I've been slowly replacing my lawn with a vegetable garden and am getting ready to take the plunge and get rid of my entire lawn. Later this month I'll be attending an instructional seminal called "Kill Your Lawn" at the Theodore Payne Foundation in Sun Valley, CA.
The greener, purer lawns that the chemical treatments made possible were, as monocultures, more vulnerable to pests, and when grubs attacked the resulting brown spot showed up like lipstick on a collar. The answer to this chemically induced problem was to apply more chemicals. As Paul Robbins reports in “Lawn People” (2007), the first pesticide popularly spread on lawns was lead arsenate, which tended to leave behind both lead and arsenic contamination. Next in line were DDT and chlordane. Once they were shown to be toxic, pesticides like diazinon and chlorpyrifos—both of which affect the nervous system—took their place. Diazinon and chlorpyrifos, too, were eventually revealed to be hazardous. (Diazinon came under scrutiny after birds started dropping dead around a recently sprayed golf course.) The insecticide carbaryl, which is marketed under the trade name Sevin, is still broadly applied to lawns. A likely human carcinogen, it has been shown to cause developmental damage in lab animals, and is toxic to—among many other organisms—tadpoles, salamanders, and honeybees. In “American Green” (2006), Ted Steinberg, a professor of history at Case Western Reserve University, compares the lawn to “a nationwide chemical experiment with homeowners as the guinea pigs.”