Congratulations — you’ve made it through the polar vortex and came out alive. You definitely deserve some R&R, but before you relax too much, make sure your backyard is free from these potential summer hazards. Between pesticide-treated lawns and toxic dog poop, there are plenty of problems lurking.
Here are the dangers, along with some tips on how to minimize them
1. Pesticide-infused grass. The chemicals can literally rub off on the kids and pets that frolic there, said Susanne Bennett, DC, CCSP, an allergy specialist and author of The 7-Day Allergy Makeover. Pesticides also run off into streams and lakes, contaminating the water supply. Exposure to pesticides has been linked to increased cancer incidence, and disruption of the hormones that could cause thyroid problems or infertility. In managing our lawns, homeowners use up to 10 times more pesticides per acre than farmers, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services reports. So instead of contributing to the problem, follow the Environmental Protection Agency’s tips for maintaining a nice lawn without relying on pesticides.
2. Dog poop. Unfortunately, you can’t get away with using your pooch’s poo as your all-natural fertilizer — the substance doesn’t actually do anything to fertilize, and it contains tons of dangerous bacteria. Your pet’s presents can have viruses and worms that are dangerous to humans, some of which can be passed just from skin-to-skin contact. “Dog poop can have parasites that you’re not aware of and can enter your body through your skin,” Dr. Bennett said. Clean up after your dog — in your backyard, and elsewhere, and avoid being barefoot outdoors.
3. Ticks and Lyme disease. A tick’s bite could leave you with Lyme disease, which can lead to months of exhaustion, and, untreated, can cause other problems including arthritis, meningitis, or irregular heartbeat. To avoid this, check for ticks regularly. Look all over for the small little tick, which may be raised on your skin, and keep an eye out for the bull’s eye rash that may signal the start of the infection. If you’re experiencing symptoms, including the rash or exhaustion, or if you’ve removed a tick from your skin, see your doctor.
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4. Bees. If you’re allergic to bees, you should have an Epi-Pen. You can also avoid wearing brightly colored clothes and perfume, and try not to eat or drink sweets that may attract the insects, Bennett said.
5. Backyard burning. Whether you use a burn barrel or try to make a campfire, burning household waste is actually quite dangerous. Beyond the risk of the fire getting out of control, burning waste may expel chemicals in to the air that have serious health side effects, including asthma, developmental disorders, kidney failure, and liver failure. Ash residue can be equally dangerous, particularly if scattered on gardens. Dispose of trash properly, and recycle and compost when you can. Beyond your own fires, Dr. Bennett noted that smoke from wildfires can often irritate the body, so if you can see or smell smoke, head indoors. She also advised setting up a fan to blow away smoke from the grill, or closing the grill while its cooking.
6. The swimming pool, especially the hot tub. Yes, you can drown in a pool. But you can also be poisoned by the chemicals in it. Nearly 5,000 people were sent to the emergency room last year due to chemical poisoning from pools, according to the Centers for Disease Control, who has tips for handling pool chemicals. Beyond just handling the chemicals, over-treated pools can cause chronic overexposure to certain toxins — particularly in hot tubs where the water is vaporized and inhaled. Hot tubs also open up your pores, allowing chemicals to seep directly into your body, Bennett said. Follow the CDC recommendations, or use an ionization system to clean the pool while avoiding most chemicals.
7. Tanning. No list of backyard dangers would be complete without the obligatory reminder to wear sunscreen.