(Beyond Pesticides, May 9, 2017) Last month, San Juan Capistrano (SJC) became the latest community in Orange County, CA to pass an organic landscaping policy for city parks and open spaces. The city’s move follows the passage of an organic land care policy in nearby Irvine, CA last year, and like Irvine, was brought forward by a strong contingent of local advocates, health practitioners, and city officials working together to safeguard public health and the environment. By a vote of 4-0-1, San Juan Capistrano’s City Council put the community on the cutting edge of local changes to pesticide use that are taking place across the country.
SJC’s policy is the result of persistent pressure and engagement by community group Non-Toxic San Juan Capistrano with city officials. A change.org petition hosted by the group, which received over 300 signatures, detailed the discussions and responses the group received from local leaders. At the time the City Council took up the issue at a mid-April meeting, Mayor Kerry Ferguson made a strong statement indicating that, “Chemical pesticides and herbicides have been proven to be toxic to children, pets, and the general public.”
Mayor Ferguson further said, “While [chemical pesticide] use is somewhat limited in our parks and open spaces at the present time, it would be helpful for a policy to be put into place that gives clear guidelines to present and future contractors to guide them in their practice on our city properties.”
The city’s new policy provides these clear guidelines by prioritizing “long-term prevention and suppression of pest problems” and putting a focus on “prevention and non-chemical control measures before the use of pesticide controls.”
The measure directs landscape managers to use a prioritized approach to pest management by choosing plants with low susceptibility to pests, forgoing treatment unless necessary, and, when treatment is required, apply organic pesticides first, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “caution” labeled pesticides only “when deemed necessary to protect public health and economic impact…”
Bruce Blumberg, PhD, professor of Developmental and Cell Biology at University of California Irvine and member of local group Non-Toxic Irvine, addressed the city council on the science that supports the policy. Speaking to the rise in non-communicable diseases, such as leukemia, autism, obesity, fertility issues, and brain cancer, Dr. Blumberg stated, “I and my colleagues would like to offer the possibility that chemicals that disrupt the function of endocrine system have significant role to play.” Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that have the ability interfere with the proper functioning of the body’s hormonal system at low, often infinitesimal doses.
As Dr. Blumberg discusses later in his talk to the SJC City Council, there is a common misconception that government agencies are adequately testing these chemicals and protecting us. “The fact of the matter,” he notes, “is that EPA doesn’t test…a single chemical.” Instead, Dr. Blumberg explains, manufacturers perform their own tests on their own chemicals, and transmit their unpublished studies to EPA for the agency to rely on.
Given the range of deficiencies in federal protections, from inadequate testing performed by chemical manufacturers, to failure to incorporate the latest science on endocrine disruptors, to the continued allowance of undisclosed inert ingredients, to the perpetuation of pesticides permissible under dangerous “conditional registrations,” it is up to local governments to provide a path forward to protect their residents from unnecessary hazards.
The good news is that there are readily available alternatives to the use of toxic pesticides. Speaking of nearby Irvine’s experience with alternative weed abatement measures over the past year, Kim Konte, concerned mother and advocate with Non Toxic Irvine noted, “After a full year of maintaining all City properties organically, the City of Irvine shared in their annual report its total cost was only 5.6% higher.” This cost accounts for Irvine’s 570 acres of parks, more than 800 acres of right-of-way, 70,000 trees and nearly 1.5 million square feet of facilities.
“Non Toxic Irvine is encouraged to see City leaders choose to make the health of their residents their priority over weed abatement. Children should never be exposed to toxic pesticides, especially for purely cosmetic reasons,” Ms. Konte continued. As now a third community, Huntington Beach, considers organic pilot projects, the Non Toxic groups are hoping to see other communities in Orange County, the state, and the country follow their lead in ensuring broad community-wide protections from health-damaging pesticides.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.