Pulling pesticides from city parks would be an overreaction

June 24 Daily News editorial

Those citizens who recently communicated their concerns about the use of pesticides in Longview parks to the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board are not alone. There’s a large and growing number of individuals and organizations advocating for pesticide-free parks. It easily qualifies as a national movement — a movement that seems to have found some traction in this part of the country. More than a dozen cities in the Pacific Northwest have either adopted or are considering policies limiting the use of pesticides in parks.

It’s easy to understand the appeal of this call for pesticide-free parks. No one wants to put their health or their family’s health at risk. And the herbicides used to keep parks weed-free can easily be made to sound pretty scary by simply noting the potential health risks associated with a particular chemical ingredient.

For example, Daily News reporter Amy M.E. Fischer wrote in Tuesday’s article that exposure to the main ingredient in the herbicide Longview uses, 2,4-D, has been linked genetic damage and hormone changes in humans and lab animals. Alarming stuff. But further into the story, Fischer adds Longview Parks Superintendent Al George’s observation that the concentrations of chemicals are low and therefore aren’t dangerous to park visitors.

George reminds us that we need to keep our perspective in this discussion. The chemicals used in city parks are at concentrations deemed to be safe. Parks staff members who spray the herbicide are trained and state-certified in the safe application of all chemicals. “They follow all the safety standards, much more so than homeowners,” George said.

Until someone convinces us otherwise, we’ll put our faith in those standards, assuming they were established by people well-versed in the subject. And, in fact, we’ve seen nothing reported locally to suggest that existing safety standards are inadequate. Accordingly, halting the use of pesticides strikes as a solution in search of a problem. It’s also a solution that likely would create big manpower problems for the city.

Lincoln City, Ore., halted the use of pesticides in its parks three years ago. Vickie Aldous of the Ashland (Ore.) Daily Tidings reported last month that weeds began to take over this spring, once the effect of the pesticides had worn off. “This year during the months of February, March and April,” Lincoln City Parks and Recreation Department Director Ron Ploger told Aldous, “we spent 260 staff hours with people on their hands and knees weeding.”

This, of course, is George’s primary concern about halting the use of pesticides – that his department simply would not have the staff needed to keep the parks relatively weed free. The department has lost 14 part-time seasonal positions in the more than two decades George has been there, according to Fischer. “I’ve got enough to do without having to dig out all those weeds,” said George. “I appreciate the fact we have watchdogs out there who are environmentalists, but it’s not very realistic. … I think it’s being a little bit radical.”

We agree. Unless or until it can be shown that the use of this weed-killing pesticide poses a health risk for park visitors, calling for pesticide-free parks is a bit radical.

Pulling pesticides from city parks would be an overreaction.