County parks end pesticide use

County parks end pesticide use

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors recently heard from Jackie Lombardo, representative for a nontoxic advocacy group, about the use of pesticides and chemical cleaners in the county’s parks and schools. Lombardo presented findings that link the use of such substances to diseases like asthma, cancer and learning disabilities in children. [County of Albemarle Executive Summary "Use of Non-Toxic Products in County Parks" policy proposal PDF file available here.]

Though county staff vowed to study the issue, Parks and Recreation adopted an interim policy, saying they’ll stop the routine use of all synthetic chemical pesticides on the county’s 2,000-some acres and will examine alternative cleaning products for its dozens of park facilities.

Tim Hughes, athletic supervisor for Albemarle County Parks and Recreation, says his department is willing to try nontoxic methods while keeping the fields safe from bugs.

Pat Mullaney, director of Parks and Recreation, says his department wants to make sure green alternatives are still effective cleaners. “If you’re concerned about a blood-borne pathogen, you want to make sure you’re using [a proper cleaner], because the risk of the chemical itself may not be as high as the cleaning concern.” Under the interim policy, Mullaney also reserves the right to authorize the use of traditional chemicals to protect the public in the instance of, say, a yellow jacket’s nest in a county park.

Pesticides like Round Up and herbicides like Ronstar are commonly used on the county’s two dozen athletic fields. Tim Hughes, athletics supervisor for Parks and Rec, says he’s not sure whether a nontoxic approach will be effective.

“Talking to the folks at Virginia Tech, who are in most people’s minds the experts in the field on turf grass management, …they don’t personally believe that you can get rid of [chemicals] completely and maintain high quality level fields,” says Hughes. “We’re in the fact-finding stage of trying to figure out which will be the best.”

Apparently, pests can devastate the expensive fields. “Once the grubs start feeding, they could destroy an entire baseball infield in about five days,” Hughes says. The county spends about $250,000 per year on athletic field maintenance, Hughes estimates.

While Little Leaguers rolling around in chemicals is a serious issue being addressed by Parks and Rec, schools may be an even bigger toxic wasteland. Lombardo, whose organization is called Friends and Advocates for Children, Teachers and Schools (FACTS), says Jack Jouett recently scheduled an eighth grade dance the same evening as a regularly scheduled pesticide treatment in the cafeteria.

The treatment was cancelled after Lombardo called: “I said, ‘Less than two hours later, we’re going to have children dancing and breathing heavy.’”

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