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.
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.
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:
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.
Local Landscape Activist Speaks Out
Impassioned 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.
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.
- Sustainable We: A Conversation
- Co-Creating a Smart, Sustainable City
- YOUTH: Planting for Pollinators
- Russ Henry: Weeds We Should Love
- Why Raingardens Are Important
- Minneapolis Sustainable Design: Where Is It?
- LEED Building in Minneapolis
- Q&A: Architect Ron Fergle on Sustainable Practices
- Star Tribune: Loring Park Cattails Getting a Close Shave (2014)