Neighborly Pesticides
By Colleen Pawlychka 
AEHA National UPdate Summer 1997


How do we live together in this world? How do we maintain a mutual respect for each other?

My children are playing “lego” happily in the next room.  My husband is at the office and I cook pancakes for breakfast for the kids.  It is a beautiful summer day.  We are an average family… husband, wife, two children, one brand new puppy.  I look through my window.  I see you sitting on your deck, reading the morning paper, sipping coffee.

Early this morning (or late last evening) you applied fertilizer/weed control to your lawn, and sprayed your bushes for “bugs”.  Only some of the bushes had bugs but you sprayed them all, just in case.  Your grass looked fine, but you want to ensure that it stays green and thick.  There are only a few weeds but you apply the weed control, again, just in case.  I ponder these points, and look back at you again.  You are taking a sip of your coffee.  You turn the page of your newspaper.  As you relax, the chemicals that you applied do their job.  They silently kill any weeds currently out of the ground, and they “feed” the grass so it can grow faster and greener.  

I wonder though, as you take another sip of coffee, if you are aware of the harm those chemicals do to my children.  Those chemicals, and the other chemicals added as “fillers” of “inert ingredients” are poison.  They make healthy, normal children sick.  They aggravate current illnesses (colds, flus etc.).  They cause respiratory problems.  They interfere with brain function, IQ, nervous system, thought process.  They create dark circles under children’s eyes, create allergy-like symptoms (sniffles, itchy kin & nose, burning eyes) cause fever like symptoms and reduce appetite.  The chemicals which you have applied on your lawn and shrubs may have long term health effects.  Cancer, leukemia, asthma, endocrine disruption, infertility and death have all been associated with various chemical exposures.  I wonder if you are aware of this.  I wonder if you feel guilty about using these chemicals for cosmetic reasons. 

But then, I reason that you probably feel absolved from any feelings of guilt or responsibility because you told me that you were going to apply the chemicals.  And once you notified me it became my responsibility to take necessary precautions to ensure my children were not affected.  Keep them indoors, away from harm, whatever.  Right? I guess, in your mind, notification means “cooperation” and therefore this “great effort” translates into “having done your part” to help out.  Right? I reason that you probably feel proud of yourself because you don’t apply as much chemical as your friend, your relative or your other neighbors.

I must ask you – do you know how much chemical has been applied in your neighborhood? Do you know how many children are affected by these applications? Do you know exactly what these chemicals are and what their purpose is? These chemicals are POISON.  Their purpose is to KILL.  These chemicals do not know the difference between a weed and any other vegetation.  They do not know the boundaries of your yard, nor do they know not to enter the body of a child.  Poisons kill.  They will affect my child, and probably your grandchild.  They will not disappear as you were told they would.  They will no dissolve and “be gone forever” in a few hours.  They will linger in the air (and my air with a little breeze).  They will remain in your grass and on your shrubs.  The next time you cut your grass you will activate them again, and my children again will be affected.  I look at you again, so comfortable.  How’s your coffee?

The kids want to go outside and play after breakfast.  They must not today.  The air smells of weed control.  They are upset.  It is sunny, warm and look welcoming outdoors.  They ask me why you sprayed your yard.  “It looked good the way it was” they tell me.  My son asks how long it’s going to take to teach people how dangerous these chemicals are.  He tells me that at our next garage sale he will sell lemonade to raise money for AEHA to have a commercial so we can reach more people.  His sister says she’ll help too.  You see, my children know about chemical effects.  They believe me when I tell them that together we will teach people and convince them that cosmetics are not that important.  My 8 year old and 6 year old volunteer to help by explaining these things to you.  But I tell them it’s okay.  I’ll discuss it with you.  My kids think that you are listening – and learning.  They don’t know that you have no intention of learning.  I won’t tell them that because my children respect and like you.  I want that to continue.

I look out at you again.  You fold up your paper, take another sip of coffee and look around.  You see me.  You smile and wave.  I wave back.   Pancakes are ready.