Opinion: Let’s call for a DC ban on chemicals in lawns and landscaping | Forest Hills Connection |

by Kathy Sykes

“Mom, what does this sign say?” asked a 3-year-old who was sitting on our lawn taking a break from gardening with me in the tree box on Appleton Street. Her mother immediately picked her up and pulled her away from the dangerous grass when she read the sign: “Be careful, use pesticides. Stay away.”

This happened a few years ago, and unfortunately it was not the last time I was reminded of the harmful practice of using chemicals in my neighborhood. Last fall, I planted a pollinator corridor along Connecticut Avenue with Elizabeth Daut, a gardener. She’s also a vet, and we noticed some dogs were playing in the grass across the street. We also noticed the little yellow flags posted there warning of a recent pesticide application. Elizabeth briefed dog owners on the dangers of chemicals used to remove weeds and told them what to look out for if their pets suddenly started showing symptoms of pesticide poisoning.

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And this spring, when I was photographing the UDC greenhouse and vegetable garden, I was sad to see the same little yellow sign on the UDC property near Dennard Plaza.

After completing the Master Gardener program at UDC and reviewing the UDC’s ten-year campus plan for sustainability, I was very concerned. Fortunately, the plan is to end the use of chemicals on campus, but my question is, why can’t implementation begin right away? This is an easy step to a chemistry-free landscape. Why wait?

What is the problem with using chemicals in our yards and gardens?

They do more harm than their goal. Pesticides are chemical substances designed to kill pests such as rodents, fungi, unwanted plants, and insects. Unfortunately, the toxic chemicals in herbicides, insecticides, and other pesticides also affect the beneficial plants and living things. And they have a significant impact on the environment and human health.

These chemicals are harmful to ladybugs, garden spiders, butterflies, hummingbirds and other birds, and of course bees, for example. Without these vital pollinators, the future of our food supply is at risk.

One of the most common weed killers is Roundup (its trade name) and its active ingredient is glyphosate, a suspected human carcinogen. Glyphosate is absorbed through the foliage and minimally through the roots and transported to the growing parts of a plant. It inhibits an enzyme that is involved in the synthesis of amino acids that are crucial for the life cycle of plants.

The chemicals get lost. That means they don’t stay where they are sprayed. Also known as pesticide drift, it can affect human health and the environment if it is carried by the wind and spreads to other areas such as nearby homes, schools, and playgrounds.

Wildlife, plants, pollinators, streams and other bodies of water are also affected by unnecessary spraying. A recent study by the United States Geological Survey concluded that “(1) pesticides persist in environments beyond the point of application and expected useful life, and (2) the potential toxicity of pesticides to aquatic life in surface waters is ubiquitous.”

Glyphosate “can now be found in most rivers, streams, ditches and sewage treatment plants as well as in 70 percent of the precipitation samples.”

What can we do as a community?

The pandemic has made many of us aware of the importance of nature as a critical part of our lives. It gives us pleasure, lifts our spirits and is important for sustainability and food supply.

It is time to ban these unnecessary and harmful chemicals. The district can take action for the benefit of our community and stop spraying and applying. While some communities have already taken these steps, there is no better time for DC than now to ensure a chemical-free, healthy environment. If you are okay with this, please reach out to your elected leaders: the Mayor, DC Council members, and ANC officers.

You too can act immediately. Stop using chemicals on your yards and gardens. If you live in an apartment building, encourage your building managers to remove chemicals from the landscape. There are alternatives to chemicals that are just as effective and less toxic as integrated pest control or IPM (see Resources below) to ensure a sustainable and healthy future for human health, animal health and the environment.

And we can support the pollinators. Van Ness Main Street, with the assistance of UDC’s Master Gardeners, has laid out pollination corridors along Connecticut Avenue. Last April, we began planting native plants, perennials, and wildflowers from Nebraska Avenue to Van Ness Street. Volunteers from all over the area helped prepare the tree boxes for spring and the other seasons. And if you want to create a pollinator corridor in your street, we can help you with a list of native plants that thrive here in shade, partial shade, and full sun.

More resources

What is a pesticide? (Beyond pesticides)

Why it is so important to save pollinators. (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations)

More about pesticide drift and a leaflet on how to safely free houses and gardens from pests. (Environmental protection agency)

Pesticides harm human health. (Council for the Defense of Natural Resources)

Poison Control Center: Call (800) 222-1222. at

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