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The Spraying of the Great American Lawn

An eye opening tale of the dangers of pesticides

By Steve Jones

The vision of the American Dream is a suburban home with a lovely manicured, weed free lawn. The neighbors can admire the yard, kids learn to play on the neat grass and our pets make it their protective domain. It's a picture as American as apple pie yet it is a scenario making many people ill which is the subject of A Chemical Reaction.

Paul Tukey as a young man in 1988 was searching for a way to make a living and since no experience was required, he started his own lawn professional business. Going into the industry, all Paul knew was how to push the mower in a straight line. He quickly learned that the normal mode of operation and the key to success was to spray pesticides on lawns. The chemicals, such as R, 2-D, are manufactured to kill weeds thus creating the perfect lawn. The Catch-22 situation that Paul and consumers find themselves in is that the chemicals are highly toxic. After all they are designed to destroy plant life. Yet these sprays are a widely accepted part of our lives. Their toxicity is far from common knowledge.

After three years in the lawn care business Paul Tukey fell sick and was diagnosed with acute chemical sensitivity. The apparent culprit: the chemicals he sprayed to beautify yards and earn a living. Paul had heard of others who had similar experiences and he decided to act.

Having heard the tale of Dr. June Irwin, Paul headed north. June lives and practices in Hudson, Quebec in the Canadian province of Ontario. In the mid-1980's she had two patients that first caught her attention. A ten month old baby who was comatose due to R, 2-D intoxication and a woman who was hospitalized for a rash that appeared to be due to exposure to a toxic weed killer. Convinced that the illnesses were caused by lawn pesticides, she decided it was time to speak out. "If you want to get something done, you got to fight for it" and she did. June began making weekly appearances at Hudson town hall meetings. She had children as patients who had rashes and severe diarrhea so June began measuring levels of toxins in their bodies and building a medical case against weed killers.

At first she was seen as an eccentric and the town council was dismissive of her claims. Yet June persisted and over the years, more people started to take notice. With the election of a new mayor sympathetic to her cause in 1991, the small town made history by passing a ban on the spraying of pesticides on lawns in the town of Hudson.

The chemical companies, namely ChemLawn (now Tru-Green) and Spray-Tech, were stunned and moved swiftly. They fought the ban all the way to the Canadian Supreme Court (I won't reveal the outcome) while in the US, their lobbyists managed in 41 of 50 states to pass laws pre-empting towns from enacting stronger regulation than that required by the state. Clearly Dr. June Irwin and Hudson had sent shockwaves throughout the lawn care industry.

Having studied June Irwin's crusade, Paul Tukey continues the fight for regulation of lawn chemicals and the rights of folks to ban them in their communities. His organization, the National Campaign for Safe Lawns (, is raising awareness of the dangers so many Americans are uninformed of.

The words of the lawyer, Stuart Elgie, who represented Hudson in front of the Canadian Supreme Court stayed with me. "Lawns are the places where the environment meets people's lives". Lawns are a part of our lives. They surround our living spaces and our kids and pets play on them. Shouldn't we know if what is being sprayed on lawns is dangerous?

Go see A Chemical Reaction and decide for yourself.