The How to Grow It Project

Special Chemlawn Warning

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Summary: Using Chemlawn to get rid of your weeds is risky, they may damage or kill your plants and your neighbor's plants when they do a sloppy job.

The Chemlawn outlet in Park Ridge, Illinois sprayed our neighbor's lawn on May 7, 1997. Within 4 hours tomato and pepper plants in a planter near the border started to bend over, we thought it was the wind, however the bent condition persisted for several days. We then looked at other plants along the border and found they were also disfigured. Ultimately some Maximilian sunflowers, black eyed susans, tomatoes and pepper plants died. Garlic, rhubarb, tulips, wild bergamot and prairie coreopis were damaged.

I called Chemlawn and they sent out a couple of low level guys to look it over and they admitted the other crew did a sloppy job and there was no reason why the job was sloppy, in theory they said they could have done it correctly without spreading the chemicals across the border. A week later a Chemlawn manager showed up and said the same. A week after that the branch manager, Tom Higgins sent us a letter and apologized for any inconvenience they may have caused.

The first guys said Chemlawn would pay to replace the plants however we never took them up on the offer, it is impossible to replace the unusual varieties of tomatoes and peppers my father was starting and I had extra sunflowers around to fill in the gap.

I also filed a complaint with the Illinois Department of Agriculture and they sent an inspector over on May 29 to collect damaged plants for analysis. He needed at least a pound of plants which would then be ground up and the mess would be analyzed for chemicals. They had to be wrapped in aluminium foil rather than plastic because plastic contains some of the same chemicals found in the herbicide. The inspector said there would be a hearing and Chemlawn would be warned or fined depending on their previous record.

Ultimately the Illinois Department of Agriculture reported the following:

The Department has completed its investigation into your complaint concerning the possible misuse of a pesticide. During a site inspection, the Department's representative did ascertain that a direct application of a pesticide occurred on your property which resulted in a violation of the Illinois Pesticide Act.

Since there was a violation, as a result of a pesticide application, we pursued an enforcement action under the Illinois Pesticide Act which has resulted in the issuance of a warning letter to TruGreen-Chemlawn, 525 Busse Highway, Park Ridge, Illinois 60068.

Again the point is that although Chemlawn may say they can do a good job of keeping their chemicals away from your plants and from crossing property lines in reality at least some of the time they are sloppy and then your plants and your neighbor's plants will be damaged or killed.

"This is an age in which one cannot find common sense without a search warrant." -- George F. Will.

I've been getting comments both positive and negative on this page. A typical negative comment is something like this:

Hey, they said they were sorry! Why are you picking on them? That's not the Christian thing to do!

If you're thinking that, read on ...

I was very pleased to see Chemlawn quickly take responsibility for their actions. As a matter of fact they were bought by Service Master, a company started by a Christian who has put in at least one appearance on the 700 Club and if they did not quickly do the right thing I would have been unusually upset. But I have no idea how sincere they were, human nature being what it is people will quite often screw up as long as they can get away with it. One way is to put pressure on them is by reporting incidents to the appropriate oversight authority, in this case the Illinois Department of Agriculture. If they screw up enough they get fined, because as Thurston Howell III once said, "Money talks and when money talks people listen."

This page is here for three reasons. First, everyone slips up once in a while but I think it pays to motivate them to do better, this is my little way of HELPING THEM ALONG, making them a better company. It is human nature for people to keep on screwing things up if they think they can get away with it. But now if they are worried about more bad reports they will be less likely to screw up.

Second, people need to know what happens to plants when they screw up and what actions they can take against Chemlawn. For example, my auto mechanic uses Chemlawn and after a Chemlawn application his tomatoes went bad in some way, I forget the details, mainly he was asking me over the phone about the symptoms. It happens that I had given him my URL and he happened to find my Chemlawn page and became concerned that it was Chemlawn that was responsible for the tomato damage. If he keeps using Chemlawn now he knows what to do: watch them like hawks or protect his plants with plastic sheets when they spray. And if they screw up again, he knows who to call: the Illinois Department of Agriculture in Springfield. Notice, too, that IF in fact the tomato failure was due to Chemlawn then they have not learned their lesson and are still being sloppy. It means they were not the least bit sorry about destroying my plants, they were only going through the motions of being sorry! ENDIF.

Third, I want to warn people that Chemlawn and for that matter any company applying chemicals can screw up and they have to weigh the benefits and risks of using a chemical company. If they choose to use chemicals that is acceptable to me although I like to avoid chemicals as much as possible and wish everyone would avoid chemicals as much as possible. (To see how this is possible, get a catalog from Gardens Alive. I have never tried any of their organic lawn care methods but they certainly sound good.)

As far as the Christian angle goes, the good, responsible Christian thing to do is to give people all the information they need to make a decision. If you set out to buy a car and I've seen information that its unsafe for some reason I should tell you, should I not? By not telling you I may contribute to your death or the death of a loved one. It would make me partly guilty if I didn't tell you!!! This page may not save your life but it may save your tomatoes.

In the words of the drive in movie critic of Grapevine, Texas, "I'm surprised I have to explain this stuff."

If at this point you're still upset that I'm picking on them, then you have a much different view of reality than I have, if you want more details on my view see the beginning of my Notes on Reality page.

If you have any questions or comments, write me.

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