The Rye Free Reading Room’s Community Room was filled Tuesday morning with an attentive audience interested in “The Great Healthy Yard Project”…
By Bill Lawyer
The Rye Free Reading Room’s Community Room was filled Tuesday morning with an attentive audience interested in “The Great Healthy Yard Project” spearheaded by Dr. Diane Lewis of Bedford and organized by the Rye Garden Club.
Lewis, a medical doctor specializing in kidney problems, who has an extensive background in environmental issues, shared what prompted her to becoming an advocate. Her mission is to convince homeowners to make their yards “healthy” stems from the health problems she encountered in her medical training and practice. As she explained it, “Residential pollution is the most widespread water quality problem facing our country.”
She noted that, “The chemicals we put on our yards and down our drains end up in our drinking water. They are not removed by routine water treatment, and are also in bottled water.” She described the many ways that such chemicals as fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides “are damaging the health of our families, causing increases in autism, ADHD, diabetes, and cancer.”
While the main focus of her talk was on lawn pollutants, Lewis also brought up the danger resulting from dumping pharmaceuticals down drains or toilets.
In her presentation, she noted that while people think of polluting chemicals as being mostly from agriculture, in fact “homeowners use more chemicals per acre than farmers.”
Some pollutant exposures come from direct contact, via children playing or interacting with pets, but most come indirectly, through the water they drink.
In Lewis’s 2014 book, “The Great Healthy Lawn Project,” she provides a review of the research studies that have documented the link between lawn chemicals and health issues.
She has already received a lot of media attention and support from environmental groups.
But despite the serious health problems resulting from pollutants being dispersed into public water supplies, Lewis’ overall theme was one of optimism. “The solution to this problem is easy,” she asserted. “Stop using these chemicals, so they don’t wind up in our drinking water.”
The bulk of her remaining presentation, as well as the discussion period that followed, focused on how to bring an end to the use of chemicals on lawns.
She encouraged people to change their view of what the ideal lawn must be. “A lawn is not a carpet,” said Lewis. “It’s a whole lot of little grass plants.” She also urged people to focus on shrinking their lawns – replacing them with ground cover or other plants that are better adapted to environmental conditions. She said that a healthy yard starts with healthy soil, with a whole host of microorganisms that provide a balanced ecosystem.
What’s the best way to deal with the various “weeds” that crowd out grass and crop up between patio pavers or bricks? Lewis’ slide program showed a wide variety of non-toxic products to treat these conditions. One of the simplest is to pour boiling hot water on weeds trying to grow up between patio paving stones or bricks.
The final part of the discussion dealt with how to get the message across to Rye residents. Lewis said that the emphasis has to be on the positive side: how easy it is to make a difference, and what the benefits will be for everyone. “People need to know that what they do in their own yards can make a huge difference in the entire Sound Shore region,” said Lewis.
Lori Fontanes, a member of Rye’s Sustainability Committee, announced that she is working with the committee to get the message out in the coming months.