The Register-Guard (Eugene, Oregon), 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 parks.

[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 environment.

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 way."


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," here.

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