Regulars and Shorts

“Greener” Grass for SLC’s Parks?

By Jane Lyon

The Healthy Babies Bright Futures project catalyzes a plan to reduce landscape toxins.

Most people these days would agree that chemical exposure is generally bad for our bodies, but putting that knowledge into practice, by taking away some of those chemicals that create the world we are used to, often experiences resistance. Take, for example, when a former director of Parks and Pubic Lands for Salt Lake City was interested in re-evaluating the ways in which chemicals are used in the parks. She placed a moratorium on all herbicide and pesticide sprays for several city-maintained lawns for three years. Absolutely no chemicals, not even organics, would be used. The result was that these parks, with soils weakened by years of chemical treatments, became immediately overwrought with dandelions. The weed takeover caused a citizen outcry. The moratorium ended early and the use of herbicides and pesticides was resumed.

Salt Lake City is beginning a new initiative to reduce chemical use on city properties, only this time they aren’t quitting cold turkey. The impetus is Healthy Babies Bright Futures (HBBF), a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit working to reduce the amount of chemical exposure experienced by children from in utero to age two. Increased exposure to the neurotoxic chemicals found in herbicides and pesticides correlates with increased incidences of ADHD, behavioral problems, cognitive delays and low birth weight. Salt Lake City’s first project as an affiliate of HBBF is to reduce the use of neurotoxic herbicides and pesticides used in our parks.

Saying no to chemicals isn’t exactly a new concept. In her 1962 bestseller, Silent Spring, science writer Rachel Carson warned the world that spraying chemicals would bring the end of a vibrant planet Earth. Her main concern was DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichlo roethane), a synthetic insecticide that was used to fight insect-borne human diseases. It became widely popular after World War II and was used massively by civilian populations in America.

Imagine a world with out bugs. That was Carson’s fear. “They should not be called “insecticides,” she wrote, but “biocides.” Earth is an elaborate web of systems working together. Layer the biosphere with chemicals and only a tragic loss of life can follow.

Chemists believed that DDT was harmless to humans and deadly only to insects, but Carson proved how the poison works its way through the food chain. The peregrine falcon was at high risk of extirpation. Carson found that eggs laid by the peregrine falcon had softer shells and the bird’s young were failing to thrive. At the top of the food chain, these birds were absorbing so much DDT from prey that their reproductive systems began to fail. Because of Rachel Carson, DDT was banned and the peregrine falcon was eventually taken off the endangered species list.

Bridget Stuchly, program manager of the city’s Sustainability Department, says the department is posting a survey on their interface called Open City Hall. The survey will help gauge how people are feeling on this issue and indicate how quickly the city can transition away from chemicals.

Once the surveys are completed, the Department of Sustainability will form a campaign among neighborhoods to bring attention to the issue of chemical spraying and also to help people educate each other on the dangers of toxins, especially during the first 1,000 days of human life. We might begin to see signs with words like “toxin-free zone” in the front yards of people who have chosen to avoid chemical applications.

“This season we want to identify a couple of areas where we can do pilot tests to determine what will work to maintain the aesthetic and the soil health long term,” says Stuchly. “The driving force is always what the citizens want.”

While this project starts with public parks it is most important in the home. Unfortunately, preventing the earliest exposure to chemicals for children is quite difficult since the source of early exposure is often breast milk (as well as commercially available baby formulas in which CDC tests have revealed perchlorate contam ination). Women are at much higher risk for carrying known neurotoxins than men, partially because women use more lotions and fragrance as well as feminine hygiene products that contain hidden toxins. Many of these chemicals stored in a mother’s body are passed to the baby, especially through breast-feeding—much like the female peregrine falcons passed poison to their vulnerable eggs. In fact, if women’s breast milk were bottled and tested most test results would show trace amounts of DDT, PCBs, dioxins, mercury, lead, benzene, arsenic and other chemicals and heavy metals.

While the Department of Sustainability can promote policies that reduce chemical use at the city level, it is up to us, as citizens and constituents, to reduce our use of chemicals and neurotoxins in our personal lives.

If you need some help knowing where to start, the app Detox Me can guide you through a chemical-free lifestyle makeover. You can set goals for specific products you want to eliminate from your environment and every two weeks the app will check in with you to see if you have followed through and reward you with merit badges as you meet your goals. So while the city does its part to “detox” through the Healthy Babies Bright Futures program, we can do our part at home.

To get more involved in community conversations and to add your opinion to the forum on public spraying, log onto

The Wild Wisdom of dandelions

Every part of the dandelion is a reason to celebrate, according to biologist, holistic health educator, wild plant expert and author Katrina Blair. In her latest book, The Wild Wisdom of Weeds (2014: Chelsea Green), she writes:

The perennial plant returns each year from the same root, and even from a partial root. This is a marvelous example of nature working in the currency of abundance.

The deep dandelion taproots maintain a loose and spacious soil structure that enables earthworms to compost leaf debris. The dandelion absorbs minerals such as calcium, iron and potassium from the Earth into its leaves and ultimately into the topsoil when they are composted each year.

The spring dandelion flowers often bloom before the fruit trees and draw beneficial insects, such as ladybugs and honeybees, to begin pollinating the early blooms in the gardens and orchards. The apricots and cherries are usually the first to risk exposing their flower to the early fluctuating temperatures, with peaches, pears, and apples following. After the dandelions mature beyond the flowering stage, the bees naturally shift all their focus to the flowering nectar of the gardens and orchards.

Dandelion is a storehouse of abundant nutritional value. The entire plant—roots, stems, flowers and leaves—is edible; the dandelion has everything required for humans to survive. Each part is composed of different amino acids, making the whole plant a complete protein.

Chinese medicine and India’s ayurvedic medicine employ dandelion for health and beauty.. It is also used as food and medicine in Japan.

One cup of greens contains more vitamin A than any other green. They act as a digestive tonic assisting the breakdown of undigested proteins and fats. The bitter quality supports the secretion of bile and the digestive enzymes in the stomach.

The golden plant shares so much generosity in beauty, health and happiness, year after year.

Katrina Blair will visit Salt Lake City this spring to give a talk and guide a foraging walk. Check next issue for details.

This article was originally published on February 27, 2017.