This time of year, when there is snow on the ground and freezing temperatures, our thoughts are not usually on our lawns and pesticides. But this is the time of year you need to register for the Wisconsin Landscape Registry with the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.
The Landscape Registry allows Wisconsin residents to be notified before lawn care and landscape companies apply herbicides (weed-killing pesticides) to neighboring properties. Participation in this state-run program is required of all commercial lawn pesticide applicators. You can register the addresses of all properties on your own and adjacent blocks. Professional pesticide applicators are required to notify participants at least 12 hours before a pesticide application on any registered address. You must register annually by Feb. 1 for the following season.
Signing up is easy at http://datcpservices.wisconsin.gov/landreg or by calling 608-224-4500. You will have to register your name and contact information and enter the addresses for which you want notification.
Most people are not aware of the hazards herbicides pose to their children, pets and the environment. Some people are more sensitive to pesticides and other chemicals than others. These chemicals can cause asthma exacerbations, headaches, skin problems, and worsening of auto-immune disease and nervous system disease symptoms. It is estimated that at least 15 percent of the population reacts in this way to pesticides.
Furthermore there are also subtle effects for children and adults. Children are especially vulnerable since they have an undeveloped liver and brain, as well as a much longer time to develop cancer. Childhood brain cancer risk has especially been linked to pesticide exposure. Behaviors like rolling in the grass and putting their hands in their mouths greatly increase their exposure. If a lawn or sports field has been sprayed, people are exposed for as long as that herbicide is present, which could be several months.
Another concern is that the current government standards and policies do not take into account these risks nor do they acknowledge the persistence of the herbicide on the lawn and in the soil. Herbicides vary in regard to how long they stay on the landscape. The warning sign is only required to be present for 72 hours in Wisconsin, while the chemical is drying or while granules are penetrating the soil. Dr. Gary Glinsberg, a public health toxicologist and assistant clinical professor at the University of Connecticut, pointed out in a Washington Post article that there is no scientific standard for how long one should stay off a treated lawn. So while there is respiratory and contact exposure the first several days after treatment, the chemical remains on the lawn to rub off on your skin and to become airborne again.
He also pointed out that the pesticides either drift or are tracked into the home. A 2001 study found that a week after treating a lawn with 2,4-D, a common weed killer, it was detected on indoor surfaces including tabletops and windowsills. It was estimated that indoor air exposure to young children was about 10 times higher the week after the lawn application than it was before the treatment. Studies have shown that herbicides can last in the lawn for as long as one to two months depending on many factors including soil type, weather pattern and the individual pesticide.
Dogs are also at increased risk. A study in 2012 showed that regular exposure to 2,4-D put dogs at twice the risk for lymphoma. Scottish terriers have been shown to be at four to seven times greater risk for bladder cancer with exposure to herbicides.
Claire Gervais, M.D., is founder and president of the Healthy Lawn Team, area citizens concerned with the health and environmental effects of pesticide. www.HealthyLawnTeam.net.