Poison control: Some say no to chemical weed killers

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The Sierra Club’s John Cruickshank says many people are surprised to learn that
city groundskeepers still use products
such as Snapshot, Oryzalin, ProStar and Roundup QuikPro. Photo by Jon-Phillip Sheridan The Sierra Club’s John Cruickshank says many people are surprised to learn that city groundskeepers still use products such as Snapshot, Oryzalin, ProStar and Roundup QuikPro. Photo by Jon-Phillip Sheridan

The Piedmont Group of the Sierra Club is urging the community to speak out against the usage of synthetic chemical pesticides in parks and on school grounds. Though city staff has taken steps to reduce the overall use of toxic chemicals in those areas, environmentalists hope to make 2016 the year in which they are nixed for good.

On April 20, 2015, City Council passed a resolution stating that it is “committed to reducing overall pesticide use and eliminating pesticide use where feasible” in as many sites as possible, especially those called on by the Sierra Club.

“They should only be used if there was some serious threat to human health or to the environment,” John Cruickshank of the Piedmont Sierra Club says, adding that he would not object to the use of synthetic chemical pesticides in emergency situations, such as a beehive on a playground or poison ivy “running rampant,” but even then, safer options, such as biopesticides, could be tried first.

At a May 2 council meeting, Cruickshank said 1,205 people had signed the club’s petition that supports pesticide-free parks and schools, and many people were surprised to learn that city groundskeepers still use products such as Snapshot, Oryzalin, ProStar and Roundup QuikPro.

In mid-April, the European Parliament voted to ban most usages of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, which the World Health Organization has declared a probable carcinogen.

Jackie Lombardo, who is on the Sierra Club’s pesticides committee, says there are several negative health effects associated with glyphosate, including blurred vision, nausea and asthma.

She also cites studies that have shown that farmers’ exposure to glyphosate-based herbicides is linked to increased risks of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, miscarriages and attention deficit disorder.

Doug Ehman, the parks division manager, says most pesticides the city uses have a lower toxicity than aspirin, and the main one it uses is glyphosate. It’s mainly used for weed suppression, and he says it’s more effective than a biopesticide because it’s a metabolic inhibitor—it poisons the root of a weed, keeps it from creating its own food through photosynthesis and causes a weed to eventually starve to death.

“We’re not out there spraying willy-nilly,” Ehman says. “We’re very conservative.”

According to Ehman, the city only uses two or three gallons of glyphosate each year, and each spot where it’s used is marked clearly with a sign. Over the past decade, his department has gone above and beyond state regulations, including implementing an integrated pest management policy that requires sprayers to be prudent in their use of pesticides.

“Every year we have managed to reduce our pesticides a little more,” Ehman says. “We are kind of at the point where we have done about every creative thing we know.” To eliminate chemical synthetic pesticides, Ehman says the costs could double or triple and the city would have to hire several new positions.

At the May 16 City Council meeting, landscape manager John Mann will present an annual pest management report. Cruickshank, who frequently speaks at meetings, urges concerned citizens to come hear this year’s findings and speak out about the dangers of toxic chemicals.

“They’re making progress, but it wouldn’t take much to completely end the regular use of those pesticides,” Cruickshank says. “I don’t feel like the City Council has really made the commitment that they should.”

Cruickshank adds, “They’re tired of me. They need to hear from more people.”

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