Pesticides on Playing Fields

For millions of kids, the warmer weather means only one thing…the start of spring and summer sport programs. Soon baseball diamonds, golf courses, and soccer fields across the country will be filled with energetic, competitive kids.

Keeping those playing fields in good condition and free of pests, however, requires regular maintenance that includes spraying the grass with a toxic cocktail of chemical fungicides, herbicides and insecticides. Although we have become accustomed to their use, make no mistake these chemicals are poisons and are meant to kill living organisms; weeds, fungus and a variety of insects.

If you think your children are somehow escaping exposure to these harmful chemicals because they are applied outdoors, think again. Chemical lawn treatments can linger for many days before the weather and sun begin to dilute their potency.

As youth sports programs expand, the time between chemical lawn applications and use of playing fields has been shortened. With regular lawn maintenance followed by a packed schedule of practices and games, kids are repeatedly breathing in and picking up pesticide residue on their skin, clothes and shoes.

According to Beyond Pesticides, of the 30 commonly used lawn pesticides, 19 are linked with cancer or carcinogenicity, 13 are linked with birth defects, 21 with reproductive effects, 26 with liver or kidney damage, 15 with neurotoxicity and 11 with disruption of the endocrine (hormonal system).

Children are particularly vulnerable to pesticides. Many lawn care product labels specifically warn that the product can trigger asthma attacks and allergic reactions.

Research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found the residue of numerous pesticides in the bodies of 15 percent of children tested, ages 3 to 7. What’s worse, the broken-down products used in organophosphate pesticides was detected in 98.7 percent of children studied.

Some of the chemicals used in lawn “weed and feed” products, such as the herbicide 2, 4-D, can be very toxic even at low doses and may increase the risk of cancer, neurological and reproductive problems. When brought indoors on clothing, 2, 4-D can remain in carpets for up to a year.

Safe alternatives to commonly used chemical lawn care products are available and are often cost effective. Thanks to concerned parents across the country, many states and school systems have already implemented policies mandating integrated pest management (IPM), a toxin-free, pest-control method. Just last month a new state law that would ban the use of pesticides on school playgrounds and sports fields went into effect in New York. Over 400 school districts in 33 states have switched to integrative pest management policies.

What parents can do to reduce playing field pesticide exposures:
1. Following practice or a game, make sure your children remove their shoes before entering the house.

2. Promptly remove practice clothes or game uniforms, and wash them separately.

3. Wash hands immediately and entire body as soon as possible.

4. Parents of children participating in outdoor sport activities should familiarize themselves with the pesticide laws in your area. State and local school pesticide policies are available at

5. Join with other parents and bring your concerns to your local officials and petition them to adopt a pesticide-free sports fields program. Municipalities and school districts have the ability to implement their own policies on pesticide use.

Deirdre Imus is the Founder and President of The Deirdre Imus Environmental Health CenterTM at Hackensack University Medical Center and Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Imus Cattle Ranch for Kids with Cancer. Deirdre is the author of four books, including three national bestsellers. She is a frequent speaker on green living and children’s health issues, and is a contributor to For more information go to