NORWALK, Conn. — The drive to ban pesticides from City property is moving to the public hearing stage.
Oak Hills Park is chiefly impacted by the drafted ordinance, while adjustments were made to accommodate school property needs.
The Oak Hills Park Authority has agreed not to use neonicotinoids, chlorpyrifos, and Roundup, which contains glyphosate, Ordinance Committee Chairwoman Lisa Shanahan (D-District E) said. Those are the “products which we were particularly concerned about.”
Although the drafted ordinance prohibits anything containing glyphosate, neonicotinoids or chlorpyrifos, an exception is made for fighting poison ivy, as this is a problem on school properties.
Any product that isn’t organic is “restricted.”
“Research shows that agricultural pesticides – a term that encompasses insecticides, herbicides and fungicides – are one of the main drivers of insect declines worldwide, along with habitat loss and climate change. Forty percent of insect species face extinction in coming decades, leading scientists to warn of ‘catastrophic ecosystem collapse’ if we don’t change the way we farm,” Friends of the Earth states. “Many pesticides commonly used to grow food in the U.S. kill bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects. These same pesticides also harm human health. Among those of highest concern are neonicotinoids, chlorpyrifos and glyphosate.”
“Pesticides necessarily contaminate soil microbiology, plant life, wildlife, marine species, groundwater, rivers, and water wells. These lethal chemicals blindly kill and make no distinction between the unwanted pests and beneficial insects and healthy organisms. Many of these beneficial insects can help limit unwanted pests on properties where Organic Land Management practices are used,” the drafted ordinance states. “…Fortunately, there are numerous effective and safe alternative solutions, as well as best property practices, that can be employed for sustainable lawn, soil, land, garden, and tree care.”
“We fashioned our definition of organic product, based on the model code for pesticides that’s being used across the nation,” Shanahan said.
Restricted products would be banned within 200 feet of a tidal wetland, watercourse or wetland, and on school properties unless the school’s principal ask that they be used, and an interdepartmental pest management team (IPMT) would govern the City’s pesticide application, reviewing applications for permission to use restricted products under certain conditions, such as when there’s an imminent threat to human health, the environment of public welfare and safety. The team would include the Recreation and Parks Director, who would chair the team, the Health Director, the Chief of Operations and the senior operations officer.
This has all been worked out at two Ordinance Committee meetings.
The section defining exemptions “is a result of our conversations with Oak Hills,” Common Council President Tom Livingston (D-District E) said. “We talked through what they use and why.”
“We’re happy that they have agreed to take off those the worst of the worst pesticides from their usual maintenance of the property,” Shanahan said, adding that “everybody was unhappy” after that discussion, “which means that it’s probably a pretty good compromise.”
Oak Hills Golf Course superintendent Jim Schell commented at Thursday’s Oak Hills Park Authority meeting that the drafted ordinance “checks out” to what was discussed. OHPA member Carl Dickens suggested that Authority members should attend the public hearing, which is expected June 21.
Commenting to the Ordinance Committee, Fire Marshal Broderick Sawyer said the Authority stores chemicals in a cargo container by its maintenance shed, with the proper venting and Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) available.
“I actually read every single label of everything that Oak Hills uses,” Shanahan replied. “Because it does have a lot of information about the storage and the importance of storage and keeping the storage away from waterways and things like that. So if you have all of that kind of stuff, so it’s reassuring to hear that you inspect it, and that it’s appropriately done.”
It’s important that the Authority take care of City property but there are also abutters who will be affected by pesticide use, Shanahan said.
Recreation and Parks routinely uses organic products, such as BurnOut, a mix of clove oil and citric acid, Norwalk Parks Superintendent Ken Hughes said.
“The one thing about organics, you have to keep on top of the maintenance, and they also cost quite a bit of money. We have to apply things a lot more often, in order for them to be effective,” he said.
He also said there aren’t enough staff members to constantly hand pull weeds. Therefore, the department is experimenting with products, such as using vinegar, which, “when combined with dish soap is supposed to be a great organic alternative to some of the stronger pesticides. So we’re going through a trial and error basis now see, to see what works, and what will be the most cost effective for us being that we are such a small department.”
But the biggest issue on school properties is poison ivy along fence lines, “sometimes creeping over to playground areas,” Hughes said.
Shanahan noted that her throat closes when she’s exposed to poison ivy and needs to get a shot, so she knows the severe issues poison ivy can cause, but said, “I’m just hoping that you guys keep experimenting with lesser evils than having to go for, you know, some of these really prohibited chemicals to fight something. That just causes a rash, especially in school grounds. Because these Roundup type of chemicals, they’re really bad. And we don’t want them around children.”
The poison ivy concern led to the exemption of being able to use prohibited products, as long as it’s not within 200 feet of a waterway, Livingston said.
Council member Thomas Keegan (R-District D) asked if the Committee would talk about possible financial impacts to Oak Hills and the Recreation and Parks Department.
“I don’t think that that’s something I plan to discuss now,” Shanahan said. “I think that the city has been pretty cautious about using these chemicals in the first place. So I don’t think that there’s a massive change for the City. And for Oak Hills…. if we’re going to talk about economic benefits and detriments, there is a detriment for them using these chemicals to our city.”
The ordinance marks the City leading by example, Shanahan said.
“First of all, we have to be good stewards of our land, and we certainly have to be good neighbors to our abutting property owners,” she said.
Conservation groups are waiting for the ordinance to come out, and “we’re hoping to do is a couple of library talks where we can talk about good practices for lawn care,” she said. The hope is “that people will start wondering whether they ought to be doing this on their properties as well.”