A Vermont environmental group is warning Vermonters to stay off the grass - if TruGreen got there first. This week, the Montpelier-based Toxics Action Center launched a nationwide boycott against TruGreen ChemLawn, claiming the country's largest lawn-care company uses pesticides that are dangerous to children, pets and the environment, without warning consumers about the risks.
On Tuesday, TAC released a 96-page report documenting the human and environmental hazards posed by 32 pesticides TruGreen uses. According to the report, 17 of these products contain chemicals the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the International Agency for Research on Cancer consider "possible carcinogens." The report also claims that one-third of the chemicals contain suspected or known reproductive toxins and/or endocrine disruptors; 13 are banned or restricted in other countries.
Alyssa Schuren is TAC's organizing director in Vermont and an author of the report. She says her group launched the boycott only after repeated requests to meet with TruGreen representatives were denied. TAC's aim is for TruGreen to phase out its chemical pesticide use, better disclose what chemicals it uses, and offer consumers organic lawn-care alternatives.
TruGreen serves more than 3.4 million households and generates more than $1.3 billion in revenues annually, according to the company's website. According to TAC, TruGreen applies more than 70 million pounds of pesticides annually; lawn care is now the only sector of the market in which pesticide use is on the rise. Those claims couldn't be independently verified.
But a TruGreen spokesperson insists their chemicals pose no risks to humans or the environment. "We're disappointed that they're targeting TruGreen," says Steve Bono, senior vice president of corporate communications for ServiceMaster, TruGreen's parent company. "We certainly are very, very responsible in the use of all of our chemicals and materials and comply with all regulations and laws."
Bono hasn't seen the TAC report and couldn't comment on its allegations, but says TruGreen doesn't use any ingredients that are known or probable carcinogens. When asked if all the chemicals TruGreen uses are "safe," Bono says "yes."
But Schuren counters that such representations violate federal law. "Just because something is on the market doesn't necessarily mean it's 'safe,'" Schuren says. "Fifty percent of what ChemLawn uses are considered possible or likely carcinogens by the EPA. [The EPA] is not saying they're safe because they're the people who put the warnings on them."
Dr. Patrick O'Neill is a University of Vermont pediatrics professor who researches the genetic and carcinogenic effects of chemical exposures. He believes several chemicals TruGreen uses are problematic, particularly for children, whose smaller bodies and faster metabolisms make them especially susceptible to toxic exposures.
O'Neill points out that many lawn-care products migrate into the house, where they pose a greater risk because they aren't broken down by the elements. "I just find it absolutely amazing that anyone would allow this crap to be sprayed on their lawns," O'Neill says. "I can't imagine anyone's lawn being that important to them."
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