Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–September 25, 2012. According to a report from New York City’s Department of Health, Roundup, Monsanto’s most popular and widely used product is also the most frequently applied herbicide in the city. This has occurred in violation of the spirit and intent of the 2005-passed the Pesticide Useage Law (Local Law 37), which put New York City on track to eliminate dependency on hazardous pesticides, and submit a city integrated pest management (IPM) plan to the mayor every January. The report, Pesticide Use by New York City Agencies in 2011, indicates that over 500 gallons of Roundup in various formulations was applied to city ground in the year 2011.
While the city is required to report on the total amount and number of herbicide applications, according to an article from Mother Jones, information on the location of these applications is harder to come by.
“Parks also declined my request for a sample of the warning sign or safety protocols that it posts around areas where Roundup is sprayed, though signs from previous years noted that Roundup applications, at sites like Central Park’s Turtle Pond and Metropolitan Museum grounds, were done at 4 a.m. Parks didn’t answer my question about how long it warns passers-by away from sprayed areas,” author Anna Lenzer indicated.
City data confirms that 34.2% of herbicide applications included Roundup last year, a 40% increase from 2010.
Given the resources of the city, and recent actions from New York state to protect its citizens and the environment from nutrient pollution and exposure to toxic pesticides, the city’s reaction to its data is alarming. Two years ago, the state of New York passed the Child Safe Playing Field Act, which requires that all schools, preschools, and day care centers both public and private stop using pesticides on any playgrounds or playing fields. The bill allows pesticides to be used for infestations only if the County Health Department, the Commissioner of Health, the Commissioner of Environmental Conservation or the school board deems it an emergency. Also in 2010, the state passed a bill limiting the sale of phosphorous-based detergents and fertilizers, an act which is intended to clean up local lakes and reservoirs by decreasing overall nutrient loads. However, according to Mother Jones, New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection has supervised the use of Roundup around sensitive environmental areas such as the Pepacton Reservoir, which supplies 25% of the city’s water.
In 2005, the New York City Council enacted Local Law 37 which states that no city agency or contractor shall apply to any property owned or leased by the city any pesticide classified as Toxicity Category I by the United States environmental protection agency [§17-1203 (a)]; a human carcinogen, likely to be carcinogenic to humans, a known/likely carcinogen, a probable human carcinogen, or a possible human carcinogen by the office of pesticide programs of the United States environmental protection agency [§17-203 (b)]; or by the California office of environmental health hazard assessment as a developmental toxin [§17-203 (c)].
Monsanto’s Roundup is formulated with the chemical glyphosate and the “inert” ingredient polyethoxylated tallowamine, or POEA, which, as opposed to being innocuous, has in fact been shown to increase the toxicity of glysophate. Research on POEA has also shown it to kill human embryotic cells. The chemical is of particular concern due to its toxicity to aquatic species as well as instances of serious human health effects from acute exposure.
New York City’s report states, “The active ingredient glyphosate poses little risk of acute poisonings or chronic health effects and has not been shown to be carcinogenic.” While no studies have shown glyphosate to be a direct carcinogen, research has indicated that the chemical increases the risk of cancer. Glyphosate has also been linked to neurotoxicity, birth defects, and eye, skin, and respiratory irritation.
Roundup has also been studied for its impact on the environment, particularly in respect to wildlife. A study from earlier this year linked exposure to the product to shape changes in frogs at sub-lethal and environmentally relevant concentrations. Last year, a Canadian federal court ordered Health Canada to take a second look at the impacts of Roundup on amphibians.
Unfortunately, Roundup is not the only toxic product New York City has applied to its public lands. For a full list, view the report here.
Of 30 commonly used lawn pesticides, 19 are linked with cancer or carcinogenicity, 13 are linked with birth defects, 21 with reproductive effects, 26 with liver or kidney damage, 15 with neurotoxicity, and 11 with disruption of the endocrine (hormonal) system. Of those same 30 lawn pesticides, 17 are detected in groundwater, 23 have the ability to leach into drinking water sources, 24 are toxic to fish and other aquatic organisms vital to our ecosystem, 11 are toxic to bees, and 16 are toxic to birds.
Organic land management is practical and economical, and we hope New York City will consider transitioning to this system. Opponents may claim that organic management will cost more money, or put the fields at risk for disease and weed infestation; however, in a Cornell University study of turf, chemically maintained turf is more susceptible to disease. Another report prepared by Grassroots Environmental Education and Beyond Pesticides’ Board Member Chip Osborne for the New York State legislature concludes that organic approaches can save money. The report compares the relative costs of maintaining a typical high school football field using a chemical-intensive program and an organic program over a five-year period and finds that the annual cost of maintaining an organic field can be as much as 25% lower than the cost of chemical-based programs.
Furthermore, Harvard University saved two million gallons of water a year by managing the grounds organically, as irrigation needs have been reduced by 30 percent. Previously, it cost Harvard $35,000 a year to get rid of “landscape waste” from its campus grounds. Now that cost is gone because the school keeps all grass clippings, leaves and branches for composting and making compost teas. This in turn saves the university an additional $10,000 from having to purchase fertilizers elsewhere.
For more information on organic-based, pesticide-free lawn and landscape management, see Beyond Pesticides Lawns and Landscapes program page.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.