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By Matt Cortina
The San Clemente Beaches, Parks and Recreation (BPR) Commission voted March 14 to create a subcommittee on using organic pesticides and herbicides after about two dozen residents spoke out against the city’s use of the controversial chemical glyphosate, commonly known by its trade name, Roundup.
The state of California listed glyphosate as a known carcinogen as part of Prop 65, a voter-approved initiative that requires the state to list chemicals that cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm. A judge ruled this week that the state is allowed to label Roundup products with a carcinogenic warning.
Speakers at the BPR meeting, largely members of the group Non Toxic San Clemente, shared stories about their kids and pets playing in areas where the city sprays glyphosate, and expressed concerns that although the city is judicious in its herbicide use, the chemical easily travels and interacts with other chemicals in the air. Others spoke about personal health concerns—include cancers and reproductive issues—and tied them to past or present exposure to glyphosate.
Randy Little, maintenance manager with the city, said his department sprays about 2 ounces per acre per month to areas such as medians, parks and open space. Little said the city uses only one herbicide—Grazon—which is a glyphosate product cheaper than Roundup.
City staff spent close to a year producing a report about glyphosate use, coming to the conclusion that the current use of pesticides was judicious enough to warrant further use, especially considering the effectiveness of organic alternatives and the price increase in switching to organic.
Michelle Schumacher, who organizes Non Toxic San Clemente, said using glyphosate may be more cost effective and efficient for the city in the near term, but the costs are really passed onto residents who incur health costs they link to the herbicide.
However, Jodie Cook, a San Clemente resident and landscape designer certified by the Environmental Protection Agency in sustainable landscaping, said at the meeting that though glyphosate kills weeds, research suggests it also fosters soil conditions conducive to more weeds.
“It makes them lean toward a bacterially dominated form that creates more of a hospitable place for the weeds to thrive and a n inhospitable place for the native plants to thrive,” Cook said.
This, said Non Toxic San Clemente organizer Michelle Schumacher, also means that when organic herbicide–or better yet, a systems-first non-herbicide approach–is used, there will be an uptick in weeds is the land gets healthy, but in 2-3 years, water needs will drop and the organic pesticides will be more effective.
“There’s nothing healthy about a products approach to landscaping. When you take a systems approach, then you can call it healthy,” she said.
Monsanto, the producer of Roundup, claims glyphosate is non-carcinogenic and question the World Health Organization study that labels it as such. They site an EPA ruling that glyphosate has “low toxicity to humans,” however about 60 lawsuits filed by farmers and others were combined and filed as a class-action suit on March 14, claiming that Monsanto ghostwrote the study the EPA relied on to make the decision.
The subcommittee will consist of BPR members Tim Shaw and John Dorey, a member of the city’s Public Works Department, and two members from the public. The subcommittee will review options—including borrowing plan from cities that have eliminated glyphosate use such as Irvine and Malibu—and determine the best way to phase out glyphosate use or deprioritize it so that it is only used as a last resort. BPR Chair Steven Streger said he thinks only three meetings will be necessary to create a plan that is agreeable to all parties.
This story was updated on March 17 to clarify Cook’s comments.