How “A Chemical Reaction” can spark Community Action



A Chemical Reaction, the story of Hudson, Ontario's battle to ban garden pesticides – a battle that's now spread across most of Canada – debuted in D.C. Friday night, part of our DC Environmental Film Festival, and your intrepid blogger was there.  I'd seen it once and knew it would be a crowd-pleaser, especially for a crowd filled with activists, it turns out.  (That's what these festivals do.)

Some notes on a second viewing:

  • How toxic 2,4,D really is to pets.
  • How Paul Tukey was turned into an activist by his own reaction to pesticides as a lawn-care contractor, and by feeling responsible for his son's ADHD because of his extreme exposures.
  • Forty one states have passed "preemptive" laws that prevent towns and cities from banning pesticides – or actually taking any action that's more restrictive (more progressive) than the state's laws on the matter.  That says a lot about the lobbying power of the chemical industry.

Paul Tukey and Friends

Here's what's so great about these festival screenings, with filmmakers talking to the crowd afterward – conversations happen, and sometimes even action. 

In this case Paul brought to the stage an assortment of folks to help him answer questions and enlarge the discussion.  Pictured from the right are:

  • Diana Post, president of the Rachel Carson Council.
  • Jay Feldman of Beyond Pesticides
  • Robert Goo of the EPA.  He's working on recommendations for lawn care across all U.S.-government properties – BIG potential impact.
  • (Not pictured) Yours truly, introduced as a blogger.  (Yep, three experts and a blogger.)  I stood on the far right, except when I was running around taking photographs and notes.  A blogger's gotta blog.

Notes from the Q&A

  • Two of the nine states without a preemptive law – Vermont and New Hampshire – are duking it out to be the first to ban garden pesticides.
  • Tukey thinks that corn gluten is oversold as a preventer of weeds but there's an herbicide now licensed as "Ortho EcoSense" that does a better job.
  • Natural or organic lawn care costs more in the first year but after that, costs less than synthetic, resource-intensive care.
  • Peer pressure is turning against the use of toxic, polluting products on our lawns, with weeds becoming a sign that the homeowner is doing the right thing.
  • We learned about "School Gardens Across America" and their Facebook group.  Also heard that the National Gardening Association told them to cease and desist (because their name is similar to the name of NGA's own campaign) so there's a potential guest rant here about the story.
  • We learned about Safe Lawns for DC Kids and Critters, another cause with a Facebook page. 

The After-Effect
After the Q&A there was a heated meet-and-greet, with furious exchanging of business cards, so I predict there WILL be follow-up. I bet Paul has some stories of local actions that been sparked by screenings – because "A Chemical Reaction" really IS an awesome tool for change.  So if you want to get things going near you, just buy the DVD and arrange a screening.


  1. I never understood the blatent overuse of chemicals on lawns. Especially since lawns are used by children so much. I’m not a fan of lawns, but even when I did have a lawn I never used anything on it. There’s something incredibly superficial and vain about having the “perfect” lawn that I just can’t buy into.

  2. Thanks for the great support, Susan. The film is an amazing tool and we’re allowing individuals and organizations to screen the film publicly now (for a small fee).
    To clarify, four Canadian provinces have banned certain pesticides on public and private property. Canada is way, way ahead on this.

  3. I am so glad this is being addressed. Who do we grow grass for, ostensibly? Kids and pets. And anything kids and pets touch inevitably ends up in their mouths. I never understood the illogic of liberally dousing a patch of grass with various and sundry chemicals, so kids can run around on it and become contaminated. I had an uncle who really prided himself on his lawns, who maintained them so my cousins wouldn’t be running around on bare dirt.

  4. You are always in the middle of the action. We are doing our best to eliminate pesticide and herbicide use here in Mass., when we are not urging the downsizing of lawns.

  5. Attending the screening reminded methat I need to order that “Pesticide Free Zone Yard Sign” from BeyondPesticies – been on bottom of my rolling to-do list for like 3 years now!
    It also lit a fire under my bottom to shoot off a letter to my local county govt and papers about pesticide use in our local parks and school yards. Montgomery County, MD has a better record then some, but still has a ways to go.

  6. The makers who bag up weed and feed that go home with shopper’s at Walmart & Home Depot should get fined.
    The poison 2 4 D should be bottled and have instructions.
    What big wig offering is that.
    Consumers pay 10 bucks, mostly more. Why? Because they were told so.
    Buy it. You need it.

  7. Professional landscape contractors and horticulturalists rarely use anything on their own lawns. Just ask them! (I do this ‘survey’ whenever I’m in a CEU class or conf with other pros.) Results always the same: They’re too busy with their clients’ #lawns, and as for their own, well, if it’s green, when it needs mowing, they will mow it at the highest setting… and go right back to their main focus in their own gardens: eliminating lawn or minimizing it by creating new beds or enlarging what they have for more interesting, rewarding and sustainable plants than turfgrass.

  8. There was an instance here in Utah about a month ago where two girls age 4 and 18 months were killed from exposure to fumes from improperly applied rodent poison in their yard outside. The rest of the family was sickened.

    One reason among many why I garden organically. And I don’t use poisons.

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