A Toxic Controversy in Loring Park

It appears, from a photo submitted by a Loring Park resident, that the Minneapolis Park Board has not heeded concerns raised by many residents about herbicide spraying in the community parks. See the Reply section below for comments, including from Justin Long, Park Board Assistant Superintendent for Environmental Stewardship.

application of Loring Park pesticides, September 2015

South pond of Loring Park, showing open-air application of herbicides? Could that be possible after the August conversation with residents and a move to study whether the use of chemicals is safe and necessary? Photo taken by a Loring Park resident 9/9/15.

There is also comment from a resident who found orange residue on shoes after walking through Loring Park the morning chemical was applied: “I mentioned it to a friend who works in the State parks doing invasive species removal and she told me the film was from the roundup-based chemical they were spraying in the lake. When she uses the similar chemical in the parks they wear suits and get covered with this chemical residue. I don’t understand why I should have it on me when I was obviously not all that close to the lake but I did.” [Another resident, in Replies below, commented that the spray in the photo is blue, not orange.]

Parks board staff leader Justin Long — who is in a non-elected position and was appointed from a Parks Operation Manager job in Atlanta by Parks Superintendent Jayne Miller — indicates the August meeting (details below) was simply an informational session to outline the work that would be done. Members of Citizens for a Loring Park Community are noting that he should have heeded the strong opposition by many residents to the work he was doing in Loring Park.

Parks Board commissioner Brad Bourn has indicated that the “Park Board is preparing a study report over the next six months on the use of chemicals and their alternatives. I’ve suggested that during that six-month period, the Park Board place a temporary moratorium on chemical use. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be support for that proposal at the board.”

In related news, for a different insecticide, a United States appeals court ruled Thursday, September 10, that the Environmental Protection Agency erred in indicating a Dow chemical was safe. “In its ruling, the court found that the E.P.A. relied on ‘flawed and limited data’ to approve the unconditional registration of sulfoxaflor, and that approval was not supported by ‘substantial evidence.’ In vacating the agency’s approval, the court said that ‘given the precariousness of bee populations, leaving the E.P.A.’s registration of sulfoxaflor in place risks more potential environmental harm than vacating it.’”

At roughly the same time, it was announced that a new Harvard study shows a possible link between kids cancer and pesticide use. “Childhood cancers are increasing year by year in this country, (and) there is disagreement about what is contributing to that, but pesticides have always been on the radar,” said Chensheng Lu, an associate professor of environmental exposure biology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health who led the new research. The study will be published in the October issue of the journal Pediatrics. This analysis “is confirming that pesticides may play a role, possibly a significant role, in the development of childhood leukemia and lymphoma,” Lu said. However, he added that it is hard to say at this point if exposure to these chemicals is definitely a risk factor for these cancers.

The Background in Loring Park

Loring Park neighborhood has a unique master plan in place to become an LEED-Neighborhood Development community. According to its website, the Citizens for a Loring Park Community (CLPC) is seeking to become one of the first existing neighborhoods in the country to receive this designation, as part of a National Case Study Pilot Project, which would recognize strong steps toward sustainability.

Minimizing air and water pollution is one of the requirements of LEED-ND designation.

Ironically, at a contentious meeting in August of community members and representatives of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB), a central disagreement was about the impending use of chemicals to minimize cattails in the local lake as part of the Loring Park Vegetation Management project.

The neighborhood has a strongly engaged community around green initiatives and urban design, and many of them raised concerns about next steps in the Park Board’s plan of action.

A few residents felt that other measures – without the use of chemicals – might do as effective a job, for use around the other parts of the city where this is a problem as well (such as Lake Nokomis, Hiawatha).

CLPC board member Pat Davies suggested that Swedish equipment has been used effectively for cattail management, and perhaps could be purchased with matching funds by the Swedish American Chamber of Commerce, which likes to promote trade. She also suggested that the Department of Natural Resources lists 26 companies that do cattail management work, which might have more experience than the one company that bid and received the Park Board contract, now entering its third year of work.

(In places such as Manitoba, equipment is used to collect cattail biomass for use as biocarbon and solid fuel. In 2014, New York State announced a wetlands restoration project to dramatically reduce its own invasive hybrid cattail, using specialized equipment to “cut through the cattail debris… the excavated material will be piled as habitat mounds that will support native plants, such as sedges and rushes, which provide great sources of food for waterfowl.”

Davies offered a three-page letter explaining that her research of four years “convinces me that that is a mistake. Spraying herbicide is risky and unnecessary. Cutting, with a timeline, is a proven way to achieve cattail control and is environmentally sound.”

Justin Long, the MPRB Assistant Superintendent for Environmental Stewardship since 2013, indicated, on the other hand, that chemicals and other methods are the strongest way to curtail the growth – it will never be eradicated – so that by 2018 his staff can manage it internally by pulling the cattails.

The Central Issues

Disagreement over the decision by MPRB to use an herbicide like Aquaneat, a Monsanto product (aka Round-up), focused on three concerns:

  • There was no public debate about whether this chemical use was desired in the community. As one resident pointed out, two miles away City Hall has planted for pollinators – whose range would include the water and nectar of Loring Park’s lake. It seems counter-intuitive to plant for pollinators while also poisoning their environment.
  • application of Loring Park pesticides, September 2015

    South pond of Loring Park, showing open-air application of herbicides. Photo taken by a Loring Park resident, 9/9/15.

    Will the herbicide poison the water? Representatives of the decision to use the chemical say it is applied to the cattail itself – to suffocate it — and absorbed only in the soil. According to their research, the active ingredient of glyphosate won’t float in the water or – despite use of backpack sprayers – impact air quality. Others strongly disagreed that the herbicide would not be harmful to water, air, and the fishing stock and other wildlife of the lake. [See photo and Reply section below for more on this.]

  • Has the MPRB fully explored the smartest use of the tens of thousands of dollars it has paid Applied Ecological Systems for management of the issue that seems questionable?

The MPRB is looking to minimize cattail growth so that biodiversity at the lake can be maintained. It is a long-standing issue. In 2010, the issue of cattails at Loring Park were noted by Lee Frelich, director of the University of Minnesota Center for Hardwood Ecology, who was also president of Friends of Loring Park.

One resident said she’s in favor of seeking biodiversity, but “we need to find another way to do it.” The eco-system is highly complex and challenging, she said, and we’re killing ourselves, and our wildlife, when we step away from mechanical solutions in order to use toxic chemicals. “There’s no end to it, in our effort to have ‘minimal management.’”


Research on the Herbicide

A 2015 report about the widely used herbicide by National Geographic indicated: “The weed killer has made recent headlines for its widespread use on genetically modified seeds and research that links it to antibiotics resistance and hormone disruption. Several national governments are planning to restrict its use, and some school districts are talking about banning it.”

The article went on to say:

Despite its widespread use, U.S. Geological Survey hydrologist Paul Capel said there is “a dearth of information” on what happens to it once it is used. A recent USGS study sampled waterways in 38 states and found glyphosate in the majority of rivers, streams, ditches, and wastewater treatment plant outfalls tested. Not much was found in groundwater because it binds tightly to soil.
Glyphosate also was found in about 70 percent of rainfall samples. It “attaches pretty firmly to soil particles” that are swept off farm fields then stay in “the atmosphere for a relatively long time until they dissolve off into water,” Capel says.
“…The studies found glyphosate in farmworkers’ blood and urine, chromosomal damage in cells, increased risks of non-Hodgkin lymphoma in some people exposed, and tumor formation in some animal studies.”

Capel is a University of Minnesota environmental chemist who recently said, “We’ve hitched much of our agricultural wagon to the use of glyphosate. My perspective is that we’re with glyphosate now where we were in the early days of DDT use in the 1950 and 1960s—we’re conducting a big experiment with the environment.”

Although the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is re-evaluating its view on the herbicide, and some studies indicate there is no effect on human health, Sri Lanka, alarmed by suspected links to human kidney disease, has banned it. Brazil is considering a similar move. Mexico and the Netherlands have imposed new restrictions, and Canada has just begun a process to consider new rules.

A 2015 article by The New York Times indicated that, “An agency of the World Health Organization has declared that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, “probably” causes cancer in people.”

Officials at the agency, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, said they had no agenda other than to inform the World Health Organization. They said the conclusion was based on studies of people, laboratory animals and cells.
“All three lines of evidence sort of said the same thing, which is we ought to be concerned about this,” said Aaron Blair, a retired epidemiologist from the National Cancer Institute who was chairman of the group of 17 reviewers from around the world; agreement on the classification was unanimous.

Local Landscape Activist Speaks Out

IMG_0322Impassioned and outspoken advocate Russ Henry, a landscape specialist, is concerned that the use of toxic chemicals poses an unnecessary and inevitable danger to the local population of wildlife and vegetation. It’s a short-term fix that has long-term implications, he indicated in an interview with MPLS Green. He believes it is irresponsible of the MPRB to use chemicals without having a public debate about their use.

Residential complaints about pesticide use, and the amount of dollars spent on chemicals by the city’s park board, deserve more public conversation, he said. A spreadsheet showing extensive chemical treatments around the city by contractors and staff in Minneapolis parks over the past several years needs to be open to discussion.

“How are staff trained in managing our public lands? We are a city that prides itself on organic food, farmer’s markets. As citizens paying for this, have we asked that our public spaces be full of chemicals? We already know pesticides are poisoning the waters that others in our city are very much trying to protect. It feels very undermining. This needs to be a decision of the people who live here. Look at the science of how this affects our butterflies, birds, fish, bees.”

Other Toxicity Concerns

A 39-page report by the Pesticide Action Network of North America, published in 2013, indicated that the President’s Cancer Panel noted that we have been “grossly underestimating” the contribution of environmental contamination to disease.

“Neurotoxic pesticides are clearly implicated as contributors to the rising rates of attention deficit/ hyperactivity disorder, autism, widespread declines in IQ and other measures of cognitive function.”

Since 1945, use of herbicides, insecticides and other pesticides has grown to more than 1.1 billion pounds per year, the report said. Neonicotinoids, for example, are systemic — applied at the root and not able to be washed off. Neonics have become more well known lately because of its link to honey bee colony collapse disorder.

Locally, Shorewood, Stillwater, Lake Elmo, St. Louis Park and Andover have passed Bee-Safe resolutions that protect the vegetation used by pollinators. See Shorewood’s resolution here.

Related Resources



  9 comments for “A Toxic Controversy in Loring Park

  1. Kay
    August 13, 2015 at 1:52 pm

    While I appreciate that some MPRB members believe in the efficacy of using Aquaneat to control cattails in our ponds, I am concerned with the ethicalness of using a product about which the most positive spin you can apply is that data linking glyphosate to cancer ‘is questionable, at best.’

    The water, land and air of our dying environment is lined with such industry and political assurances. ‘Everything’s fine; nothing to see here; the jury’s still out.’

    And the planet burns.

    British Petrolium assured us the company had adequate safety protocols in place and state of the art deep-water clean up contingency plans…right before the uncontrollable 87-day dump of more than 200,000,000 gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

    Big agrichemical companies have a well-documented record of hiding the truth about the health risks of their products and operations as they issue assurances about the safety of those same products.

    Monsanto alone is responsible for such environmentally disastrous poisions as PCBs (toxic polychlorinated biphenyls), Agent Orange, and GMOs which (according to a study published in The Journal of Organic Systems) have been linked to 22 diseases with ” …a very high correlation.”

    But the jury’s still out.

    CEOs from Exxon, Haliburton and Chesapeake Energy…not to mention the infamous Koch Brothers have all assured us that fracking is a safe technology…even as a 2,500 square-mile methane plume hovers over the western US and seismic activity increases and tap water burst into flames near fracking sites.

    But the jury’s still out.

    I challenge the basic assumption regarding this project that environmental risk is so unlikely that it’s unworthy of serious attention.

    I further challenge these assumptions:

    1. ‘Non-native’ equals evil. I can’t tell you how many times ‘it’s a non-native species’ (whether referring to Eurasion cattails or sparrows) is used as a closing argument. As Macalaster ecologist, Mark Davis said, “We need to stop focusing obsessively on categorizing species as native or non-native.” Species migration due to global climate change makes that argument a nonstarter anyway.

    2. The cattails are so evil that the need to eradicate them from our ponds far outweighs the risks. In other words, the end justifies the means.

    3. Because of the cattails, there is little biodiversity in Loring Pond. I’ve heard time and time again that the only species able to take advantage of the the dense cattails are red-winged blackbirds. That’s simply not true. I have photographic evidence of the following:

    –Wood ducks
    –Canada geese
    –Snapping turtles
    –Painted turtles

    Many of which attract other species, such as:

    –Red tailed hawks
    –Coopers hawks
    –Even the occasional bald eagle

    But even though I enjoy the cattail habitat, I respect efforts to control their takeover of the ponds. They are, indeed a hardy lot. Which begs another question: will the use of glycophates make an already hardy plant into an indestructible ‘superweed?’

    Finally, this community does not support your plan. And Loring Park is, after all, our public park.

    Thank you,

    Kay Hansen

  2. Joseph Finley
    August 15, 2015 at 7:05 pm

    The Cattails growing in Loring Pond are a hybrid species; “Narrow-leaved Cattail is considered an invasive species and is believed to be introduced to North America. It forms a hybrid with common Cattail which can dominate wetland environments.”
    Source of quote: http://invasivespeciesmanitoba.com/site/index.php?page=narrow-leaved-and-hybrid-cattail

    All one needs to do is compare a wetland/pond not infested with Hybird Cattail with Loring Pond and the obvious is plain to be seen, there is a problem and it should be dealt with. Personally I feel the use of herbicides should be the last choice of all for a control method.

  3. Karlie
    September 2, 2015 at 8:48 am

    Minneapolis Citizens for a Pesticide Ban in Public Parks
    To be delivered to Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board

    We call upon the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board to implement a pesticide-free management policy on all park-owned and park-leased properties. Learn more and sign to support this petition here: http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/minneapolis-citizens

  4. Kay
    September 10, 2015 at 11:10 am

    And so it begins.

    I have a photo that shows, what looks like, spraying, not the “careful, limited, controlled application to individual cattail stalks” that commissioners advertised.

    The duplicity of all but a notable couple of MPRB commissioners (thank you Commissioners Bourn and Young for your transparency and good-faith work) is absolutely stunning. I would have thought that, with so much public concern and pushback on the issue of Glysophate in Loring Pond, the MPRB would have taken a break to revisit, reflect, and reconsider this issue.

    At what point did the MPRB decide Loring Park was its private land and not our public park?

  5. mikki
    September 10, 2015 at 7:18 pm

    Brad Bourne, a Commissioner on the Park Board, asked the MPRB staff for a response to the 9/9/2015 spraying. Here is the reply:


    On Wednesday September 9, herbicides were applied to the cattails in the South Bay of Loring Pond. This herbicide application was primarily done via backpack sprayers, wick application, and the floating cattail mats were sprayed via boat with a tank located on land. We held an open house for this project on August 11 at the Loring Community Center and shared our work plan. We identified that areas were going to be treated with various types of herbicide applications including, wicking, spot spraying with backpack sprayers, as well as spraying the large floating mat areas in both the south and north bay. As you know, the community expressed concerns about the use of herbicide treatment of any kind at Loring.

    The image of the spray application that many of you have shared with me was part of the work plan identified in our proposed project and was shared with the community. Over the last 12 hours there has been some social media activity about the work at Loring. Unfortunately, many postings being shared contain partial or inaccurate information that does not accurately reflect the full work being performed at Loring. (As the social media postings are on non-MPRB pages, we are monitoring them as we are made aware of them, should we need to provide a response.)

    Please be assured that we are working closely with our contractor to insure they are adhering to the methods that were laid out in the approved project plan. We will also continue to provide monthly updates to the community as work progresses.

    Thank you,

    Justin Long
    Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board
    Assistant Superintendent for
    Environmental Stewardship”

  6. Joseph Finley
    September 12, 2015 at 5:45 pm

    Correction needed in the first paragraph of this post (UPDATED: A Toxic Controversy in Loring Park August 12, 2015)

    The word “pesticide” should be changed to: “herbicide”


  7. mikki
    September 12, 2015 at 7:04 pm

    A reader commented via another part of the website: “Please note that the spray used in Loring Park is not a pesticide — it is a safe and proven herbicide. And you may note as well that the spray in the picture is blue, not orange.”

    • Karlie
      September 19, 2015 at 7:22 pm

      Just for clarity, the word pesticide encompasses the word herbicide like the word fruit encompasses the word banana.

  8. Kay
    September 13, 2015 at 3:38 pm

    Loring Park residents challenge Justin long’s account of events regarding the spraying of Loring Lake with herbicides on 9/9/15:

    This is not accurate. The park board staff and the contractor, Applied Ecology, may have planned to “share with the community” their “herbicide application” plans, but the meeting at the park arts center did not go as they planned. Instead, they were confronted by an angry, questioning crowd, who pointed out over and over again that the park board’s policies, the city’s policies, the environmental community’s policies, do not favor herbicide use on public lands in Minneapolis. There was no “sharing” that spraying would continue. Staff left the impression in the group in the center that they would reconsider spraying. This impression is held by attendees I have checked with.

    Applied Ecology sprayed August 9th. They did not post that information at park entrances, as the Minneapolis ordinance dealing with pesticide use requires. They did not put up warning flags 18 inches high, as that ordinance requires. They put up 4 tiny flags in a short section of the shoreline; these were not left up for 48 hours, as that ordinance requires. (There are criticisms of social media posts that use “pesticide” when the staff prefers “herbicide”. Here is how Minneapolis defines pesticide: Pesticide. Any dry or liquid substance or mixture of substances available from any source whatever, including but not limited to wholesale or retail purchase by any person as defined by this section, intended to prevent, destroy or repel any pest or intended for use as a plant regulator, defoliant or desiccant. Glyphosate is surely a liquid substance intended by the park board and its contractor to regulate Loring cattails; the park board is subject to Minneapolis ordinances.)

    But more importantly, herbicide treatment is not necessary, or advisable. I can find no research that herbicide treatments have as controlling an effect on hybrid cattails, over time, as cutting and removal on a defined schedule.

    The hit-and-miss trimming of cattails in the south pond done in the past two weeks is appalling. Stalks are left intermittently all over the lake. What is being done to the cattails that cannot possibly be on a “floating mat” close to the west shoreline? The north bay is untouched. Notes from park staff and AES staff interactions indicate that spraying is less expensive than cutting. I believe that is why many areas of cattail growth are being defined by staff and Applied Ecology as “floating bogs”, so they can spray them, when pictures from last year show clear water. (Bogs take more than one year to establish themselves.) I believe the real reason the herbicide containing glyphosate is being used is staff thinks, in short run, it is cheaper.

    Spraying herbicide is not the well-researched, best method of cattail control; it is environmentally questionable; it leaves the dead mass in the water; it is not a long-lasting solution; it is not worth the money. It should be stopped.

    Pat Davies – Loring neighborhood resident – mndavies@aol.com

    P.S. While Justin Long states park board use of herbicides has dramatically decreased, I bet their use by out-sourced, contractors-for-hire has increased. Is there any record? I could find no information about Applied Ecology’s application amounts at Loring.

    + + +

    This is not what Loring Park residents were sold at the 8/11 meeting nor in follow-up emails.

    Instead, we were sold the ‘cut and daub’ method: “The glyphosate product is delivered directly to the freshly cut stump of a buckthorn sapling (for instance), or a fistful of cut stumps of reed canary grass.”

    One follow-up email talked about ‘coarse spray’ method: “The glyphosate product… may also be applied as a coarse foliar spray in a relatively safe manner, during that period of time when native plants are dormant but the invasive plant in question is growing.”

    “Relatively safe manner” leaves room for all sorts of subjective interpretation. Furthermore, I do not believe native plants are dormant right now. It’s late summer, not the dead of winter. Would a horticulturist or Gardner care to weigh in on that point?

    Also, if a visitor to Loring Park left the park with chemical residue coating his shoes after walking on the other side of the sidewalk, away from the pond, shouldn’t we be concerned that a safety protocol was violated?

    A New Yorker article that one commissioner shared with me talks about the unfair burden placed on companies such as Monsanto to prove product safety. “But how do you prove that a substance is safe? Neither Monsanto nor anybody else will ever be able to do that,” says the article.

    The article that the commissioner shared with me says, “One of the first maxims taught in medical school is that “the dose makes the poison.” That goes exactly to my point. It’s the many, untold numbers of “doses” in our environment that is overwhelming our air, water, soil and bodies.

    I remain unconvinced.

    Kay Hansen,
    Loring Park resident and business owner

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