Petaluma group fights pesticides in city parks

Reposted from original article in the Petaluma Argus Courier run on January 29, 2016. Article by Hannah Beausang. Photo credit: Scott Manchester/Argus Courier Staff. Click here to read the original article.

After a showing of public concern, Petaluma officials have opted to take a closer look at policies surrounding pesticide use on city property, including traffic medians, fence lines, tree basins and pathway edges in parks and trails, and potentially make changes.

A handful of residents asked the city to stop using pesticides including glyphosate, found in RoundUp and other weed control products, at a meeting last week of the Recreation, Parks and Music Commission. The residents cited larger public health concerns, including a 2015 report from the World Health Organization’s cancer research agency labeling glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

Petaluma Community Guild president Tiffany Renée asked the panel in December to approve a year-long moratorium on the use of pesticides and adopt an Integrated Pest Management Plan, a process used to handle pest problems while reducing public and environmental impacts. The Petaluma Community Guild has been involved with lobbying against pesticides at the state level, said Renee, a former city council member.

She said pesticides have wide-reaching negative implications and urged Petaluma to follow the lead of the city of Richmond, which is just wrapping up a 12-month moratorium.

“All of these unfortunately become runoff and go into the watershed and into rivers and creeks,” she said. “There are immediate health risks from exposure to residents and kids using the parks and trail ways, and it’s also affecting our food chain.”

Petaluma resident and California Environmental Protection Agency Toxicologist Moira Sullivan agreed, adding that studies have linked pesticides to cancers and Parkinson’s disease. She said the agency intends to add glyphosate to the Proposition 65 list of chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity.

“I’m definitely advocating for a ban,” she said. “I’m definitely advocating for weeds.”

Though several commissioners requested the conversation be taken to the City Council, the next steps will be for staff to review policies in comparison to other cities, potentially undertaking a study of impacts using different methods of weed control in test areas and conduct community engagement, according to Assistant City Manager Scott Brodhun.

However, Renée said she plans to pursue a moratorium with the City Council, and said several hundred community members have also expressed interest in getting rid of pesticides.

Parks and Landscape Manager Ron DeNicola said city staff and the contractors that maintain the medians currently rely on guidelines in an Integrated Pest Management Plan adopted in 1999 and don’t use insecticides or fungicides.

He said the number of park maintenance staff dropped from 15 to nine since 2007 and the budget has continued to shrink, while 132 acres of park lands requiring maintenance have been added. He said any large-scale changes to the procedures may be difficult to accommodate and costly, adding that the existing staff is “marginally able to meet the needs of the community,” and expectations would need to be lowered.

“Anything is feasible but you’d have weeds everywhere,” he said of a potential pesticide ban, adding that there may be an increase in other pollutants if more gas powered tools were used more frequently. “That’s the obvious natural consequence when you don’t have the people to do all the mechanical and hand weeding.”

Crews attempt to avoid the use of chemicals when possible by working with neighborhood groups, mulching, hand pulling weeds, using trimmers and mowers, as well as using industrial-strength vinegar or clove oil in place of RoundUp. DeNicola said chemicals aren’t currently being applied — the heaviest use is in the spring. An average of 50 gallons of RoundUp-type products have been used for each year for the past three years on city lands, though the amount applied by contractors in medians wasn’t available, he said.

Petaluman John Shribbs, a former Casa Grande High School science teacher with more than 25 years of experience working in the pesticide industry along with a master’s degree in pest management and a Ph.D in horticulture with a specialty in weed management advised the city to “go a little slow” before making any potential changes.

He said vinegar and clove oil haven’t been tested with the same standards as RoundUp, and both are applied without being diluted in the same way as RoundUp, which can be more costly, raise red flags for worker safety and create other environmental issues. Hand-pulling weeds can also increase worker’s allergies and take excessive time, he said.

“Public perception is that pesticides are one of the worst things ever,” he said. “Actual factors of higher concern are our lifestyles — chemicals in households, chemicals from cars, chemicals we put on our skin.”

Director of Public Works and Utilities Dan St. John said it’s important for citizens to realize the city is making an effort.

“The public needs to know we’re trying to balance environmental ethics with the need to get the job done,” St. John said.

Commissioners also expressed concern about the issue and sought more specifics, though there’s no set time line for when staff will report back with more information, Brodhun said.

“If I had my druthers, I’d say no to pesticides ever, anywhere,” Chairwoman Beverly Schor said, adding that the city could empower the public to participate. “It’s only a matter of time before RoundUp is going to be banned anyway. Why are we waiting?”

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