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Outdoor pesticide use has been reduced in Evanston in recent years, especially by the City of Evanston itself. Further reduction will improve our health and our children’s health, and development and implementation of written pesticide reduction policies by large Evanston institutions will help our community to plan, implement and evaluate pesticide reduction outcomes and improvements.

Health Concerns
Pesticides used outdoors are linked with maladies ranging from respiratory problems and learning disabilities to Parkinson’s disease and organ damage. A commonly used herbicide, 2,4-D, was a component of Agent Orange, the defoliant used in the Vietnam War. Herbicides such as 2,4-D “are toxic to both animals and humans…Liver problems and nerve damage may result from chronic herbicide exposure,” according to the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.  And studies “have pointed to certain pesticides, such as 2,4-D…as possible precipitants of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma,” a type of cancer, according to the Ontario (Canada) College of Family Physicians.

Another study found that the herbicides 2,4-D and glyphosate (the main chemical in Roundup weedkiller) “have been associated with respiratory, skin, and mucous membrane irritation during short-term exposures.” Glyphosate – which was traditionally considered fairly benign – was recently designated by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as a probable carcinogen. It has been in the news recently because of a large jury award to a man who says Roundup use caused his cancer.

Children are exquisitely sensitive to toxic exposures compared with adults, due to their smaller size, less mature organs, and tendency to play close to the ground (younger children) and spend more time on lawns (older children). According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Children encounter pesticides daily and have unique susceptibilities to their potential toxicity…Epidemiologic evidence demonstrates associations between early life exposure to pesticides and pediatric cancers, decreased cognitive function and behavioral problems.”  

People can be exposed to these chemicals via inhalation due to pesticide “drift” as the sprayed chemicals become airborne; skin absorption; and ingestion. The chemicals can be tracked indoors on shoes and through dogs. The State of California’s biomonitoring program found that of 109 people whose urine was tested, 2,4-D was detected in more than 90%.

And since Evanston’s health department reports that our city has an asthma rate of 19%, compared to 12% in Illinois and 14% nationally, pesticide use reduction may help to address that concerning statistic. A 2011 study in Current Opinion in Allergy and Clinical Immunology states, “Pesticides may increase the risk of developing asthma, exacerbate a previous asthmatic condition, or even trigger asthma attacks by increasing bronchial hyper-responsiveness.”

City of Evanston policy
Federal pesticide regulation doesn’t provide sufficient risk protection, so much of the policymaking in this arena takes place on the state, local, and school district levels. The City of Evanston’s Sustainable Pest Control and Pesticide Reduction Policy, passed unanimously by the City Council in 2010, provides a model of a health-protective policy. It specifies that the following pesticides may not be applied on any City-owned or -leased property:

– Those classified by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) as known, probable, likely, possible, or suspected carcinogen;

– Those classified by U.S. EPA as Toxicity Category I and Toxicity Category II pesticides (these carry a label that says “Danger” or “Warning”); and

– Chemicals known by the State of California to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity as published on the Proposition 65 (Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986) list of the California Code of Regulations.

The City of Evanston’s April 2018 Pesticide Use and Pesticide Reduction Efforts: A Report to the Evanston City Council, notes that the City of Evanston’s dozens of parks are generally pesticide-free, with a “Caution” (less toxic) label herbicide used on sports fields only. Beginning in 2012, the City switched to organic fertilizers on all athletic fields and public parks.  The report’s suggested next steps include implementing a public outreach initiative to engage the broader community in reducing pesticide use, with special attention to Evanston’s larger institutions.

Moving Forward
These public outreach efforts include a series of discussion sessions entitled “Making Evanston Healthier Through Pesticide Reduction and Sustainable Landscapes: Large Evanston Institutions Taking the Lead.” They are aimed at implementing the following overlapping goals of Evanston’s Climate Action and Resilience Plan (CARP) and the City’s pesticide policy: Reduce pesticide use, reduce lawns, increase natural lawn care, and increase native landscaping. Through these sessions, large Evanston institutions are invited to assume leadership in making these changes for a healthier Evanston. Information from the sessions will then be shared with smaller Evanston institutions, residents, and landscapers.

The sessions will address, among other topics, how to implement natural lawn care without giving up aesthetics and developing a pesticide use policy.

Many resources are available to assist with reducing pesticide use and implementing natural lawn care practices.

Midwest Grows Green, a program of the IPM Institute of North America: https://ipminstitute.org/projects/midwest-grows-green/

Illinois Sports Turf Managers Association: https://ilstma.org/workshops-events/

The Pest Defense for Healthy Schools: http://pestdefenseforhealthyschools.com/

U.S. EPA’s “Reduced Risk and Organophosphate Alternative Decisions for Conventional Pesticides”: https://www.epa.gov/pesticide-registration/reduced-risk-and-organophosphate-alternative-decisions-conventional. Popular reduced risk options include Fiesta (Iron Chelate), Tenacity, Quicksilver, A.D.I.O.S (NaCl), Defendor, and Turflon Ester Ultra.

Natural lawn care companies, including Evanston’s own Greenwise Organic Lawn Care and Logic Lawn Care, use natural lawn care techniques and reduced-risk or non-toxic products to create beautiful and healthy landscapes.

 A Written Policy is Critical
Just as the City of Evanston adopted its pesticide policy, other large organizations should, too. There is a saying that “what gets measured, gets managed.” A written policy documents an organization’s decisions about pesticide use reduction and sustainable landscapes. It ensures continuity, for example, when there are staff changes. And a policy enables communication and evaluation both within the organization and with the community. For example, the City of Evanston’s policy requires that pesticide reduction implementation be evaluated and reported to the City Council every two years.

In addition to the City of Evanston’s policy, sample policies are provided by the U.S EPA and the Illinois Department of Public Health.
Ms. Kaplan is a District 65 and District 202 parent, environmental lawyer, former member of the Evanston Environment Board and Research Assistant Professor at the UIC School of Public Health.
Sources cited:
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Toxicology Curriculum for Communities Trainer’s Manual, http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/training/toxmanual/modules/4/lecturenotes.html
Ontario College of Family Physicians. “Comprehensive Review of Pesticide Research Confirms Dangers.” April 23, 2004. https://ocfp.on.ca/docs/pesticides-paper/news-release.pdf
Gilden R, “Pesticide Use in Hospitals.” Nurs Admin Q, Vol. 34, No. 4, pages 320-326, 2010
IARC Monograph on Glyphosate, https://www.iarc.fr/featured-news/media-centre-iarc-news-glyphosate/
NPR, March 27, 2019, https://www.npr.org/2019/03/27/707439575/jury-awards-80-million-in-damages-in-roundup-weed-killer-cancer-trial
American Academy of Pediatrics. “Policy Statement: Pesticide Exposure in Children.” PEDIATRICS Volume 130, Number 6, December 2012, www.aappublications.org/news
Biomonitoring California, https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-1-d&q=biomonitoring+california
City of Evanston. “E-PLAN 2016-2021.” https://www.cityofevanston.org/home/showdocument?id=3494
Hernandez et al. “Pesticides and Asthma.” Curr Opin Allergy Clin Immunol. 2011 Apr;11(2):90-6. doi: 10.1097/ACI.0b013e3283445939. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21368619
City of Evanston Sustainable Pest Control and Pesticide Reduction Policy, https://www.cityofevanston.org/home/showdocument?id=10691
Pesticide Use and Pesticide Reduction Efforts: A Report to the Evanston City Council, April 2018, https://www.cityofevanston.org/home/showdocument?id=40716
WTTW, Chicago Park District Limits Pesticides, Offers Lawn Care Tips, April 24, 2017, https://news.wttw.com/2017/04/24/chicago-park-district-limits-pesticides-offers-lawn-care-tips

Common advice for moving to natural lawn care includes:

• Water deeply and infrequently: This encourages deep root growth.• Mow high: Keep the lawn mowed at 3 inches or higher. This increases root strength and helps the lawn to naturally shade out weeds.• Use organic Fertilizer: Synthetic fertilizers can wash away, and they often contain toxic pesticides. Keep grass clippings on the lawn after mowing; they are a natural fertilizer.• Weed Naturally: Proper lawn care maintenance reduces weeds. Annual reseeding helps too.