Course:CONS200/2023/Environmental & Social Impacts of Pesticide Use on the American Lawn

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The 21st Century Rise of Lawn Pesticides

Toxic Pesticide Usage on American Lawns: A Harm for Human Health & Biodiversity

The usage of pesticides within the last decade has significantly been on the rise for perfecting the ideal American domestic lawn. Currently, lawns in North America cover more land than any other agricultural crop[1]. As policies change overtime across the United States, there is more leeway for competitive new pesticide products to enter the market that may contain hazardous compounds. These pesticides may contain traces of toxic chemicals that can affect both human health and surrounding biological ecosystems. Groundwater contamination, residue emissions, and soil degradation are one of the many environmental factors that are negatively impacted by pesticide usage throughout the United States[2]. Furthermore, human health and social issues can arise from negligent lawn practices. Such health issues include breathing problems for citizens due to heavy pollution and possible eye contamination from emissive hazardous chemicals. On the other hand, social issues such as the monetary value of pesticides and poisonings play a big role in determining the effectivity of pesticide usage. Thus, governmental regulations should be heavily considered to promote caution on pesticide usage on America lawns.

Effects on Ecosystems & Biodiversity

Groundwater Contamination

Underground aquifer that may contain toxic compounds from fertiliser usage

As a result of heavy pesticide usage across the United States, there have been a severe number of cases regarding contamination of groundwater[3]. This is primarily due to the overload of pesticide usage in contrast to the ability of the chemicals to degrade sufficiently in time[4]. Because there is a progressive overload of pesticides being used to increase growth, prevent pesticides, and increase aesthetic value, a majority of the chemicals enter underground aquifers that store drinkable groundwater. These chemicals seep through soil gaps which enter the aquifers and contaminate them, making it impossible to use as a source for safe drinking water[5]. A major reason as to why groundwater contamination is an issue in the first place is because of negligent domestic lawn practices. This is particularly due to citizens not fully understanding how much pesticide composition to use on their lawns at home[6]. Thus, the usage of pesticides on lawns can have a high risk of polluting underground aquifers which may impact drinking safety in certain communities.

Residue Emissions

In addition, another major environmental issue that arises from the use of pesticides on American lawns are residue emissions from spraying chemicals. Some current techniques that are less efficient and have a large toxic emission offset include foggers and large fumigation equipment[7]. As these chemical compounds enter the atmosphere, they can become hazardous to humans if breathed in at a close contact[8]. Because the dispersal range of pesticides is so large, it's tricky to contain safely in a small area and prevent the dangerous chemicals from spreading. Furthermore, residue emissions contain extremely toxic compounds in them that have been banned in multiple countries across the world. However, in 2017/18, the FDA approved roughly 100 of these toxic chemicals for pesticide usage which further endangered American communities in multiple states around the country[9]. These toxic chemicals not only affect humans but they also negatively impact species abundance in grass fields which lowers species diversity in certain areas.

Soil Degradation

An organic matter composite being used to support the growth of pesticide infested lawns

Not only are species impacted by pesticides, but so is soil quality. When pesticide agents are added to American lawns, the soil within the area is majorly impacted as the natural fertility is damaged and the ability to absorb nutrients is significantly reduced[10]. In addition, some soils that are used to grow aesthetic American lawns contain a high percentage of organic matter material which can correlate to a higher absorption rate of pesticides. This is primarily because soils that contain a high organic matter composition have larger capacities to hold onto positively charged ions which pesticides resemble[11]. Furthermore, it is important to note that certain pesticides contain overly acidic compounds that negatively affect soil pH by dropping multiple pH levels. As a result, the acidity can limit nutrient availability and increase toxic elements such as manganese & aluminium traces to appear.[12] Thus, certain methods from pesticide implementation may not result in better yields and aesthetic appearance but instead destroy the value of the land.

Wildlife Pesticide Poisonings

In addition to human pesticide poisonings, pesticides often inadvertently harm non-target species through various routes of exposure. These include: the direct ingestion of contaminated food or water, wildlife species consume prey or water that have been contaminated with pesticides such as herbicides in lawns; secondary exposure through the consumption of poisoned prey, species may prey on pest species like insects or rodents often exposed to pesticides; inhalation of pesticides; contact with treated surfaces and vegetation; contaminated nesting sites; bioaccumulation, pesticides accumulating in organic tissues of wildlife over time through the entire tissue[13]. In America alone, approximately seven million wild birds are killed every year from the use of pesticides on lawns by their homeowners for aesthetic purposes[14]. Often times when birds or small animals are afflicted with pesticide-induced illnesses they neglect their young and abandon their nesting habitat, increasing their susceptibility to both diseases and predation. When pollinators such as bees are afflicted with pesticide-induced illnesses their mobility, feeding habits, and navigation are severely hindered[15]. This can have serious implications for biodiversity as such pollinators play critical roles in the pollination of many flowering plants. Processes like these are essential for the reproduction and survival of many plant species, continued poisonings of pollinators can ultimately lead to a reduction in pollination, alterations in the composition of plant communities, losses of food and habitat for wildlife, and disruption of crucial ecosystem services.

Social Impacts

Monetary Value and Costs of Pesticide Use

While the use of pesticides are effective in controlling pests and increasing crop yields, these benefits are accompanied by significant costs[16]. In the United States, around 500 million kilograms of over 600 varied types of pesticides are applied every year, costing nearly $10 billion[17]. While the application of pesticides requires significant investments, should they not be used then crop losses are estimated to rise approximately 9%, resulting in billions of crop value lost. Additionally, it is estimated that there is a $4 return per every dollar invested for some 200 million pounds of pesticides applied on American lawns annually, producing some $10 billion in profit from a nearly $3 billion investment. The direct benefits and costs of using pesticides are evident, providing their users staggering return on investments by fostering larger crop yields and reducing plant mortality rates. Furthermore, there are economic costs that are associated with decreases in productivity and income from pesticide-related health issues. Continued exposure to pesticides can lead to chronic health effects that decrease an individual's ability to work, leading to economic burdens for themselves, their families, and the healthcare system[18].

Health Implications

Alongside the monetary costs of applying pesticides; the use of pesticides also poses some serious threats to the general public. Human pesticide poisonings are a concerning side of the impacts of pesticide use on American lawns. When not used properly, pesticides can pose risks to human health when not used properly[19]. Pesticides contain varying amounts of chemicals that cause a number of disorders in both humans and wildlife which can lead to poisonings and toxic accumulation in ecosystems[20]. Additionally, it is estimated that some 300,000 deaths around the world can be attributed to pesticide poisonings every year. Residential pesticide use in typical American suburban environments often expose their residents to dangerous herbicides often used on lawns. Exposure of parents to these herbicides significantly raises the risks of their children to develop early childhood brain cancers[21]. Negative health effects of pesticide use on American lawns are not limited to humans however, an association between pesticide-treated lawns and bladder cancer risk in dogs has been established. High concentrations of pesticides were discovered in the urine of domesticated dogs after lawn chemicals were applied. Applications of lawn chemicals leaves residues in lawn grass and trees which can often drift into untreated lawns even, exposing more dogs to chemicals through contact with their own lawns.

Human Pesticide Poisonings

Pesticides, though they are designed to be toxic to common lawn pests; their toxic properties can also harm humans through continued exposure to them. Such pesticide poisonings may take place through ingestion, inhalation, and dermal contact[22][18]. Symptoms of acute pesticide poisonings in humans include a wide range of symptoms, such as dizziness, vomiting, respiratory distress, and even death in extreme cases[23]. Long-term exposure to pesticides in humans can lead to a slew of chronic health-effects including increased risks of cancer, reproductive disorders, developmental delays, and endocrine disruption. Certain individuals are more vulnerable to the impacts of pesticide use than others; infants, children, and pregnant women in particular[24].

Environmental Justice Concerns

Furthermore, pesticide use on lawns may have impacts on the well-being of communities, an individual's quality of life, and equity. Pesticide exposures often disproportionately affect vulnerable populations, low-income and minority communities in particular[25]. These communities often may face heightened concentrations of pesticide exposure due to a number of factors, such as residential area, occupation, and a lack of access to alternative pest management methods[26]. Such disparities exacerbate social inequalities as their ability to work are hindered and their stifling income must be used to address health issues. Vulnerable populations also may have limited resources or awareness about the potential risks that are accompanied with pesticide use which can lead to them making ill-informed decisions regarding pesticides and hinders their ability to protect themselves from exposure to pesticides[27].

Mitigating Pesticide Impacts

Laws and Regulations for Pesticides

There are several laws and regulations that have been implemented to mitigate the possible negative impacts of pesticides used on American lawns. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is in charge of controlling the sale and use of pesticides[28]. The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) makes it a requirement for manufactures to register the pesticides that hey sell with the EPA so that the product can be analyzed for potential environmental and health risks that could be caused. On top of this, the Clean Water Act (CWA) regulates the use of pesticides that could damage water and pollute it. The use of these highly toxic pesticides is reduced to a very "restricted use". Additionally, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) has regulations to control the impact that pesticides have on endangered species and the environment around them. Despite all of the regulations surrounding pesticide use, the impacts are still very prevalent[29]. Individuals must educate themselves on the proper use of toxic pesticides or find alternatives whenever possible. Following proper policies is one of the most important factors to sustain lawns and the public health for communities all over America.

Alternative Pest Control Methods

Ladybugs are one of the many predators that can reduce pests in lawns instead of using pesticides

As an alternative to the pesticides that have many environmental and social impacts on American's and their lawns, it is important that they consider implementing alternatives in terms of how they control pests. The most commonly used alternative method that is effective is organic fertilizers. They are made from natural materials such as compost, bone meal, or fish emulsions. The pesticide alternative provides essential nutrients to lawns and improves the health, making the lawn more resistant to pests and diseases as well[30]. Natural predators such as ladybugs also aid in the control of pests like aphids and mites that would commonly affect lawns. Alongside these methods, the slower method of handpicking pests is also effective as it removes the issues from the environment without the necessity of any chemicals to solve the issues. Using methods such as handpicking pests, introducing natural predators to the region, or natural pesticides/fertilizers, the environment will be less heavily impacted and the overall health of the soil will improve incrementally[31].

Proper Disposal of Unused Pesticides

Using proper equipment to transfer and dispose of pesticides is vital

On top of using alternative pest control methods, it is vital that pesticides that are unused are disposed of properly. Pesticides are typically high in content of various chemicals. They must not be disposed of in the drain or in the trash. Contacting local waste management companies for proper disposal should always be the steps that must be taken to ensure that no chemical contamination occurs throughout the disposal process[32]. Another method that can be used is to donate the unused pesticides to local organization or farms in the region. When disposing of pesticides, it is important that all the instructions on the label are followed carefully. Given the chemical content in pesticides, safety precautions must be taken to avoid contact with the product and to handle the disposal properly[33]. The proper disposal is extremely important since it keeps both the environment and the community health safe at the same time. Taking responsibility is not only necessary for the disposal, but the overall reduction of the potential impacts that pesticides have as a whole.

Education and Awareness of Pesticide Impacts

It is essential that individuals who implement pesticides into the management of their lawns have a broad understanding of the negative impacts to both the environment and public health caused by pesticides. To begin, researching the effects of pesticides on the environment and human health is an important first step, as well as sharing the knowledge with others[34]. Awareness in communities through organized events and campaigns to promote how to deal with pests in other methods can reduce the use of pesticides on lawns. Educating the community as whole, from schools to community groups, will have a large impact on the overall reduction of pesticides, as well as promote more organic lawns[35]. Working as an educated community will allow much more protection for both environment and health, as well as create a healthier and more sustainable future for the community.


To conclude, pesticides are being used at an increasing amount on American lawns[1]. The pesticides have significant impacts on both the environment as well as public health for communities. The harmful effects from the chemicals in pesticides leads to a wide variety of issues. These issues range from groundwater contamination, to soil degradation, to impacts on surrounding ecosystems. On top of this, the negligent practices of pesticide use can cause numerous problems with human health and social issues. It is vital for policies to have strict regulations on the usage of the chemical filled pesticides to protect the human and environmental health of communities[22]. Education and awareness of how to effectively manage pesticides are also essential. The programs should be implemented to promote alternative pest control methods and keep lawns as organic as possible. Overall, communities are responsible to control pesticide use and prioritize the health of the environment around them instead of attempting to achieve a chemically derived "perfect American lawn". By implementing the necessary processes, healthier and more sustainable lawns will be produced and a more sustainable future will be much easier to attain.


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