A persuasive letter may encourage neighbors to abandon pesticides


July 31, 1991|By Susan McGrath | Susan McGrath,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

So you've sworn off pesticides. Your garden is buzzing with bees, wriggling with worms and generally bursting with health. There is only one small cloud on the horizon -- the cloud of toxic spray emanating from the high-pressure nozzle of the monthly lawn service company Neighbor Jones hires.

On windy days, that cloud of pesticide droplets blows right over onto your yard. On rainy days, it washes down from his trees to your pea patch. What's the point of giving up the stuff yourself if you're going to be eating pesticides in your peas anyway?

You basically have two choices: Mind your own business, shut your windows and keep your children out of the yard on spraying days -- and perhaps the two days afterward. Or find a way to persuade Neighbor Jones to change his lawn and garden care practices. Let's give that one a whirl.

Being a writer, I naturally think a careful letter is the best approach. Here is one that Bronwyn Echols, of Seattle, Wash., sent to all the houses on her street:

"A Letter to our Neighbors: Hawthorne Hills has always prided itself on its handsome yards and attractive gardens. For many residents, maintaining such yards has meant a visit from a spray service several times a year, and the spray companies encourage householders to believe that an all-encompassing blast from the high-pressure nozzle is absolutely necessary for insect-free yards while being perfectly safe for our environment.

"However, a number of us Hawthorne Hillers have become very concerned both about the rationale for blanket spraying and about the spraying companies' actual performance. Many of you may be paying good money for a service that not only can harm the health of our environment, ourselves and especially our children and pets, but that you simply do not need. A little research has led us to these rather disturbing conclusions:

"1. Not all plants in our yard need spraying; in fact, very few are susceptible to pests. The vast majority of plants are getting a dose of chemicals that do absolutely no good because there is no insect problem in the first place.

"2. Insects have a very rapid reproduction rate and can within a short time begin to breed strains resistant to the chemicals being applied. According to Robert Metcalf, Professor of Biology and Entomology, University of Illinois, 'The shortsighted and irresponsible use of pesticides . . . is producing strains of monster bugs. There are now about 30 species that nothing can kill.' Every application of chemical pesticide in our own yards provides the force for naturally selecting bugs that are immune to the clouds of chemical death.

"3. Blanket spraying kills beneficial insects, such as honey bees and the wasps that prey on other bugs. Yes, those hornets nesting in the back-yard bush are the hawks of the insect world; spraying them eliminates a natural control on the caterpillars and other bugs that plague a few of our trees and shrubs. Does it make sense to kill our allies as well as our enemies?

"4. Several of us have observed the spray companies' performance on a number of occasions and have been quite distressed by what we have seen. First, the companies make no attempt to contact next-door neighbors to warn them they are about to spray. This would seem to be only common courtesy, so that those of us who do not spray can shut our windows and keep our children away from exposed areas. Secondly, although sprayers are supposed to spray only on windless days, this has rarely been followed, and we have frequently seen the hoses blasting into a brisk breeze that carries the chemicals far from the target yard. We who do not want sprays in our yards do have civil recourse for chemical trespass. We would prefer this to be a last resort.

"5. Finally, what has moved us to speak out is some rather frightening news reported last summer: several recent studies have shown a significant link between pesticide exposure and cancer in children. Our children are infinitely precious to us, and to learn that chemicals used so casually in our lovely neighborhood could compromise their chance to grow up healthy and happy has given us great anxiety. Is a yard free for the moment from all insect life worth the long-term possibility that the child next door may suffer?"

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