Evidence of Harm

Good Neighbor Iowa aims to protect child health and water quality from the dangers of common lawn pesticides (herbicides, insecticides, fungicides).

Pesticides affect child development

Children are exposed to pesticides through their food, water, and the pesticides applied in their own back yards, school grounds, and the public parks they play in.  Children’s unique vulnerabilities and frequent hand-to-mouth behavior can lead to significantly more exposure compared to adults. There may be rare situations where pesticides may be needed in certain landscapes (invasive species control, removing poison ivy, etc.) , but their use on the common turf for cosmetic purposes is entirely unnecessary.

A technical report, Pesticide Exposure in Children, 1 by the American Academy of Pediatrics offers a review of numerous studies linking prenatal and childhood exposure to pesticides with a variety of childhood cancers, chronic illnesses and neurodevelopmental and behavioral disorders.

“Prenatal, household and occupational exposures (maternal and paternal) appear to be the largest risks. …Children’s exposure to pesticides should be limited as much as possible.”  – American Academy of Pediatrics

Many other findings in public health sciences point to similar conclusions:

  • In 1987, the Journal of the National Cancer Institute published a study that found that households and garden pesticide use can increase the risk of childhood leukemia as much as seven-fold.2
  • In 2007, a comprehensive review of literature by the Ontario College of Family Physicians concluded, “Studies looking at pesticide use and cancer have shown a positive relationship between exposure to pesticides and the development of some cancers, particularly in children.”3
  • A 2010 meta-analysis of 15 studies on residential pesticide use and childhood leukemia found an association with exposure during pregnancy.4
  • Two reports by the Pesticide Action Network North America outline a comprehensive review of published studies on pesticides and children:

            A Generation in Jeopardy: How Pesticides are Undermining Our Children’s Health & Intelligence.5

           Kids on the Frontline: How Pesticides are Undermining the Health of Rural Children 6

There is no justification to expose children to pesticides for cosmetic purposes.

Even though public policies banned DDT in 1972, we continue to spray harmful weed killers such as 2,4-D on our lawns.

Pesticides affect water quality

The warnings on containers of common lawn weed killers often say: “This product is toxic to fish and aquatic organisms.”  And yet, the reality is that some of the herbicides applied to turf do end up in local streams.  Monitoring studies have shown that pesticides used on lawns are detected in urban streams, and often in higher concentration than in streams draining agricultural regions. 7

After the province of Ontario, Canada, banned cosmetic lawn pesticides, a study found that weed killer concentration in urban streams was significantly reduced. 8

Who Sprays the Most?

This map of Cedar Falls, Iowa illustrates the variation in residential lawn weed killer use in different neighborhoods. The most sprayed neighborhoods are indicated by red. The map also reveals that water is always nearby.

A conservative estimate of lawn weed killers applied annually on school grounds, parks and residential yards in Cedar Falls, Iowa has shown that at least 2,860 pounds of active ingredients, mostly 2,4-D, MCPP and Dicamba are applied in this community. 9

This is entirely unnecessary and preventable.

We invite school officials, park managers and grounds staff to:

  • Act on what we already know from studies in public health sciences outlined here.
  • Eliminate pesticide use for cosmetic purposes on general turf areas.  Diverse lawns will not hurt anyone, but herbicides can.
  • Be a Good Neighbor.  You can demonstrate to your community that creating healthy lawns without herbicides is practical, saves money, protects children, provides pollinator habitat, and protects Iowa’s streams.


  1. Roberts, J.R., C.J. Karr, and Council on Environmental Health. 2012. “Pesticide Exposure in Children.” Pediatrics. Vol 130, number 6, December.
  2. Lowngart, R. et al. 1987. “Childhood Leukemia and Parent’s Occupational and Home Exposures.” Journal of the National Cancer Institute 79:39
  3. K.L. Bassil, C. Vakil, M. Sanborn, D.C. Cole, J.S. Kaur, K.J. Kerr. “Cancer Health Effects of Pesticides, A Systematic Review.” Canadian Family Physician. 2007 Oct;53(10):1704-11.
  4. Turner, M.C., et al. 2010. “Residential Pesticides and Childhood Leukemia: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.” Environmental Health Perspectives. 118 (1):33-41.
  5. Pesticide Action Network North America. Report: “A Generation in Jeopardy.” 2013.
  6. Kids on the Frontline. 2016. Pesticide Action Network North America. http://www.panna.org/resources/kids-frontline
  7. Hoffman, R.S.; Capel, P.D.; Larson, S.J. “Comparison of Pesticide Use in Eight U.S. Urban Streams.” Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 2000, 19, 2249-2258.
  8. Todd, Aaron and J. Struger. “Changes in Acid Herbicide Concentrations in Urban Streams after a Cosmetic Pesticides Ban.” Challenges, 2014, 5, 138-151.
  9. DeGroot, J. and Enshayan, K. “Field Observations of Likelihood of Residential Lawn Herbicide Use in Cedar Falls, Iowa,” Center for Energy & Environmental Education & Department of Geography, University of Northern Iowa. 2017. Residential use was estimated based on field observations of more than 1800 residential lawns in certain representative neighborhoods; actual application data was used for schools and parks.

Prepared by Kamyar Enshayan, PhD, Director , Center for Energy & Environmental Education, University of Northern Iowa. Reviewed by Dr. Tom Scholz, MD, University of Iowa, and Dr. Mary Kemen, MD, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Map courtesy of John DeGroot, Department of Geography, University of Northern Iowa