Lawn Fertilizers, synthetic or organic, combine a variety of nutrients to make soil more fertile for optimal turf growth. Lawn fertilizers provide the three primary nutrients to plants: nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, as well as a variety of secondary nutrients and additives, which vary by brand and fertilizer type. Although fertilizer is often necessary for healthy lawn growth, a variety of skin problems are caused by the various chemicals in lawn fertilizer.
Methemoglobinemia--Baby Blue Snydrome
Nitrogen, one of the primary macronutrients found in synthetic and organic lawn fertilizer, can cause a disorder known as methemoglobinemia or blue baby syndrome. According to the Benton Franklin Health District, nitrates, a source of nitrogen found in synthetic fertilizer, can contaminate drinking water, which causes a baby's to turn blue from a lack of oxygen in blood. Short-term exposure of elevated nitrate levels in drinking water are sometimes fatal to babies, while long-term exposure can cause health problem for healthy adults. According to the Michigan State University Extension, nitrates affect the blood's ability to carry oxygen, which is potentially fatal to infants. Because nitrates are tasteless and odorless, it is important for a university-based or private lab to conduct water testing for high nitrate levels whenever lawn fertilizer application is near a private water supply.
Phosphorus, one of the primary macronutrients in synthetic fertilizer, helps plants with photosynthesis and respiration. An essential element for life, phosphorus is common in food products in the form of phosphate. However, according to Lenntech Water Treatment and Purification, white phosphorus, a component of lawn fertilizer, can cause skin burns. In its elemental form, phosphorus is extremely toxic to humans and is a common ingredient in rodent poisons. To prevent skin irritation from phosphorus in fertilizer, always wear gloves and protective clothing when applying lawn fertilizer.
Skin and Eye Irritation
Sulfur is a common secondary macronutrient found in synthetic lawn fertilizer. Sulfur is a common additive of starter fertilizer used primarily to balance high alkaline soil levels. Although the nutrient is required for soils with a high pH level, it can cause minor skin and mucus membrane irritation in humans. According to Oregon State University Extension of Toxicology, acute toxicity of sulfur can cause minor skin and eye irritation. Chronic toxicity can have long-term effects of human eye and repertory health; however, chronic toxicity rarely poses a significant health risk. To prevent skin and eye irritation, always wear protective clothing and gloves when handling lawn fertilizer.