2013-08-01 / Community

Push underway to reduce local toxic spray

By Stephanie Bertholdo

The Oak Park Municipal Advisory Council is again talking about the use of toxic herbicides in the community at the insistence of resident Nicole Johnson and Deena Parry, a former MAC member.

Parry and Johnson aren’t the only people concerned about toxic chemicals being used on the local landscaping.

Rhonda Jessum, a parent of children in the Las Virgenes Unifi ed School District, and other concerned residents have been discussing the issue with LVUSD administrators for several years.

The issue also has been raised in Oak Park, but toxic herbicides such as Roundup are no longer used on local school grounds.

Parry read a letter from Oak Park Unified School District Superintendent Tony Knight about the district’s switch to less toxic landscaping practices more than five years ago. The chemical-free plan includes abandoning the herbicide Roundup and other chemical fertilizers in favor of less toxic products and old- fashioned hand-weeding.

Knight said in the letter that tests of Medea Creek water show “very high levels of phosphates in multiple locations.”

High phosphate levels are caused by algae blooms in freshwater systems, he said in the letter. “It would be beneficial for the riparian ecosystem of Medea Creek if less nitrogen and phosphorus washed into the creek.”

Studies of glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup, have shown it to cause amphibian death and human cell destruction and disease, Knight said. He called for the council to make the parks and other common areas of the community chemical free.

MAC member Alon Glickstein said the Medea Creek water issues don’t have anything to do with the use of Roundup, but added that, while he wants to explore less toxic options, it will take some time. He said the budget may have to be modified to absorb the high cost of landscape maintenance.

Although MAC tabled the issue of whether to drop the use of Roundup until Ventura County’s landscaping contractor is chosen, council members did agree to test alternative methods once the contract was awarded.

According to Greg Epstein, owner of Enhanced Landscaping, the current company charged with landscaping in Oak Park, hand-weeding would increase labor costs substantially.

Michael Paule, council chair, said once the landscaping contract is awarded he would like to approve a trial period where no toxic chemicals are used.

MAC member Robert von Schneidau also wants to test less toxic methods before committing to a complete change in landscaping procedures.

Parry said the City of Carpinteria gave up the use of Roundup last year.

“We have to come up with a new idea of what is a pristine community,” she said, adding that it should be “visually pleasing but does right by the environment.”

Johnson told the council members that 44 diseases, such as cancers and birth defects, are related to toxic landscaping chemicals.

Strides at LVUSD

Jessum has been needling Las Virgenes Unified School District about its use of toxic landscaping chemicals at schools for several years. In the spring, she made some headway and got the school board to discuss the issue as an agenda item, evaluating environmental safety, cost and other relevant information.

The district announced it would test alternate landscaping methods that eliminated the use of Roundup.

Jessum, a clinical psychologist and founder of the citizens group Our Right To Know, said, “While the current integrated pest management policy promises to use the least hazardous chemicals, in practice the program we are currently doing simply meets the minimal legal requirements.”

Jessum was joined by others in her fight to reduce toxic substances on school grounds. Speakers from the community included Caroline Aslanian, Ziva Santop, Jena and Jason Markey, Annamarie Ashkar Feiss and Paul Steinberg.

Jena Markey, a parent and member of the Lupin Hill Green Team and the district’s Wellness Committee, said Calabasas has been an environmental leader in awareness and policy changes, including bans on smoking, plastic foam and plastic grocery bags.

“The level of consciousness is shifting, and we want to offer our children the safest and healthiest environment possible,” she said.

School board member Gordon Whitehead thanked the residents who have “committed themselves to this goal.”

“It would be a personal goal of mine to have zero chemicals,” Whitehead said. “I’m just well aware, for example, of the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico in front of the Mississippi River with all of the runoff from fertilizers and so on. . . . There’s no doubt that the chemicals we put on the ground hurt us.”

Santop, the Mariposa Garden chair, a site council member and founder of Safer School Grounds, said the district now uses at least five toxic chemicals that are known to be linked to cancer, birth defects, and kidney and liver damage.

Aslanian, a parent in the district who chaired and founded Mariposa’s Wellness Committee, said she realizes that it is difficult to make changes.

“Financial limitations can strangle an inspiration or hope for improvement,” she said, adding that neighboring districts with similar demographics and funding limitations have been successful in eliminating toxic chemicals “without the aid of additional funding or bond measures.”

The district also agreed to form an Integrated Pest Management Committee. Community participation will be encouraged.

“Environmental health issues are everyone’s problem and everyone’s responsibility,” Jessum said.

“We are all citizens who live here, breathe here, eat here, raise our kids here. We are all equally vulnerable and equally accountable to be a part of the solution.”

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