Healthy Household Habits

Household habits to protect OUR watershed:

Household Pesticides and Fertilizers When pesticides and fertilizers are applied, stored, or disposed of improperly, they can be carried by stormwater runoff into the storm drain system and enter our waterways, contaminating our waters. The improper use of pesticides and fertilizers can be a major cause of water pollution and may severely damage aquatic ecosystems. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers pollution such as urban runoff from fertilizers and pesticides to present one of the largest sources of water quality problems in the United States today.

A common misconception is that the agricultural sector is primarily to blame for this pollution. However, agriculture is not the sole source. Nationally, one-fourth of these pollutants found in rivers and streams come from household use. Did you know that suburban homeowners often use more pesticides per acre than farmers do on their fields? According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, up to 10 times more! But that’s good news, in a way—it means our choices here in the Town of Prosper can make a difference.

Pesticides

Eliminating or minimizing the use of pesticides in your landscape helps reduce the amount of harmful chemicals in our environment.

Pesticides are chemical compounds designed to kill pests, including rodents, insects, fungi, and unwanted plants. Most commonly used insecticides are designed to kill a broad spectrum of insects. This means they end up killing not only the “bad” insects but also the beneficial ones, such as ladybugs, spiders, and wasps (which actually prey upon insect pests) and pollinators like bees and butterflies.

The toxic effects of insecticides can spread through the food web. For example, a bird or lizard eating a poisoned insect is ingesting the same toxins, and the toxins are often biomagnified, meaning they are found in higher concentrations as you move up the food chain. This can result in unintended negative consequences on the ecosystem.

Pesticides are also mobile—which means that once they’re introduced into the environment, pesticides can travel far beyond where applied. Sprayed pesticides can drift away on air currents, and stormwater runoff can carry pesticides from residential yards to neighborhood creeks, ponds, lakes, and rivers. Pesticides in these waters can have profound negative impacts on wild In addition, many of these chemicals can persist in the environment. This means that they can resist degradation and remain toxic for long periods of time in soils and water—posing an increased risk to wildlife long after the chemical was first applied.

What can you do to help combat these issues?

  • Use chemical pesticides as a last resort. Many pests can be mitigated without chemical pesticides. When possible, use non-chemical control methods such as integrated pest management. For example, some pests can be hosed off plants, slugs may be caught with beer bait, and other pests could be controlled biologically. And instead of using herbicides, you might manually remove weeds. They may come out easily, especially if you wet the soil first. If removing the weeds is too much of a challenge, make sure to mow before they produce seeds.
  • Know your pest, and narrowly target it.
    • Identify the pest before applying a pesticide. Find out whether the species is beneficial or harmful. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension provides several useful insect identification tools on its “Insect identification Help” webpage, “Common Texas Insects” webpage, and Problem Solver Guides for Gardeners website.) Not sure what you’re dealing with? Your County Extension agents or local nurseries should be able to help.
    • Keep in mind that the pest may already be gone by the time you spot the damage.
    • If pesticides are deemed necessary, choose a pesticide that narrowly targets the pest you’re treating for.
  • Apply pesticides properly.
    • Never apply pesticides on a windy day or when rain is forecast.
    • Limit your pesticide application to the target area.
    • Use the least toxic pesticide and application rate possible. Read the pesticide product label first! Apply only as directed. (Make sure to calibrate your sprayer or spreader.) Applying excess pesticide does not result in better pest control, and can lead to buildup in the soil and surrounding environment as well as pesticide resistance.
    • Read the product’s label for instructions on when and how to water after your application. These instructions can vary greatly by pesticide.
    • Be careful when mixing and applying pesticides. Wear protective gear such as long sleeves and eye protection to reduce your exposure. Reduce our environment’s exposure, too: Don’t hose a spill into the street or a storm drain. Clean up spills immediately by using an absorbent product such as cat litter, then sweep up the product and put it in your trash. If a pesticide is spilled on a sidewalk or driveway and not cleaned up, rainfall will eventually wash it into the storm drain and our waters.
  • To dispose of leftover pesticides, bring them to a household hazardous waste drop-off location near you. (Find locations at timetorecycle.com.)
  • If you use a commercial applicator or lawn care service, ask them for the safety data sheets. These include information about potential risks and safety precautions. Make sure your invoice notes the pesticide name and rate applied.
  • Select native and adapted plants for your landscape. (The Texas SmartScape plant database can help you find suitable candidates.) Hardy native and adapted plants are rarely plagued by major pest problems, so you may never need to use pesticides. Furthermore, a healthy native landscape can nurture local beneficial species that prey on your pests, which could provide you with a long-term biological control.

 

The EPA has several resources available related to pesticide safety, including FAQs, pilot project information on label improvements, and publications on protecting your kids, pets, garden, and household. For questions about specific pesticides, call the National Pesticide Information Center at 1-800-858-7378.

Fertilizers

Like pesticides, synthetic fertilizers are chemicals that can cause serious environmental problems if applied improperly. To encourage the growth of lawns and landscape plants, people often make repeated applications of fertilizers. Excess fertilizer that is not used by plants can leach into groundwater or can run off to pollute surface water.

Fertilizer is most often applied in the spring and/or fall, which is when our region receives significant rainfall. As a result, a lot of the fertilizer applied never reaches the targeted plants. Instead, it enters our waterways through stormwater runoff and ends up feeding aquatic plants such as algae. This can cause algae blooms, which may literally choke out small ponds, tanks, and slow-moving streams. Algae blooms can dramatically alter the base of the food web, impacting all the organisms in the pond, stream, or lake. When these blooms die back, the decomposition process depletes the water of its oxygen, resulting in fish kills.

What can you do to help combat these issues?

  • If your landscape needs a nutrient boost, use the recommended amount—don’t apply fertilizers in excess.
  • Check the weather, and apply fertilizers only when rain is not forecast.
  • Once fertilizer is applied, water only enough to wash the fertilizer off grass blades and into the root zone. If water is flowing down the street, so is your fertilizer—eventually ending up in local waterways. If water is running off your lawn, turn off your sprinklers and adjust your irrigation run times.
  • Use compost instead of synthetic fertilizers to provide nutrients to your plants. Compost is an excellent soil amendment. (If your plants still require additional fertilizer, the use of compost can reduce those needs.)

When choosing plants for your yard, stick to native and adapted plants. They’re often capable of thriving without much (if any) fertilizer. Check out the Texas SmartScape plant database for some options.

 

Vehicle/Boat Storage and Maintenance

When washing your vehicle at home, use a shut-off spray nozzle and re-direct run-off water to your yard. It will allow for filtration of the water, sediments and surfactants used and keep them from entering the storm drain and subsequently, our creeks.

Recycle used oil, anti-freeze and other automotive fluids at participating service stations. These products can never be dumped down a storm drain and shouldn’t be left outdoors or be put into trash cans.

Check for leaks and drips regularly. Repair the problem as soon as possible. Place a metal container under the drip/leak to keep the oil off the ground. Clean up any drips on a driveway or in the street with a dry absorbent. This can be swept up and placed in a trash can once the oil has dried.

 

Sources

Texas SmartScape webpage “Ecological Benefits of SmartScape” http://www.txsmartscape.com/benefits/ecological.asp;

Texas Groundwater Protection Committee, “Pesticides” http://tgpc.state.tx.us/pesticides/;

Dallas “Something Bugging You” brochure, http://www.wheredoesitgo.com/about-types-herbacides.html;

Earth-Kind “Landscape Pesticides” http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/earthkind/files/2010/10/pesticides.pdf;

Movement of pesticides in the environment – http://extoxnet.orst.edu/tibs/movement.htm;

Texas A&M, “Stormwater Impacts,” http://texaswater.tamu.edu/stormwater/impacts.html