Slaughter in the Grass
Homeowners are known to take solace in their lush, emerald-green lawns. Little do they know that their little patches of paradise might be home to some cold-blooded killers, such as poisonous fungi, carcinogenic chemicals, or maybe even venomous reptiles. Keep clicking to learn about the dangers that might be lurking in your lawn.
Usually, the painful sting of a fire ant, which feels like a lit match being pressed into your skin, won't kill you. But according to the Mississippi State Extension Service, every year there are a number of fatalities resulting from fire-ant stings, due to either an allergic reactions to the ants' venom or a high number of stings to those whose mobility is limited, such as the elderly or infirm.
"Ticks only need a drop of blood a year to survive," says Paul Tukey, founder of Safe Lawns, and organic lawn-care company. "So they're just waiting to get it from a mouse, a deer, or, of course, you." There are more than 800 species of ticks on the planet, and some of them can carry life-threatening diseases, including Lyme disease and the dreaded Rocky Mountain spotted fever. "Ticks don't usually hang out in open, full-sun lawns,” says Tukey. "But you might find plenty of them on the fringes, in more shaded areas." Avoid bites by wearing shoes and socks while doing yard work.
Most of us know the toadstools that pop up in our backyards after a heavy summer rain are way different than the ones we use in our chicken tetrazzini, but kids may not. "While 90 percent of the weeds in North America are edible, mushrooms can be deadly poisonous," says Paul Tukey. "So if you have kids prone to putting things in their mouths, keep them away from mushrooms, and educate older kids about them as early as possible."
Each year, approximately 8,000 venomous snakebites occur in the United States, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. And an overgrown lawn provides perfect cover for rattlesnakes and copperheads. Snakes are classic agoraphobics, with a profound fear of wide-open spaces where they're easily exposed. So the best way to ensure they stay off your lawn is to keep it well mowed. Remember that snakes also love to hide out in woodpiles and wooded areas. Other ways to ward off snakes is to purchase a scarecrow equipped with a motion detector that shoots water at them and other critters when they come onto your lawn.
Hate cleaning up the lawn after your pet? Then you might be putting your entire family at risk of acquiring intestinal worms. Roundworms are often found in dog feces and can easily migrate into whichever patch of lawn Scout prefers to do his business. The danger kicks in when your kid picks up a football that's come into contact with the infected soil, then touches his mouth with his hands. The roundworms travel to his intestines, lay their eggs, and spread like wildfire, leading to symptoms ranging from breathing trouble to weight loss and diarrhea. What's worse is that roundworms can cause ocular larva migrans, which occur when worm larvae attack the retina, leading to blindness. A study conducted in a pediatric hospital in the 1970s found that 37 percent of the children admitted with retinal disease tested positive for the larva.
If soil or plants contaminated with cat feces come into contact with your mouth, it can lead to toxoplasmosis. While this disease generally can't kill you, it can lead to a nasty fever and some disturbingly enlarged lymph nodes in the head or neck. The risks are greatest for pregnant women, who can pass on congenital toxoplasmosis to their babies. A child born with toxoplasmosis can have learning disabilities as well as problems with their vision and hearing—and even seizures later in life.
It's never a good idea to mow your lawn when the grass is wet. For one thing, you can slip and sprain an ankle. Then there's the worst-case scenario: Your wipeout results in a foot or hand slipping under a mower blade that's churning at 200 miles per hour. Mowing wet grass can also hinder your riding mower's ability to turn and stop. And Paul Tukey of Safe Lawns has heard of at least one instance in which a riding mower plunged off a hillside because of a saturated lawn.
Around 80,000 of us are sent to the hospital each year by what many see as man's second-best friend: the lawnmower. This usually happens after a stick or a rock ricochets off the spinning blade, flies through the air, and often hits us right in the eye. But other injuries are even more gruesome, including the occasional fractured (or severed) foot. Keep in mind that, according to a study conducted by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the majority of lawnmower injuries happen to children younger than 15 and adults over 60.
Did you know that homeowners use 10 times more pesticides per acre on their lawns than farmers use on their crops? Well, that's what the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says. Heavy doses of pesticides, as well as fertilizers, herbicides, and other lawn chemicals are associated with everything from breathing problems to certain types of cancers in humans (not to mention in dogs and cats).
A well-maintained lawn can provide an excellent barrier between a house and the surrounding woods when it comes to wildfire protection. But a lawn so dry that it's turning brown can turn into a suburban inferno from a tossed off cigarette or a wayward blast of lightning. This is especially true in drought-prone areas.
Think kids can be reckless drivers? Just wait until you see them behind a mower. If you've suckered your kids into doing the mowing for you, make sure the mower they're using has a bar that automatically turns off the engine once they let go of the handle (most do nowadays). Some riding mowers are engineered to sense changes of weight, turning themselves off when you dismount.