This week’s Care for Creation looks at the effects of some of our common methods of lawn and garden care and pest control. Unfortunately, too many of us rely on garden products and utilize lawn services which have toxic effects on human, animal, and plant life. Studies show that hazardous lawn chemicals drift or are carried into our homes where they contaminate indoor air and surfaces, and expose children and pregnant women in particular, to high levels of toxicity. Many commonly used lawn chemicals and “weed-and-feed” products that are designed to kill invasive plants and ward off disease, pests and bugs are linked to cancer, birth defects, reproductive effects, liver or kidney damage, neurotoxicity, and disruption of the endocrine (hormonal) system. This also is not to mention the toxic effects of these yard chemicals on surrounding wildlife, and the harmful consequences of runoff into our waterways and on aquatic life.
In the introduction to his encyclical, Laudato Si', Pope Francis quotes the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew saying “For human beings… to destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation; for human beings to contaminate the earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life – these are sins . For to commit a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God  [(Francis 2015, (8)]. He goes on to invoke the example of St. Francis of Assisi as someone who lived in “wonderful harmony with God, with others, with nature and with himself. He shows us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace.” [Francis 2015, (10)] He urges us to live like St. Francis in our everyday lives, through our everyday actions. Further on, Pope Francis indicts chemical contamination of this sort caused by our lawn care practices: “Industrial waste and chemical products utilized in cities and agricultural areas can lead to bioaccumulation in the organisms of the local population, even when levels of toxins in those places are low. Frequently no measures are taken until after people’s health has been irreversibly affected” (21).
What can we do to respond to Pope Francis’ appeal and to follow St. Francis’ example in practical terms? We can switch to organic and natural lawn and plant treatments. Many commercial products are available in green and biosafe formulas and many lawn companies offer organic services. Further, many weeds can be controlled with vinegar-based home solutions, hand removal, and natural preventative measures. For more information please see, https://www.thespruce.com/green-weed-killers-2152938 and https://www.epa.gov/safepestcontrol/lawn-and-garden.Our yards, plants, water, children, pets and wildlife will thank you for it.