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.
I’m shocked anyone in the park dept. would think Roundup isn’t dangerous….and around children? not to mention pets and wildlife….. maybe we need to get some concise info about this from the toxic coalition and give it to them and then if that doesn’t have an effect take it to the city (altho good luck there since I’ve been going all the time to the city council and the mayors office and the courts trying to get them to use their power, which they do have, to send out poor elephants Bamboo and Chai to Sanctuary, and it’s good ol boy and girl network all the way except for some exceptional individuals who are in the minority….fortunately, one of the good guys is Mike O’Brain….but for the others it comes down to money and who’s giving it to them….but money before compassion or health safety…..
just emailed Barbara….hope we all will do that and also get the word out….this is insane but hey that seems to be what the majority of the world is into at the moment, or not the majority of the world but the majority of the powers that be
Thanks for posting this story, Kimberly. It’s time to take action in the neighborhood about pesticide use on city property.
Coincidentally, the Green Team at Hamilton (Int’l Middle School) is in the midst of collecting signatures to make HIMS a no-pesticide school. Megan Dunn of Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides has helped the Green Team draft a petition to be submitted to either the superintendent or grounds management. Megan already met with Superintendent Nyland a few months ago about the use of pesticides. He was receptive but nothing has changed since then. There is an excellent IPM (Integrated Pest Management) policy in place at Seattle Public Schools but it is not enforced.
But back to Seattle Parks. As part of my job with City Fruit I work with the Parks gardeners and crew chief in the district that includes Wallingford Playfield (and Meridian Playground, and Green Lake, and Woodland Park, and the Burke-Gilman in Wallingford). I have spoken to the senior gardener about pesticides at Wallingford Playfield a few times and she is sympathetic and supportive. Meridian Playground is already pesticide-free, so there is a precedent. But, similar to what you will hear from Seattle Public Schools, glyphosate is used to save time. If you want the weeds gone without using an herbicide, someone has to pull them by hand. Perfect for volunteers. That’s what we are doing Hamilton, establishing a schedule plan for hand weeding by volunteers, once a quarter – then the grounds crew won’t spray. Something similar could happen with Wallingford Playfield.
By the way, if anyone wants to practice really easy weeding – we’re talking hand trowel work around recent plantings – email me and I’ll sign you up for our next weeding work party at Hamilton. [email protected]
We have a Parks Department that is top heavy (at least a couple dozen making over $125K) and more often than not doesn’t engage with our physical spaces other than to role in and role out because of staff shortages. We need more support for the grounds maintenance staff. This should be expected from a department that leads the nation in per capita funding and per capita employees.
Coupled with ‘beautifying’ strategies – like dumping woodchips that become havens for opportunistic growth as they naturally decay – and addressing that with Roundup reflects “Parks” department policies that don’t understand nature very well and doesn’t really take care of it either.
Yes, help them out by pulling weeds, so they can use the time you saved them to go spray their herbicides somewhere else.
Has the city always maintained their parks this way? Roundup came out in 1973. I lived in the county at the time, and I guess there was some 2,4-D roadside spraying at the time, but have no idea what was going on in the city parks.
Is there a way people can sign the Hamilton pesticide-free petition online? My daughter is on Hamilton green team and we’d love to extend the reach beyond the hard copy sheet she brought home.
I think Round-Up is evil. Thank you, Kimberly, for your reporting on this. I would like to sing the Hamilton pesticide-free petition.
First time using this petition software. Let me know if you have any problems with it. Thanks from the HIMS Green Team!
Please email Barbara DeCaro along with signing the Hamilton petition. That section of shrubbery adjacent to the basketball park is apparently maintained by parks, even though it looks like it ought to belong to the school. I think it would be great to mention that Hamilton is trying to go pesticide-free so that parks can work with that plan rather than against it!
Seattle is a Salmon Recovery Area, I thought. I read somewhere that schools are required to notify parents prior to use of pesticides/herbicides within a certain number of feet. I would like all Seattle Parks/ Seattle Public School property to be maintained without pesticides and herbicides. If I was not so busy advocating for Bamboo and Chai to go to a sanctuary, then I would work on a Public Records Disclosure Request to the parks department for records on how much “Round-up Pro Max & Surflan” they purchase and where and when have they used the toxins near salmon habitat.
Thank you for this excellent post. I have emailed Barbara at Seattle Parks. Roundup is not a neonicotinoid, but also EPA acknowledges that it is no longer possible to dream the lovely dream that this convenient chemical is safe.
There is more evidence of Seattle not being ‘green’ at all, for example the current row about the crazy plan to spray oyster beds in the bays with chemicals that even its producer Bayer warns about as being unsuitable for aquatic use.
Citizen and consumer backlash is essential!
As an aside, some few years ago I did research on an herbicide that was a “super vinegar” or “agricultural vinegar” … the pH was so acidic it killed plants but actually wasn’t toxic in the conventional sense and one could add a little lime and compost and the soil was good to go. Much like home gardeners using white vinegar on weeds. Further, I understand this is a byproduct of wine making. A win-win?
And for heaven’s sake, I was under the impression Seattle did away with “chemicals” some years ago. I must have been dreaming!