, especially in newspapers, that has sometimes bordered on the sensational. We are probably all aware of the inherent dangers present in many of the chemicals around our homes, but, as in most things, a little perspective goes a long way in determining if we, and our pets are really at risk from them.

Virtually everything in our environment can, under the right circumstances, be harmful to health and even fatal. Water is essential to life; lack of it will kill plants and animals much more quickly than lack of food. Yet we can easily drown in water and it is possible, although unlikely, to ingest enough water to be cause death. While most lawn chemicals can be toxic, reasonable care in using them around animals will reduce this potential to exceptionally low levels.

The chemicals that most of us might use for lawn care fall into a few broad categories. First, is the fertilizers. Most commonly used lawn fertilizers are polyphosphates, urea type compounds, potassium chloride and sulfates. Secondly, we have insecticides such as diazinon, chlorpyrifos and carbaryl. Thirdly we have fungicides and herbicides. Most of these compounds come in one of two forms that the homeowner might use, dry granules that are mixed with water, and liquids. Both of these formulations are designed to be mixed with large quantities of water and applied directly to the lawn with sprayers, or through the watering hose . Others might be applied as granules applied directly to the lawn and then dissolved by a through watering immediately after application of the dry granules.

Our pets, and children, could potentially be at risk from these chemicals in three ways. First by ingesting the concentrated liquid before it is mixed with water prior to application, and secondly by ingestion of the dry granules directly from the container or from spills on the ground resulting from application operations. The third means would be from contact with the applied chemicals while they are still in liquid form on the grass. Potentially it is possible toxicity via contact with the skin might result in this way, but the chemical concentrations are so low that this is highly unlikely. Still, prudence is best, so keep your pets off the treated areas until they are dry. Once these chemicals are dry, they generally do not come off the plant surfaces

So if you choose to use lawn care products, please treat them with caution. Keep pets, and children, away while you are applying the lawn chemicals and be sure to clean up any spills and properly dispose of unused portions. Most importantly, read the label and follow directions completely. I know many of you have strong feelings about using such chemicals around your pets. Please understand that I am not advocating the use of such chemicals; I am only trying to provide some guidelines for use around pets if you choose to use them.