Health & Fitness

Healthy yard and a safe community

Why is the Health Department involved with gardening and yard care?

While the connections might not be immediately obvious, yard care affects public health in many ways.

What we put on the ground can affect our health. Let’s start with water.

Thurston County residents rely on groundwater for drinking water. Fertilizers and many pesticides travel with rain or irrigation water and can get into our groundwater.

Water also carries these yard-care products – untreated – into stormwater drains and ditches and from there into lakes, streams, rivers and Puget Sound.

Groundwater contamination lasts a long time, is difficult and expensive to treat and can cost a municipality millions in cleanup costs and costs to develop new water systems.

Past pesticide application practices have led to contamination and closure of wells in our area.

People, pets and other animals also can be harmed by pesticide exposure.

Thurston County Public Health staff reviews pesticides for toxicological and environmental hazards.

Pesticide chemicals are considered to have unacceptable hazards when they are persistent and can build up in an organism, are known or suspected to cause cancer, can cause mutations, are known to disrupt hormones or are considered high in risk for toxicity to nontarget organisms.

Results of our pesticide reviews are at

People who have pesticides or other toxic chemicals around their home need to be careful about keeping them away from young children and pets to avoid accidental ingestion and exposure.

Gardening and spending time outdoors provide many people with ways to relieve stress and unwind in addition to the benefits of physical activity.

But healthy and beautiful lawns, gardens and landscapes don’t depend on regular doses of garden chemicals, just some preparation work now, in the fall.

Plant or overseed lawns by early October while the soil is still warm enough for seeds to sprout.

Fall also is the most critical time to fertilize lawns because the nutrients help build the root system and support strong growth throughout the following year.

A slow-release fertilizer will help keep nutrients from washing away in the rain.

Check for the Fertilizer Common Sense Gardening guide and a list of slow-release fertilizers in Grow Smart, Grow Safe.

Also, consider attending our free “Reinvent Your Lawn” Workshop.

Landscape professional Howard Stenn will share years of experience from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday at River’s Edge Restaurant, next to Tumwater Valley Golf Course, 4611 Tumwater Valley Drive, Tumwater.

Register online at or call 360-867-2582 (TDD 867-2603).

Get your yard ready for the winter and next year’s picnics.

Enjoy working on your yard and spending time outdoors while doing your part to protect public health.

Dr. Diana T. Yu is the Health Officer for Thurston, and Mason counties. Contact her at 360-867-2501 or