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Norwalk Council looks to raise awareness on pesticide dangers

Drew Toher, Beyond Pesticides Community Resource and Policy Director, talks to the Common Council Ordinance Committee.

NORWALK, Conn. — Pesticides would be banned from City properties, under an ordinance being considered by the Common Council.

This would formalize and make permanent a policy already being implemented by the Department of Public Works, said Ordinance Committee Chairwoman Lisa Shanahan (D-District E), who added that raising public awareness is part of the goal.

Don’t think that a pesticide is safe just because it’s approved by the EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency); the EPA only looks at the active ingredient, won’t tell you what the inert ingredients are and has no tests done to determine how they interact, said Drew Toher of Beyond Pesticides during a three-pronged presentation Tuesday to the Ordinance Committee.

In the second prong, Sarah Evans of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai said the number of common diseases has doubled or tripled in the last couple of decades, a rapid change that “suggests that something else is at play.” Studies show “we all have greater than 200 chemicals in our bodies, over 40 of those are pesticides.”

Lobstering used to be a lucrative industry off Norwalk but in the mid-90s, they all died, Dick Harris of Harbor Watch said. It became apparent that the die-off was due to pesticides being flushed into the harbor all at once by a hurricane; while that was decades ago, lately there’s a sudden absence of oyster larvae.

“We’re not learning,” Harris said.

Still, after the devastating delivery of bad news on pesticides, questions revealed the flip side of the coin.

“My concern really is ticks and also mosquitos,” said Council member Nora Niedzielski-Eichner (D-At Large). “…Tick diseases can be devastating. The neighborhood that I live in is home to Lone Star ticks, which carry even more disturbing stuff than your, sort of, average deer tick.”

“We do counsel a lot of families on how to manage that. A lot of it comes down to how you manage your property,” Evans said. “…It’s definitely challenging.”

“Pesticide use … creates a treadmill effect, because you’re spraying pesticides to deal with a pest, when in effect, that’s going to weaken your local ecology, it’s going to weaken the ability for natural systems to get in there and address the pest problem, you know, through natural means, and it makes it easier for pest populations to grow,” Toher said.

Drew Toher of Beyond Pesticides speaks to the Common Council Ordinance Committee.

‘The need for this pesticide ban’

Stamford recently passed an ordinance to ban toxic chemicals on its lawns and “we’ve been talking about this in Norwalk for quite some time,” Shanahan said. While it’s great that DPW stopped using pesticides in 2019, a change in administration could reverse the policy.

The Committee had gotten letters supporting the move; Mary Wilson of Protect Our Pollinators wrote that scientific studies have have identified pesticides as playing a central role in the recent “insect apocalypse,” a “catastrophic decline in pollinators, including bees, part of the overall 75% decline in insects over nearly three decades.”

Shanahan said her presentation was meant to “educate our committee as to the need for this pesticide ban, and some of the important reasons why.”

The umbrella term “pesticides” includes “insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, rodenticides, all the other biocides out there intended to mitigate, kill or repel a pest or weed,” Toher said.

Inert ingredients are considered confidential business information and the EPA doesn’t require toxicology testing, he said. But university peer-reviewed show “other inert ingredients can make a pesticide product more or less toxic depending upon the mixture of the formulation.”

Endocrine disruption, a pesticide tactic of mimicking hormones, is “not evaluated despite a 1996 law requiring EPA review” and EPA “will allow a pesticide onto market without required studies on certain health endpoints,” Toher said. While “the agency assumes that chemical will not cause harm while it waits for that data,” many times “serious environmental problems” have resulted.

The EPA also assumes that everyone will follow the directions on the pesticide labels, he said.

Excerpt of a slide presented by Drew Toher of Beyond Pesticides.

“The most commonly used pesticides on lawns today are linked to cancer, birth defects, reproductive toxicity, kidney and liver damage in humans,” Toher said. Pesticide usage is also a “major environmental justice issue” as New York City “parks and communities of color are experiencing much higher rates of pesticide use.” The people applying the pesticides are more likely to be from communities of color and young children are more susceptible to the effects of pesticide exposure.

Data shows that Connecticut beekeepers have consistently reported losses above the national average, “an astounding 65% colony loss between 2020 and 2021,” Toher said. “…Imagine if another agricultural industry, like dairy or poultry farmers, lost well over 30 percent of their livestock not just once, but year over year for more than the past decade.”

And it’s not just pollinators, the Eastern Monarch butterfly populations have declined “by 80% since 2005, risking migratory collapse and extinction.”

 

Sarah Evans, Ph.D., M.P.H., Mount Sinai Assistant Professor of Environmental Medicine & Public Health, speaks to the Common Council Ordinance Committee.

‘We don’t actually know’

Evans is a Norwalker who researches “how early life chemical exposures affects child development, particularly when they occur during vulnerable periods like the prenatal period” at Mount Sinai, she said. “…We’re not talking about high level acute toxicity; we’re talking about the chronic exposures that we experience throughout our daily lives.”

Every year, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) studies a representative sampling of American bodies and has found more than 200 chemicals in everyone, she said, as previously mentioned. But, “we’re not testing for every pesticide that’s out there in the environment. So we don’t actually know.”

And the levels are higher in children and in Black and brown people, she said.

“Again, these are at low dose levels that we’re exposed to throughout our daily lives. And they’re cumulative,” Evans said. “… They’re really not looking at how these cumulative and synergistic exposures that we experience across our lifespan across many years impact health. And so that’s what we’re studying at Mount Sinai.”

Children are naturally vulnerable to pesticide exposures for obvious reasons; they’re closer to the ground, they roll around and put things in their mouth, she said. They also breathe faster and “they even eat and drink more for their body weight.”

Children are developing and “this places them at greater risk of harm.”

But “we’re not just thinking about the outdoor exposures. But we know that pesticides accumulate in dust inside our homes, and they get tracked in on our shoes,” Evans said.

DDT is banned but, “if your grandmother was exposed to DDT, your risk of breast cancer is actually increased. So these exposures can persist across multiple generations,” she said.

Major classes of insecticide are designed to interfere with the way that nerves communicate with one another, which also affects mammals, the wildlife population and humans, she said.

Glyphosate may be associated with an increase in non-Hodgkins lymphoma, altered reproductive development in girls and interference with the microbiome. Mount Sinai researchers report autistic like behaviors in rodent laboratory studies.

Beyond all of that, pesticides are petroleum-based, so they contribute to climate change, Evans said.

‘Look at the cost’

Dick Harris addresses the Common Council Ordinance Committee.

Harris said that back in the 70s, his “eye opening experiences” included seeing what happened with DDT. It became less effective over time and he saw its damage to wildlife as he watched one of the first researchers studying the issue.

Later, he founded Harbor Watch. This led to him observing Norwalk Harbor in the 90s, when it “was something else,” an unbelievable abundance of sea life, “like opening a Christmas present every time” the trawl came up.

Then governments got the bright idea to dump pesticides in storm drains to kill mosquitos. When a big storm hit, the storm drains were flushed out and “People were having nets full of dead lobsters.”

“They never came back,” he said.

Last summer there were heavy rains and in mid-July, when he should have been able to find “a veritable soup” of larvae from crustaceans but, “I caught zero, nothing. That really worried me…. The only harbor they produced any larva of any note was the Quinnipiac.”

This summer, stick your head out your window and see if you hear cicadas, crickets or katydids, he said. Look for toads.

“We don’t have any mosquitoes. We did get those guys but look at the cost,” he said.

The Connecticut legislature is considering a bill to ban Chlorpyrifos and Neonicotinoids on golf courses, he said. “There’s a lot of good news about how this may be voted through. But even so with Neonicotinoids, we made a little bit of a loophole to allow it to still be used on some vegetables. And I don’t think we have that luxury.”

Why pesticides?

Shanahan said her committee would be holding a public hearing, where people might learn “better practices.”

She asked Toher to explain why people think they need pesticides.

“I think it really stems from folks not really being aware of the broad range of dangers associated with these chemicals,” Toher said. “I think local communities really have a role to play in educating their residents about this, because certainly, you know, the state is doing some good work on this… but the federal government is falling down on the job, essentially saying these products are fine as long as you follow them using the label. But we know from the science that that is, that is just not the case.”

The City is paying 2.5 times as much for its organic approach, Norwalk Parks Superintendent Ken Hughes said. So there’s an economic benefit to pesticides and the more toxic approaches are heavily marketed, while the more environmentally friendly ones are not.

You can wipe out most pests with chemicals but the ones that survive develop a resistance and “come back with a vengeance,” Toher said. “We see this kind of process occur in the literature.”

Evans spoke of tick tubes and offered other suggestions to  Niedzielski-Eichner, who said those wouldn’t work and asked what might work on the deer. Tick boxes apply “a pesticide onto a rodent that then, you know, eliminates the ticks that way instead of having a blanket application,” Evans replied.

Toher said a study showed a group of Connecticut residents suffered the same number of ticks on their bodies whether or not a pesticide was used. Pesticide application “isn’t necessarily going to get the ticks that are going to fall on you.”

As for mosquitos, “what you need to do is do things like eliminate standing water, maybe use some larvicides that will get the larvae before they hatch,” Evans said. “We do sometimes have some really, surprisingly terrible, very wet weather like has been referred to, that have led to these incredible outbreaks of mosquitoes in times when we don’t even expect them … so it’s definitely challenging.”

16 comments

John March 21, 2022 at 9:02 am

Have there been any studies done that would shed some light on how much the pesticides found in our bodies are from pesticides found in lawns and parks vs how much comes from the food we consume? Things like genetically modified plants that are resistant to pesticides that are being saturated with pesticides and then consumed might be the bigger problem.

Priscilla Feral March 21, 2022 at 10:18 am

Back in the summer of 2012, I became alarmed when I saw yellow pesticide application signs on the edge of Pinkney Park because it’s situated along the Five Mile River in Rowayton and can be polluted from lawn pesticide runoff.

I learned from the lawncare company it used Quinclorac for weed and crab grass control, which is slightly toxic to aquatic animals. I then
approached Rowayton’s commissioners to make Pinkney Park an organic showpiece for the community in 2013. They have required a pesticide free lawn care program on all of the six town properties they manage in Rowayton including the Community Center property, the Rowayton Dog Park and Bayley Beach for almost nine years.

Pesticide Free Rowayton is a project of Friends of Animals, and through their educational efforts, and more, many residents have joined the effort, some displaying Pesticide Free Zone signs in their yards. They’ve learned that of 30 commonly used lawn pesticides, 22 are toxic to birds, 14 toxic to mammals, 30 toxic to fish and aquatic organisms, and 29 are deadly to bees.

A 2013 study that tested dogs found that they had lawn pesticides in their urine for at least 48 hours after spraying. Another study found that a week after lawn treatment, 2,4-D, which is particularly dangerous, was found on all indoor air surfaces after wafting in through various openings in 13 homes. Also, Roundup, the most popular weed killer in the world has as its most active ingredients glyphosate and 2,4-D.

In these unprecedented times of environmental concern, its rewarding to have such leadership in Norwalk to consider passing an ordinance to eliminate toxic pesticides on Norwalk’s public properties.

Private residents in Norwalk can also go pesticide-free one lawn at a time and switch to organic lawncare, including the use of organic fertilizers. Let’s please model the initiatives we hope to see across the state, nation and globe.

Piberman March 21, 2022 at 1:34 pm

Why just City properties ? Much if not most of the City is covered by privately owned grass where pesticides are often used. And many City homeowners depend on well water. Plus we have lawn services spraying pesticides to control bugs. We’re deluged by pesticides plus all the particulates from I-95 and the Merritt. A prudent Common council would ban pesticide use. Some of us might just live longer and healthier.

Audrey Cozzarin March 21, 2022 at 2:33 pm

This is tremendously exciting news with big thanks to Lisa Shanahan for the courage to tackle this big one. Rachael Carson’s research and book “Silent Spring” published in the 1950s highlighted the war on insects and “weeds” starting decades before and continuing all these decades after her warnings–poisoning our planet, animals, and ourselves.

I’m proud of the Ordinance Committee, the Rowayton effort Priscilla mentions, Stamford’s ordinance, and all efforts to live in a natural world with respect for its integrity. Ticks, mosquitoes, other wildlife and fauna that we find problematic are disturbed and out of balance because of toxic chemicals and climate change (due to pollution). We must get our world back into balance and harmony. I believe harmony can bring better health and peace as well.

Norwalk resident March 21, 2022 at 3:36 pm

All this for pesticides but no one will question whats in the experimental MRNA covid vaccines?

Jim Tru March 21, 2022 at 3:58 pm

Walk into Lowes or Home Depot and they have pallets of these toxic products for sale.

If you want to truly regulate the use of these toxic products you have to eliminate the sale of them.

Erica Kipp March 21, 2022 at 6:49 pm

Norwalk Community College is proudly pesticide-free, so clearly it can be done in park-like settings. As a result, we proudly host a pollinator pathway that the environmental science club is working on to increase the number of native pollinator plants we offer. And all you have to do is read up on farmers, related illness and glyphosate application to connect the dots. Maybe the council could look at Home Depot and other locations that are still selling round up in spray bottles for private application.

Diane Keefe March 21, 2022 at 9:14 pm

I support making it official that all public properties should be pesticide free citywide. I hope this means Oak Hills Park is going organic too!
I think the pollinator pathway has done a great job. Our yard has been pesticide free for 30 years since we moved to Norwalk in 1991. Still I worry about what our neighbors are doing because we are on well water. We would all be better off if these pesticides don’t drive birds, fish, and mammals to extinction.
Ticks are a problem. I got Lyme disease about a decade ago but thankfully recovered. I still think we need to move to a citywide pesticide ban. For the mosquitos I use organic mosquito dunks you can find at Carlyn’s Hardware, a great old fashioned hardware store on the Post Rd that we’ve been customers for years. The dunks kill the larvae so we still have plenty of crickets and frogs after decades of use. Check it out.

Tysen Canevari March 21, 2022 at 10:23 pm

Part of the real issue here is policing the use of pesticides by licensed applicators. In order to obtain my state license I had to go through training and pass an oral and written exam to be able to apply any type of pesticide. However, Johnny homeowner can walk into a store and buy as he pleases and totally apply wrong to his/her property which creates multiple problems. I have a 9lb dog and 4 healthy sons. None of them have had pesticide poison. I apply properly and dont send them out there to eat it or digest it. I would rather spray my yard then have people get bit my ticks and get lyme disease. People die from that. Lobby for more state inspectors. I believe there are 2 or 3 for the whole state to investigate illegal pesticide applications.

M Murray March 22, 2022 at 6:18 am

The city should be able to use what they feel is best on their property, as should private property owners.

David Muccigrosso March 22, 2022 at 7:50 am

WOOO CHEMICALS SCARY.

It’s hard not to call a lot of commenters here some really mean things, when it’s right in the story: THEY LITERALLY DON’T KNOW WHAT THE PESTICIDE IMPACT IS IN NORWALK.

That doesn’t mean “ZOMG pEsTiCiDeS aRe EvErYwHeRe AnD tHeY’rE kIlLiNg OuR cHiLdReN”.

It just means “No one’s ever done a study to see whether pesticides in various places in Norwalk exceed dangerous thresholds.” That’s it.

It seems to me that we don’t need to ban pesticides. No, we need to hire a couple dozen more science teachers for NPS. And maybe set up a remedial class for the ADULTS.

Piberman March 22, 2022 at 4:01 pm

To David M:

Suggest you pull down the Federal Environmental Protection Agency website and its very extensive discussion on health impacts on pesticides used around homes and then let Nancy readers know whether they ought be concerned.

You might want include a summary of guidelines for protective gear recommended for those handling pesticides. And you might want to let us know whether City Hall was being “overprotective” in imposing restrictions on pesticide on City/public lands.

Some readers have extensive science backgrounds/education. Are we “misinformed” about having major concerns about use of pesticides by homeowners in our City ?

We live next to an acre sized pond bringing waters down from Wilton down to the Sound. Over the past 30 years or so we’ve seen the powerful destructive effects on pesticide use on wildlife. Decades ago the pond was home to a variety of fish, frogs and all sorts of wildlife feeding and raising young by its waters. Now its virtually a dead zone. A visit by a City inspector some years ago confirmed the wildlife destruction was caused by pesticides flowing into the pond upstream. Even the migrating flocks are bypassing the pond and its pesticide polluted waters. As have deer, turkey, coyotes, beavers, etc.

In a nutshell pesticides are major poisons. And ought be preventing from poisoning Norwalk citizens and our precious wildlife. Those who disagree ought to use Dr. FAUCCI’ s phrase “follow the science”.

David Muccigrosso March 22, 2022 at 9:21 pm

@Pibermen: Great. You finance the study. Or demand that the city do a study. But until then, there isn’t a “follow the science” case for doing anything that infringes on personal freedom.

George March 24, 2022 at 7:44 am

Pibermen? The EPA? Do you really want to believe anything the EPA says? How’d their MBTE gas additive work? It worked great until it started showing up in reservoirs and drinking water and then took their time banning it.

Then they decided that adding corn to gas would help. You do know that ethanol gas results in lower performance and fuel milage right? It’s also bad for small engines. Now they also added the turn off the motor when stopping at red light thing.

Nothing causes more wear and tear on a motor than constantly starting them. All in the name of better fuel milage. You get better fuel milage by using non- ethanol gas which is available in the south. Try it and you will see a big difference.

How about diesel fuel? They de-tuned diesel motors so they do not see black smoke and soot. It also provides less power and fuel milage. By doing so they added a burn process to make the soot particles smaller. In order to burn the soot what do they do? They increase the the amount of fuel used to heat the exhaust to burn the soot. What kills fuel milage? More fuel and HEAT. The exhaust Temps reach upwards of 1200 degree during the 20 mile regeneration process. Once a regen starts you need to continue driving in order to complete the cycle properly. There regens occur every 300 to 400 miles. Try driving for 400 miles, about to pull into your driveway and a regen starts. Guess what. Now you have to drive another 20 miles.

Good thing the EPA is working to reduce the heat in the atmosphere, right. Oh and by the way, diesel trucks built after 2011 add ammonium nitrate into the atmosphere which kills plants and trees.

David Muccigrosso March 25, 2022 at 11:53 am

@James – Not sure. I moved. Haven’t seen them since last year, though, but it’s been cold.

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