Last week, after reading this piece about Wallingford’s sewage ending up in Lake Union and the new incentive program for building rain gardens, I contacted the RainWise program through the City of Seattle. My children attend school in the Lincoln High building, which I learned is eligible for the rain garden program due to its proximity to Stone Way N. So, imagine my surprise when I walked past this a few days later:
This sign was posted in the shrubbery that is just below the west side of the basketball court at Hamilton Middle School (one block from the Lincoln High building). What a winning place to spray RoundUp and surflan – next to a park with a playfield, adjacent to school property and IN A FREAKING CITY-DESIGNATED HIGH RUNOFF ZONE. Seriously.
I am fully aware that despite studies that indicate that the supposedly “inert” ingredients in RoundUp actually aren’t so inert (they are quite likely carcinogenic), there are people out there who trust the industry-funded studies that claim that glyphosphate (the active ingredient in RoundUp) is perfectly safe for humans. What isn’t disputable is that RoundUp is decidedly unsafe for aquatic creatures. You know, the kind that might live in the lake at the bottom of Stone Way where all of our runoff ends up. Multiple studies such as this one have demonstrated the lethal effects of RoundUp on amphibians and other aquatic creatures. Even more tellingly, RoundUp’s own product information guide states, “toxic to aquatic organisms.”
I contacted Seattle Parks Department’s Barbara DeCaro, IPM Manager – Sustainable Landscapes Program, for more information. Admittedly, Parks has a big job on its hands in trying to maintain its many acres and follow Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices at the same time. Ms. DeCaro stated that,
“No herbicides are used on athletic fields or lawns, but limited use of low impact, low toxicity herbicides occur for persistent weed management situations in shrub beds and around trees, and in natural areas undergoing reforestation where invasive weeds are problematic.
In Wallingford Playfield, the herbicides used are Tier 2 products, which are limited to spot applications to noxious and invasive weeds, when manual methods have failed or are difficult to use in specific areas. These products are approved for this type of use, because they are considered to have very low toxicity and low risk of contact when applied correctly, and are well-known to break down easily in the environment.”
She then went on to say, “Glyphosate is also non-toxic to bees, fish, and other aquatic organisms (emphasis mine).”
I’m not sure how Parks has reached the conclusion that glyphosphate is not toxic to aquatic organisms when RoundUp’s own products information plainly states otherwise. I find it extremely troubling that while one branch of our city government is promoting the RainWise program to help mitigate the problems caused by urban runoff, the Parks Department is off spraying RoundUp in a runoff zone. Even worse, Parks posts (required) neighborhood notices listing the products that it is using, which essentially gives homeowners permission to spray RoundUp at home (even if home is located in said runoff zone). If the city is spraying RoundUp at a park abutting a school, then it must be safe to use, right? I can apply it to my own yard with no harmful consequences, right? Never mind all the work that salmon protection organizations are doing to improve water quality in our watersheds so that salmon and the many creatures that depend on them can survive. Apparently it takes legal action to get people and their governments to connect the dots between pesticide use and die-offs in “non-target species.”
While many of us Seattleites hate the use of herbicides and pesticides, and use old-fashioned elbow grease to rid our properties of weeds, our public institutions unfortunately are still spraying. Seattle Public Schools uses herbicides and pesticides, and with the exception of Meridian Playfield and a handful of other “pesticide-free parks,” Seattle Parks Department uses them as well. However, Vancouver, B.C. has eliminated pesticide and herbicide use at all “neighbourhood parks, sport fields and playgrounds.” If we can’t do that, can’t we at least quit spraying poison in runoff zones? It only makes sense for Parks, Seattle Public Schools and all of us living here to stop using harmful products that are going to end up in Lake Union.
Any neighbors who feel similarly that pesticides should not be used as parks, playgrounds or sports fields, especially when those are located in a high runoff zone, should contact Barbara DeCaro at the Parks Department. But be prepared to receive a lengthy explanation of why glyphosphate, the active ingredient in RoundUp, should not concern you. Sigh.