The Dangerous Chemicals Hiding In Your Yard + What To Do About Them

How does your garden grow? Historically, Monsanto's Roundup has been the most trusted and widely used brand when it comes to killing grass and weeds. Many landscapers won’t touch any other herbicide out of fear of unwanted weeds and unhappy clients. But this herbicide has been linked to acute eye, skin, and respiratory health conditions, and, most recently, an increase in non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Let’s take a look at the history and health effects of Roundup.

The Good

As a broad-spectrum herbicide, Roundup is extremely effective at killing all plants, and it’s used to treat gardens, lawns, and some agricultural products and paved areas. The active chemical, glyphosate, becomes inactive once it makes contact with the ground, according to the company’s website.

The Bad

Pesticide and herbicide manufacturers aren’t required to list all of their ingredients on the label — federal law classifies "inert" ingredients as trade secrets. Inerts can consist of up to 99 percent of a product and can be more hazardous than the active ingredient(s). Case in point, polyethoxethyleneamine (POEA) — a surfactant derived from animal fat. It’s an ingredient in Roundup, and studies indicate that it may be toxic to human embryos and can suffocate embryonic, placental, and umbilical cord cells.

The Ugly

The EPA requires herbicide manufacturers to prove that its “active” ingredients are safe for the environment. However, a peer reviewed study links glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup) to a range of health problems including Parkinson's disease, infertility, and cancer. Additionally, in March 2015, a branch of the World Health Organization classified glyphosate as a probable carcinogen after seeing convincing evidence in laboratory studies on animals. Once applied, glyphosate can seep into groundwater, soil, streams, and even the air. As of 2011, it was detected in 60 to 100 percent of air and rain samples as reported in the journal Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry.

What’s a nontoxic, weedless lawn-seeking guy or gal to do? Skip the chemicals, and use these six natural alternatives to Roundup:

1. Vinegar

Did you know that white distilled vinegar is the king of weed control? This quick and easy DIY recipe with vinegar and natural dish soap demonstrates how powerful it can be. As the vinegar burns the foliage, it penetrates into the soil and lowers the pH so weeds won’t grow back. The vinegar quickly breaks down in the soil and it won’t contaminate your lawn, making it a safe (and affordable!) weed killer.

2. Corn gluten

If pulling pesky weeds by hand isn’t your cup of tea, consider maintaining your lawn and garden with corn gluten meal. Corn gluten prevents weeds from growing in the first place, and it doesn't burn your lawn.

3. Citric acid

Some popular natural weed and grass killers use a combination of citric acid and natural clove oil. Citric acid is much stronger than acetic acid (the primary acid in vinegar), so it’s more effective on larger areas. The clove oil helps the citric acid get absorbed into the leaf, where it burns the weed. Perennials may need a reapplication.

4. Fatty acids

Often found in the form of soap, these solutions work like vinegar (and often contain vinegar) and burn the leaves of the plant. However, soap becomes inactive eventually and only works for a limited amount of time. Pelargonic acid is an effective, naturally occurring fatty acid and its low toxicity makes it environmentally friendly. It’s commonly found in many plant, animal, and food products.

5. Essential oils

According to USDA studies, some essential oils — including clove, summer savory, cinnamon, and red thyme — have herbicidal effects. Essential oils often are not 100 percent effective since the oil often evaporates or becomes inactive before interacting with plants, so they may need to be supplemented with other herbicides.

6. Native landscaping

The most appropriate plants for your yard are often those native to your region. According to the EPA, native landscaping significantly reduces the need for herbicides, fertilizers, and pesticides. It also saves water — a precious resource made even more important now that 19 percent of the contiguous U.S. is currently experiencing moderate to extreme drought.

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