Cornucopia’s Take: Following a ripple of response from cities across the state to rising regulatory and scientific scrutiny of glyphosate and neonicotinoids, Carlsbad, California has now also voted to rely first on organic pesticides and herbicides to tend city property and school athletic fields, in response to resident safety concerns. Councilmembers have chosen voted unanimously to spend more money on organic pest control in the interest of public health.
Carlsbad adopts organic pesticide policy
The San Diego Union-Tribune
by Phil Diehl
Roundup, the most widely used chemical pesticide in the world, will no longer be the weed killer of choice in Carlsbad.
The city earlier this month became the first in the county to adopt a policy that makes organic pesticides the preferred method for getting rid of weeds, bugs and rodents on hundreds of acres of city property and school athletic fields.
Urged by residents worried about the use of toxic chemicals, the City Council unanimously agreed to phase in the new policy over the next year as part of an update of Carlsbad’s integrated pest management plan. The plan was last updated in 2003.
“We will stress the use of organics first,” city Parks Services Manager Kyle Lancaster told the council, though he said other solutions could be necessary for persistent problems. “It does not prevent us from using chemicals, if necessary.”
One downside to organics has been the cost.
Organic pesticides are typically more expensive than the chemical alternative, and they have to be used more often. The switch reportedly could cost the city almost $1 million a year in additional costs.
Still, the council voted unanimously to go with organics.
Councilwoman Cori Schumacher said she had no doubts about the move, even if it might mean a few more weeds on the soccer fields.
“Asked to choose between aesthetics and public health … I’m going to choose public health every time,” she said. “There’s a request for us to take the lead here.”
Nearby Encinitas adopted a pest management policy that stopped the use of glyphosates in city parks in 2015. Also, the city started a pilot project using only organic products in Glen Park, but not in other parks, and so far it has not switched to organics citywide.
Representatives for San Diego County and the state Department of Pesticide Regulation both said they only track whether pesticides are used correctly, not whether someone is using organic or non-organic pesticides. Also, the line between organic and synthetic is not always clear. Many common organic materials are made synthetically, such as vitamin C.
Irvine was the first city in neighboring Orange County to approve an organics-first policy last year, followed this year by San Juan Capistrano. Huntington Beach recently launched a pilot program.
“This is a trend that is only going to be come more focused,” Carlsbad Mayor Matt Hall said before the council’s vote Dec. 5.
Carlsbad routinely uses pesticides — a category that includes insecticides, fungicides, herbicides and rodenticides — on city property and in the maintenance of athletic fields on 10 campuses under shared-use agreements with three school districts.
Until recently, Carlsbad’s first choice for a weed killer was the chemical product Roundup, a widely used brand name that includes the active ingredient glyphosate.
Glyphosate, developed by the Monsanto company in the 1970s, is common in home and commercial weed killers. While the chemical has been approved by regulatory agencies around the world, concerns persist about its effects on human health and the environment.
In June, the California Environmental Protection Agency added glyphosate to its list of chemicals believed to be linked to cancer, though the federal EPA has said the chemical is not a carcinogen.
Organic pesticides generally use plant-based ingredients or some other naturally-occurring material, Lancaster said. Other options include pulling weeds by hand or with tools, or to remove pests with traps.
Members of the newly formed group Non Toxic Carlsbad have urged the city staff and council to stop the use of all chemical pesticides. Many of the group’s members were parents concerned their children could be exposed to hazardous chemicals on school playgrounds.
“This is an issue near and dear to my heart,” said resident Mary Anne Viney, a member of the group who once worked as a chemist in a laboratory that used benzene as a solvent. Benzene was later shown to be a carcinogen, but only after many people became sick and some died.
“Chronic exposure to even very low levels of some chemicals can lead to problems,” Viney said.
Chemical pesticides can move through the soil and get into groundwater and the ocean, said Heather Bensen, another Non Toxic Carlsbad member.
“I would rather err on the side of caution,” Bensen said.
Concerns also were raised earlier this year when the city used glyphosate-based products to kill palm trees and other invasive plants as part of a habitat restoration project at the Calavera Lake Preserve. Residents said they worried the chemical could get into groundwater or be blown by the winds into nearby neighborhoods, though city staffers and a consulting biologist said that is unlikely.
A 15-month pilot program using only organic pesticides on school athletic fields yielded only “modest” results, according to the city staff report.
Two substitutes for Roundup that the city has tried are Fiesta and Scythe, Lancaster said. Fiesta uses chelated iron as an active ingredient, and Scythe relies on pelargonic acid.
“A greater number of weeds and burrowing rodents has been evident,” the report states. As a result, the fields don’t look as good, and the holes left by ground squirrels and gophers were a hazard to children playing sports.
Those problems may be solved by more frequent maintenance under the organic program, Lancaster said.
“There are items we need to stay on top of for appearance and well-maintained sites,” he said.
It may take some experimentation to learn the best combination of procedures and products under the new policy, he said.