(Beyond Pesticides, October 17, 2011) Backlash from local residents in an Illinois city has pressured park officials to keep chemical pesticides off of athletic fields, successfully stopping a planned chemical treatment in November and postponing the city’s decision to spray until they hear more from concerned residents and turf experts.
For four years, the Park Board of Highland Park, IL has managed its playing fields without the use of chemical pesticides and herbicides. Back in August, however, the Park Board decided to allow its groundskeepers to apply herbicides in order to control dandelions, clover, and other unwanted plants at three local parks. Over 70 residents sent emails to the Park Board and administration, and an online petition has collected 683 signatures opposed to the city park commissioners’ decision to spray the chemical pesticides.
In response to public concern, Bruce Branham, PhD, a Professor of the Department of Crop Sciences at the University of Illinois wrote a statement to the park officials in favor of spraying, citing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) pesticide registration process as establishing the safety of the pesticides being proposed for use by the Park Board. Beyond Pesticides responded with a letterChicago Sun Times. “Pesticides are poisons by definition; they are designed to effect vital biological processes that in most cases are not unique to the intended target pests.”
Children are especially sensitive and vulnerable to pesticides because of their rapid development and behavior patterns. Many scientific studies indicate that pesticides threaten the public’s health by increasing the risk of cancer, learning disabilities, asthma, birth defects, and reproductive problems. More information can be found on Beyond Pesticides’ fact sheet Children and Pesticides Don’t Mix.
Park officials want to apply one application of the herbicide Confront. Clopyralid is one of the active ingredients in this product, and is a carboxylic acid herbicide classified by EPA in acute toxicity class III as slightly toxic. Laboratory studies have shown that clopyralid is a severe eye irritant and dermal irritation has also been noted which can lead to skin sensitization for prolonged skin exposures. Some developmental and reproductive effects have been observed in laboratory animals. The livers and kidneys of rats as well as the livers of dogs were affected by changes in weight and decreased red blood cell counts. Another study found that weights of rabbit fetuses decreased at both low and high doses of clopyralid. Skeletal abnormalities were also observed in these fetuses at all doses.
It is a persistent herbicide that breaks down extremely slowly. The herbicide, which does not break down during the composting process, has been found in compost made from recycled grass, straw, and manure. In 2002, the state of Washington banned the use of clopyralid on lawns and turf in order to keep the chemical from contaminating compost supplies. That same year, California found that 65% of the composts samples tested positive for clopyralid, which led to the cancellation of residential uses for clopyralid in the state.
This is particularly of concern given that two of the parks that the city is requesting to treat are located along streams that feed the Chicago watershed, according to Ms. Stone in a statement to the Sun Times. Ms. Stone has worked for 10 years with the ally group Safer Pest Control Project in Chicago and has been highly active in leading the effort against pesticides in her community.
The other active ingredient in the herbicide Confront is triclopyr. There are documented effects on reproduction, fetal development, and organ function, as well as irritation when exposed to high doses of this chemical. Subchronic and chronic feeding studies in dogs and rodents found damage to both the kidney and liver. Data has also shown birth defects and adverse effects on reproduction associated with chronic exposure. Pregnant rodents exposed to the chemical had lower litter numbers and a higher incidence of birth abnormalities in offspring than did those which were not exposed. Triclopyr is generally considered to be non-carcinogenic, but several laboratory tests have shown an increase in the incidents of breast cancer and genetic damage in rat embryos. Triclopyr is also toxic to a range of wildlife, and its persistence can vary greatly depending on the application site, but some studies have shown it to persist longer than a year under certain conditions.
There are many effective alternatives to these two chemicals to control weeds, however. The Sun Times even states that “restaurant-grade vinegar also has been sprayed and determined to be a better alternative to pesticides in some cases.”
Beyond Pesticides has a tremendous amount of resources available on least- and non-toxic lawn care practices, including our training videos, factsheets and regional contacts. For more information, visit Beyond Pesticides’ Lawns and Landscapes page. Read also our factsheets: “Read Your “Weeds” — A Simple Guide To Creating A Healthy Lawn” and “Least-Toxic Control of Weeds.”
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.