9 Tips to a Healthier House and Yard - OUTDOORS

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Use chemicals sparingly. Living in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed means landscaping and lawn fertilizers and pesticides end up in the Bay where they can cause major problems. Using these chemicals also means you are exposing your family to them. To avoid that, look for organic soil enhancers at your local garden center and have a pH test done on your lawn to determine what’s really necessary. “You want to feed your soil, not your grass,” Broadbent says. Also, be sure to read the packaging thoroughly to avoid overusing any product.

Invest in a welcome mat. “Many toxins that are brought into our houses are brought in on the soles of our shoes,” Broadbent explains. That includes chemicals and bacteria from lawns and sidewalks, or chemicals left on the road by cars. Look for mats that have holes in the bottom; these allow debris to fall through the mat rather than end up back on your feet. And teach your kids to wipe their feet before they come in the house.

Control mosquitoes. Be diligent about removing standing water on your property and consider installing bat boxes to encourage bats to eat the insects. “If you don’t use good mosquito control practices, you are more likely to use more mosquito repellant, which can contain strong chemicals,” Broadbent explains. So controlling mosquitoes means you might not need to apply as much of those sprays to yourself or your kids.

Nix pressure-treated lumber. Before 2004, manufacturers of pressure-treated lumber used arsenic to prevent rot. While now banned for residential use, older wooden playsets, decks, and fencing can still pose a problem. “If a child gets a splinter from pressure-treated wood, it can be really dangerous and become infected because of the arsenic,” says Broadbent. The arsenic also can rub off on skin.
To be safe, Broadbent recommends buying playsets made from recycled plastic lumber or other composite. Teach kids to wash their hands immediately after playing outdoors. Also, never burn leftover scraps of pressure-treated lumber in the fireplace, firepit, or chiminea due to the chemicals the wood could give off.

Go native. Adding native plants to your yard has numerous benefits for the environment and your health, explains Zora Lathan, executive director, Chesapeake Ecology Center, Annapolis. Natives are resilient to insects and disease, requiring little if any pesticides. Nor do they require chemical fertilizers or supplemental watering. That translates to less chemical exposure for the family. “By using native plants, you are making your home landscape healthy for your children and pets and the environment,” Lathan says. Ask for native plants at your local gardening center or nursery, and watch for native plant sales run by local nonprofits, such as the Chesapeake Ecology Center and Adkins Arboretum.

Karen Gaspers is a writer and mother of one in Chestertown, Md.


•    The city of Annapolis offers an Environmental Stewardship Self-Certification Workbook for Households: annapolis.gov/upload/images/government/depts/environ/EnvironmentalStewardship-Households.pdf
•    The Environmental Protection Agency offers information on radon and VOCs: epa.gov/radon and epa.gov/iaq/voc.html
•    The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, on its “In Your Home” webpage, includes information about alternatives to toxic household products and making your lawn more bay friendly: cbf.org
•    The Maryland Native Plant Society lists native plant suppliers: mdflora.org

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