The Register-Guard (Eugene, Oregon)  [Printer-friendly version]
October 22, 2005


The Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides has issued a
new report pointing out that all pesticides cause some harm and that
less-harmful alternatives already exist for managing pests in public

[Rachel's introduction: Citizens in Eugene and Portland, Oregon want
city government to minimize the use of chemical pesticides in public
parks because less-dangerous alternatives already exist.]

By Diane Dietz

Are you irritated at your neighbor who allows her copious dandelion
fluff to tumble onto your pristine lawn, spreading its pesky seeds?

Or are you the guy who's traumatized by a neighbor who regularly
carpet bombs his yard with poisons to ensure that every blade of weed
be gone, gone, gone?

Imagine how it will be for the city of Eugene as it tries to bridge
this divide. The parks maintenance staff is on the verge of declaring
about a half-dozen small parks as pesticide-free zones.

Officials are trying to gauge whether Eugene residents must have every
park pristine-looking, or if -- in the name of sending less poison
into the air and soil -- people can tolerate some increased weediness
around trees and along fence lines.

"We want to start relatively small and then evaluate about a year from
now: Did it work for us? Did it work for the neighbors? Should we do
the same thing again? Should we expand it?" said Kevin Finney, Eugene
parks maintenance manager.

The Eugene-based Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides
urged the city to designate some pesticide-free parks.

The coalition's new report "Pesticide-free parks: It's time,"
contends that all pesticides -- an overall term referring to both
insecticides and herbicides -- can hurt people, pets and the

To support their view, they point to an April 2004 study published in
the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Researchers found that terriers who were exposed to the common lawn
herbicide 2,4-D were four to seven times more likely to contract
bladder cancer than terriers in a control group.

The Purdue University authors theorize that the terriers carry a gene
that makes them susceptible to the cancer -- and that some people are
likely carry a similar gene.

Finney said he doesn't know whether the herbicides the city uses
causes harm to people or pets. Researchers have produced contradictory
evidence on many commonly used chemicals, he said.

"Some people have proposed the precautionary principle: If you don't
know, you don't use. But that's a community-level decision," he said.

In fall 2004, the coalition -- which also works in Washington,
Northern California, Idaho and Montana -- convinced the city of
Portland to make three small parks -- Arbor Lodge, Lair Hill, and
Sewallcrest -- pesticide-free.

"People want pesticide-free parks. They want places they can go with
their children and pets where they won't be exposed to pesticides,"
said Megan Kemple, the coalition's pesticide-free parks coordinator.

"We would like to see all of Eugene's parks be pesticide free. And
we're glad the city is ready to move forward," she added.

Joel Miller, Springfield's new parks director -- working at
Willamalane Park & Recreation District -- is interested in the
pesticide-free concept. He came six months ago from Olympia, where the
idea has gained some traction.

Miller said he would attend a meeting Saturday to learn more about the
coalition's plans.

Local parks managers say the pesticide-free movement caps a long
effort to reduce the amount of pesticides used in parks.

"It used to be a standard thing to spray malathion everywhere to kill
aphids and everything," Finney said, adding that Eugene hasn't sprayed
for insects for a decade now.

Today crews use Roundup, an herbicide, to kill weeds in selected
places such as rhododendron beds and along fence lines.

Crews don't use pesticides to treat the park lawns -- generally --
with the exception of sports fields, Finney said. There, they use
chemicals to kill broad-leaf weeds such as dandelions and clover
because those plants can create slick spots where athletes may slip
and be injured.

If some Eugene parks go pesticide-free, the city may have to pay more
for grounds crews to pull the weeds or for them to use alternative
treatments such as clover oil or hot foam, Finney said. Even then, the
parks may look a little bit shaggier.

That may clash with the norm in some Eugene neighborhoods, Finney
said. In some neighborhoods, "it's a very highly controlled aesthetic.
There's not a weed in the lawn. There's not a weed in the beds and
everything is very trim and very nice," he said.

But in other areas of town, people seem to enjoy the dandelions,
English daisy and clover riddling their yards, he said.

"Some people think if you have weeds in your lawn it means you don't
care," Finney said. "I have weeds in my lawn, but it means my 4-year-
old can run and play out there and I don't have to think about it.
That's where I'm coming from, but my neighbors may not see it that


The city of Eugene will consider designating some neighborhood parks
pesticide-free zones. But first, officials want to hear what the
public thinks.

Meeting today: 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Eugene Public Library. City
parks officials and representatives from the Eugene-based Northwest
Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides will discuss -- and hear
public views -- on the concept.

Advocates' views: See NCAP report, "Pesticide-free Parks: It's Time,"

Share your views: The Eugene parks maintenance manager is interested
in public comment on the issue. E-mail your thoughts to

Copyright 2005 -- The Register-Guard