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What you Need to Know About Poisonous Lawn Treatments

Spring can be a tough season for lawns. Homeowners sometimes use chemicals to repair winter damage and prepare the lawn for summer's rain, drought, or heat.

Many lawn problems can be addressed by modifying the soil, growing conditions, type of grass seed, and routine care provided. If you decide to use chemicals to treat your lawn, choose only those chemicals which will treat your specific problem. Purchase only as much as you'll need. Store products safely, out of reach of children and pets.

When you use lawn care chemicals, follow label directions carefully to avoid harming yourself, children, pets – and, of course, the environment. Here is a list of common lawn products used in the spring.

Lime is used to alter the soil pH, if a soil test shows that the soil is too acidic to sustain a lawn. Lime is applied in a dry or granular form. Use it when there is no wind, as the powder can irritate your eyes, nose, and throat if it blows into your face. Be sure to keep it dry, as wet lime can burn your skin. If lime does blow into your eyes or face, brush off as much as you can. Then, immediately run a lot of water over your face and skin. A shower works well, but a hose might be handier. Then call Poison Control (800-222-1222).

Fertilizer can be irritating if it gets into your eyes, nose, or mouth. It can cause stomach upset if swallowed. Usually, there are no other problems with the types of fertilizers sold for home use. BUT – and this is a big "but" – some fertilizer products also contain weed killers and insecticides.

Herbicides, or weed killers, may contain a number of ingredients, including carbamates and glyphosate. Getting these products on the skin or in the eyes is likely to cause irritation. Inhaling them can cause lung irritation. The greatest danger is from swallowing them; this has happened when products were transferred into unlabeled containers or into beverage containers. Children and adults have been seriously poisoned in this way.

In addition to the active weed-killing ingredients, herbicides often contain ingredients intended to help them spread evenly or stick to plant leaves. These ingredients are labeled "inert" because they don't kill weeds, but they can still be harmful if swallowed or inhaled.

Insecticides may be used to kill grubs that damage grass, ticks, and fleas. Biological control agents such as nematodes are not harmful to humans. Some other types of insecticides can be absorbed through skin or inhaled; of course, they can also be swallowed if not stored safely. Poisoning symptoms could range from mild stomach upset to seizures, depending on the ingredients.

Apply insecticides on a day with no wind. Cover as much skin area as possible with long sleeves, long pants, and gloves. Be sure that children and pets aren't around.

The bottom line is that lawn care chemicals intended for homeowner use can be used safely when label directions are followed carefully and products are stored properly. To avoid skin, eye, throat, and lung irritation, use these products on days with little or no wind. Avoid the risk of swallowing them by storing these products in original, labeled containers. If they must be diluted in different containers, label those containers clearly and do NOT use them for any other purpose. Lock the products and containers up high, out of sight and reach of children and pets.

If someone gets a lawn care chemical on their skin or in their eyes, rinse with running water for 15-20 minutes. Then, call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222. If someone swallows one of these products, call Poison Control right away.

Feel free to call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222 if you have questions about the safety of lawn care chemicals you're planning to use. Poison specialists can answer them, whether you plan to apply products yourself or have a professional lawn care company treat your lawn.

Rose Ann Gould Soloway, RN, BSN, MSEd, DABAT emerita
Clinical Toxicologist

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