Dear EarthTalk: I pruned back an overgrown bush in my back yard last fall and now the soil around it is covered in dandelions and other weeds. Is there any way to get rid of these weeds without resorting to RoundUp and other chemical herbicides?
—Maya Segal, Seattle, WA
Weeds are nothing if not opportunistic. While you may not have bargained for getting one form of eyesore (weeds) by clearing another (an overgrown bush), dandelions and other fast-growing, quickly spreading plants know no bounds when some new territory opens up. They will colonize and spread out given the slightest opening—after all, that’s what defines them as weeds.
Of course, conventional herbicides such as Monsanto’s RoundUp will take down the weeds in a jiffy, but the negative effects on people, animals and the environment may be both profound and long-lasting. Independent studies of RoundUp have implicated its primary ingredient, glyphosphate, as well as some of its “inert” ingredients, in liver damage, reproductive disorders and Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, as well as in cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, nerve and respiratory damage.
California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation reports that, year after year, RoundUp is the number one cause of pesticide/herbicide-induced illness and injury around that state. RoundUp is also blamed for poisoning groundwater across the U.S. and beyond, as well as for contributing to a 70 percent decrease in amphibian biodiversity and a 90 percent decrease in tadpole numbers in regions where it is used heavily.