Parks, playgrounds, picnic areas and pesticides
Most Portlanders will tell you they want pesticides banned from parks. They want native plants in greenspaces where children, pets and wildlife can roam safely. But when it's time to set aside chemical sprays such as Roundup and spend hours weeding, only a handful of residents stand ready with rakes and shovels.
A citizen group has determined that in 2008, the latest year for which finalized records are available, Ashland Parks & Recreation pesticide sprayings included — at schools alone — baseball fields, dugouts, bleachers, tree wells, parking lots, sidewalks, curbs, fence lines and shrub beds. For the community at large you can add: public parks, playgrounds, picnic areas, the golf course, YMCA, dog park and hospital. This amounted to 207 application events (not including the golf course) of mostly glyphosate-based herbicides, where glyphosate is the active ingredient of Roundup.
In response to citizen concerns, Parks released a 10-page memorandum in March 2009 asserting that its use of glyphosate products is benign and justified by up-to-date science. In seething language, Parks goes on to accuse the environmental group Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides, an outspoken critic of glyphosate products, of "cherry picking" data and citing unreliable sources (the Eugene-based NCAP was founded in 1977 and among other things has helped 17 Northwest cities establish pesticide free parks and secured court rulings governing federal pesticide regulations).
The Parks Memorandum gives great weight to the maxim, "It's the DOSE (their capitals) that determines the poison," and quotes at length a dated review that concludes that glyphosate "does not pose a health risk to humans under current usage." What the Parks failed to mention is that the authors of this publication have close financial ties to the chemical industry and in particular with Monsanto, the producer of Roundup. Moreover, Parks ignores the fact that "dosage" in toxicology is a crude criterion referring to acute, not long-term poisoning, and does not specifically consider a mother's fetus or toddlers or pets or susceptible adults. In fact, the very premise of "dosage" has been questioned in the case of endocrine disrupters where poisoning actually increases with high dilutions.
Finally, Parks makes no mention of bioaccumulation, metabolites, synergistic effects or the toxicity of so called "inert" chemicals that accompany herbicides — all these factors deemed important by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Parks memorandum was out-of-date at the time of its inception. Rather than seeking advice from reliable environmental, governmental or academic organizations, Parks seems to be taking its cues from the pesticide lobby. To quote Dr. Dan Goldberg, chief overseer of Monsanto's pesticide program: "All things are toxic. It's the dose that determines the poison."
Until Parks & Recreation divorces itself from the oversimplifications in its memorandum and finally adopts a progressive attitude to this subject involving public safety, any Integrated Pesticide Management draft (IPM) issued by Parks must be viewed with keen skepticism by the Ashland community — including the draft to be presented and possibly approved on May 24.
The author has lived in Ashland for 15 years. He holds a PhD in Chemistry from Stanford University and has held positions at the Max-Planck- Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, the University of Paris Enzymology Laboratory, the University of Paris Solid State Physics Laboratory and the Pasteur Institute.