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Exposure to Chemicals for Lawns and Gardens

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Depending on where you live and work, you may be exposed to a number of man-made and naturally occurring lawn and garden chemicals every day. Chemicals are used to kill bugs, keep lawns green, and make flowers bloom.

Research strongly suggests that at certain exposure levels, some of the chemicals in these products may cause cancer in people. But because the products are diverse combinations of chemicals, it's difficult to show a definite cause and effect for any specific chemical.

Still, many of these chemicals are considered hormone disruptors. Hormone disruptors can affect how estrogen and other hormones act in the body, by blocking them or mimicking them, which throws off the body's hormonal balance. Because estrogen can make hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer develop and grow, many women choose to limit their exposure to these chemicals that can act like estrogen.

Steps you can take

To keep your lawn healthy without using chemicals, try these ideas:

  • Mow your lawn less often and at the highest setting on the mower. Taller grass crowds out weeds and promotes deeper roots. It also requires less water and can better withstand insects and diseases.
  • Don't bag grass clippings -- let them fall back into the lawn so that the nutrients can be recycled. Sweep or blow clippings that fall on sidewalks or driveways back onto the lawn.
  • Choose lawn fertilizers with low or no phosphorus. You can find out the phosphorus level of a fertilizer by looking at the three hyphenated numbers that appear on most fertilizer bags. The middle number is the phosphorus level; the first number is nitrogen and the third is potassium. So a bag displaying the numbers 18-0-18 is 18% nitrogen, 0% phosphorus, and 18% potassium by weight.
  • Fertilize your lawn in the fall -- not the spring -- but don't fertilize if the ground is frozen or saturated with water (the fertilizer won't be absorbed by the soil and may run off into other areas).
  • Don't guess how much fertilizer your lawn needs. Test the soil so you know exactly how much and what kind of fertilizer is needed. You can buy a soil test kit at most garden stores. You also can contact your local Cooperative Extension office for help with soil testing.
  • Don't water your lawn at night and don't soak your lawn. Keeping the grass blades dry reduces disease outbreaks.
  • It's OK to have a brown lawn. Grass goes dormant during a drought. It will come back to life after it gets enough water.
  • Choose the right grass for your location and use. If your yard is shady and hosts football and soccer games, you need a different variety of grass than a yard that gets 8 hours of sun per day and has minimal foot traffic. Contact your local Cooperative Extension office for help selecting the right type of grass for your yard.
  • Pull up weeds by hand or use a weed flamer or boiling water to kill them instead of using chemicals. Contact your local Cooperative Extension office for more information on weed flamers.

TPLG Booklet ThumbnailThink Pink, Live Green: A Step-by-Step Guide to Reducing Your Risk of Breast Cancer teaches you the biology of breast development and how modern life affects breast cancer risk. Order a free booklet by mail or download the PDF of the booklet to learn 31 risk-reducing steps you can take today.

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