Written by Dan Mabe, AGZA Founder and President
What is Environmental Justice?
The fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.
is Left Out
We hear the cry for environmental justice from “Green Cities” all over the US. They proudly proclaim their efforts to protect workers of nail shops, factories, mines, and other industries from toxic chemicals and other workplace hazards. Those campaigns do represent progress and are to be commended, but they’re of little consolation to the hundreds of thousands of gas equipment operators in the grounds maintenance industry who have no such protections.
With the exception of a handful of private companies and a few brave cities, AGZA has yet to see any comprehensive progress for the grounds maintenance workforce anywhere in the US. For six to ten hours a day, these underrepresented laborers are exposed to toxic emissions from combustion engines spewing just inches from their nose and mouth. Benzene, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and superfine hydrocarbon particulate matter are well documented to be toxic, poisonous, and carcinogenic.
Other harmful exposures through the skin and respiratory system come from the toxic carburetor cleaners, lubricants, and degreasers used to maintain their antiquated small gas engines. With extremely lax workplace regulations, and livelihoods dependent upon equipment that is directly harmful to their health, workers in the grounds maintenance workforce are left to fend for their own well-being.
I interviewed a forward-thinking and proactive individual who turned a negative experience into an agent for change. Gus Mariscal of Solar Earth Lawn Care started his business as a gas-powered, turbo-charged, take-no-prisoners maintenance operation … ‘till that one day.
In his own unscripted words, Gus shared his sobering story and how it changed his path in business and in life.
THE STORY BEHIND
BY Gus Mariscal
"I started a traditional lawn care company using entirely gas engine equipment. We were just like any other lawn care company starting out. Getting any job we could to stay busy and bring in profit. I knew very little about grass at the time and only cared on the quality of the job."
"Fast forward about a year and we got a contract to provide weed eating and trash pick-up at a semi-truck terminal. We would usually weed whack the fence around the terminal for about 2 hours then pick up trash. Around this time is when I started to notice some environment issues around the property. They used to spray harmful pesticides around the fence to keep the weeds away till they found out the guy they hired was unlicensed and caused damage to the soil and waterway."
"Also, a lot of trash wasn't making into the trash bins and I was seeing stray dogs and cats in the truck yard biting and nibbling at trash looking for food. The animals were probably ingesting plastic and trash into their stomachs and causing problems for them. Not only that some trash would make it into the local river and street. Honestly probably one of the nastiest truck yards I've seen."
"When we brought to attention this harmful practice the property management decided to give my company a try. One day we had to clear some brush and line trim a large area around the premises. About 6 hours into the job my friend and coworker became ill and started to throw up and have shortness of breath I asked if he needed medical attention. He said he just wasn't feeling well and that wasn't necessary. It took us an 8 hour day to finish the job. At the end of our work shift, I sent him home to get some rest and I told him to get medical help if he needed. By the looks of him, he wasn’t well. He was very pale but he didn't want to go to the hospital."
"We finished the job and by the time we were finished, I too was not feeling well at all. I figured it was just the work and I was out of shape but I had the same symptoms as my coworker that night. My friend and/co-worker called me about ten times that night that explaining to me he ended up going to the ER for shortness of breath and dizziness and had high levels of carbon monoxide in his system and a couple other elements related to combustion engines. We had been running gas engines that whole day to weed whack and clear brush. I couldn't believe that something like this could happen to us."
"This is when I knew we had to stop our way of business and give people an alternative way to service lawn care clients. I researched for a few months ways to change my business into an Eco-friendly way. In my research, I found information about gas powered lawn mowers and learned how harmful small gas engines are and how little regulation is on them. In the process of all this, I started Solar Earth Lawn Care. An eco-friendly lawn care company that uses solar panels to charge batteries powering lawn care equipment. Not only did I want to create an Eco-friendly lawn care company but was also interested in making a movement to bring knowledge and green practices to people."
"That's when I came across, AGZA (American Green Zone Alliance). I was moved by their work and the vision which is similar to ours. That's when we decided to start AGZA accreditation and together raise awareness about the harmful effects of gasses from lawn equipment and plan solutions by initiating Green Zone projects in the Indianapolis area. We are dedicated to helping the environment in every way, using organic fertilizer and herbicide, using little to no paper."
"Now we are on a better and greener way of life and providing this service to people that also want to become better stewards of our planet."
Gus is hardly alone. Countless gas equipment operators in every state endure poisoning from their own jobs, often without even knowing the extend of the dangers that surround them hour after hour. But stories like this can help us all understand just how hazardous and unregulated the landscape maintenance industry is.
That’s why AGZA proudly advocates for the health and safety of the workers in our industry. We encourage property owners, maintenance crews, grounds supervisors, universities, and entire municipalities to bring land care practices and working conditions up to speed with all of the other “sustainability reforms” championed by green groups all over the world.