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Guest Column: Healthy Community Land Care

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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A bevy of emails has landed in my inbox, each raising the same question: Is there a safe, effective, economical way to remove the weeds growing on Northampton’s Florence Fields besides a broad spraying of Roundup?

Yes, of course! After all, the best-selling weed killer in America was once number one in Denmark. In 2003 the Danish government banned its use when testing found it was contaminating the water. Its manufacturer claimed that it posed no significant threat to health. Denmark banned the product despite those broken-record industry statements.

In Canada, legislation prohibits the use of cosmetic lawn chemicals on residential as well as municipal grounds in almost every province.

The health implications of pesticides are described by the nonprofit research group Beyond Pesticides as follows: “Of the 30 most commonly used lawn pesticides, 19 can cause cancer, 13 are linked to birth defects, 21 can affect reproduction and 15 are nervous system toxicants.”

Drive 30 minutes south from Northampton and you’ll arrive in Connecticut. There is no pesticide spraying along roadways. This reduces roadway stormwater runoff and contamination of surface and groundwater, including tributaries that flow into the Connecticut River and Long Island Sound. Connecticut also bans the use of lawn chemicals on K-8 school grounds. Keep driving south. In 2010, the Empire State banned the use of lawn chemicals on all school playing fields. Head into New Jersey, where children’s health advocates are working to get legislation enacted to ban pesticide use on playing fields. In Maryland, Tacoma Park has banned pesticide use on public lands and on private properties as well. Stop in North Carolina at Guilford College, which has eliminated lawn chemicals and is showing a return on investment savings from the switch to safe, beautiful organic alternatives. Head out west and you’ll find ordinances in communities throughout California, Oregon, Colorado, Washington and New Mexico.

Four communities in Massachusetts, Newton, Wellesley, Wellfleet and Marblehead, have enacted strict pesticide legislation. My colleague Chip Osborne from Marblehead sits on that town’s Park Commission. Marblehead started with exactly the same budget as Northampton. Like our city, it has faced cuts and still has managed its playing fields organically for over a decade.

The Northampton Department of Public Works, Recreation Department and Stormwater Management Department heads were open to listening to Chip and me as we shared strategies for protecting the city’s investment in the Florence Fields project. We also discussed how to effectively transition this and other fields to a non-toxic organic program. Please join me in supporting this environmentally and economically efficient initiative. Contact the Northampton Board of Health—or your own local board of health—and urge the adoption of an organic ordinance to eliminate pesticides.•

Bernadette Giblin is the founder of Safeground Organic Lawncare. She served on the Massachusetts Department of Water Conservation’s Task Force for Pesticide-Free Lawns.

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