Go easy.

Go easy.

Imagine a scenario where tens of millions of Americans are condemned by their own illusions to hours of hot, sweaty, grueling unpaid labor every week involving expensive and potentially dangerous chemicals, ear-shattering machines and fuels that pollute the air and water.

This isn't some nightmarish dystopian science-fiction plot. It's happening right now as this nation's suburban homeowners renew their unending and damaging war against nature to preserve, protect and pamper the foreign organisms that make up the American lawn.

“It's a constant battle to keep a lawn a lawn,” says Judy Prill, an analyst with the state Department of Environmental Protection's Office of Pollution Prevention. “If you let it go, it will grow back into a forest. … That's what it wants to do here in New England.”

If you're skeptical about the potential harm this lawn obsession can do, consider the following: Americans reportedly dump more than 80 million pounds of pesticides and other chemicals onto their lawns and gardens every year. Aside from the potential risks for people and animals coming into direct contact with this toxic crap, pesticides get washed into streams and rivers, ending up as marine pollution in vital places likeLong Island Sound.

The EPA also estimates that 5 percent of all air pollution in the U.S. is caused by lawnmowers and leaf blowers, and that Americans spill something like 17 million gallons of gasoline every year while attempting to fill up their lawn machines. That's more than the Exxon Valdez spilled up in Alaska.

In 2010, Connecticut became the first state in the nation to forbid the use of pesticides on daycare and K-8 grade playgrounds and athletic fields. New York just followed suit this year with an expanded version of the school pesticide ban, and the lawn-care industry is fighting back.

The pesticide industry's trade group, Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment or RISE, argues that “Pesticides are very well regulated” and warns that forbidding their use on school grounds could actually end up harming school kids.

“It's quite an over-reach,” says RISE spokeswoman Karen Reardon. She says the failure to use pesticides on school fields in Connecticut, for example, could lead to “the spread of lime disease” by allowing deer ticks to multiply. There can be instances when “pest pressure needs to be knocked down immediately,” Reardon says, adding the best way to do that is with the “judicious use” of pesticides.

Fears that industry lobbyists would attempt to roll back Connecticut's school pesticide ban led a key state lawmaker to agree to a moratorium on lawn pesticide legislation for this year — a move that shocked many environmentalists. State Rep. Richard Roy, co-chairman of the legislature's Environment Committee, argued his deal with the lawn-care industry was the best way to protect the health of school kids.

In 2010, environmentalists had to snuff out a string of amendments that would have rolled back the school pesticide ban. These “legislative rats” were being infiltrated into other bills in the hopes of sneaking them through during the hectic final days of the General Assembly session.

The anti-pesticides folks are now gearing up for a push in 2012 to allow cities and towns in Connecticut to enact their own lawn pesticide bans. A 1983 state law (enacted at the behest of the pesticide and lawn care industry) prohibits municipalities from putting in place any pesticide regulations stronger than what the state already has.

Nancy Alderman, a spokeswoman for a nonprofit group called Environment and Human Health Inc., says there are similar state preemptions against local pesticide regulation in 41 other states.

The idea of having an expanse of carefully manicured grass surrounding your home was imported from aristocratic England where the lords of the manor had serfs and servants to groom these carpets of green.

“We adopted lawns from England. They had these big lawns and we thought it looked nice,” Prill explains.

The problem is that those wimpy-ass grasses that did so well in the wet, cool English climate aren't native to North America. Here they need constant care, fertilizing and watering to survive in our harsher, hotter summer environment. And the tougher all-American plants native to this continent (called “weeds” by most American homeowners) are always looking to muscle in and take over.

Which means an American who wants to replicate (in miniature, of course) those grand, sweeping, aristocratic lawns of Merry Old England has to become his or her own serf.

And it's not just self-imposed labor that's involved: U.S. lawn-lovers feel compelled to shell out gobs of cash to buy the seed, turf, fertilizer, weed-killer, pesticides, lawnmowers and leaf blowers that the multibillion-dollar-a-year lawn-care industry is hawking.

A University of Florida study estimated that the turfgrass and lawn-care industry in the U.S. generated $57.9 billion in economic activity, and that was back in 2002, when more than 822,000 were employed in lawn-related businesses. By some counts, 80 percent of all American homes have lawns and (with an average size of one-third of an acre) they collectively cover 17.7 million acres.

Connecticut's DEP has been attempting to promote “organic lawn care” that doesn't involve the use of toxic chemicals or petroleum-based fertilizers. So-called green lawn care companies have been springing up across the state with promises to avoid unnatural chemicals and fertilizers.