Shortly after Lydia Chambers had her first child, in 1995, her family moved to a new home in Ohio. “It was this neighborhood with perfect lawns,” recalls Chambers, now 60. In her previous home, when a swath of dandelions appeared shortly after she and her husband moved in, she spent two weeks pulling them out by hand.
In their Ohio home, however, she had no time to take care of the yard. So she hired a service to come and treat it. At the time, she didn’t realize that the chemicals the service used might be dangerous. “Even though I kind of sensed it . . . I didn’t know,” she says.
In her professional life as a hydrogeologist, Chambers was beginning to learn about how long-term, low-dose exposures to dangerous chemicals could lead to cancer and other chronic diseases. This made her increasingly suspicious of the pesticides her landscaping company applied. By 2005, her family had moved to New Jersey and her elementary school-aged kids were playing in the yard constantly. As she did more research, she learned a particularly disturbing fact: One common weed killer, 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D), was also an ingredient in Agent Orange, a chemical used during the Vietnam War.
“I guess if anything flipped a switch, it was that,” she says. Chambers and her husband finally committed to taking care of their yard with no synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers—even if that meant it sprouted a few weeds. “I was proud that I had a few weeds in my grass,” she says. “It was a symbol I was doing the right thing.”