Herald News (Hackensack), July 11, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: The New Jersey Environmental Federation, a statewide coalition, is pressing municipal and county governments to minimize (or abandon entirely) the use of chemical pesticides in public parks. It's working.]

By Ashley Kindergan

CLIFTON -- Sunbathers, dog walkers and small children can frolic on the grass in city parks this summer without worrying about dangerous chemicals. The city has become one of just a handful of state municipalities to sign on to an initiative that bans pesticide use in parks.

The New Jersey Environmental Federation, an environmental advocacy group, lobbied Clifton earlier this year to participate in its statewide effort to eliminate the use of pesticides for pest and weed control in parks. Jane Nogaki, program coordinator for the NJEF, said that Clifton was one of only a few other municipalities around the state to pass a resolution touting the program's ideals. Others include Brick Township, Chatham, Irvington, Ocean City, Pine Beach and Burlington County, Nogaki said.

According to the group, 4 million pounds of pesticide are used in the state every year. Exposure to pesticides can cause birth defects, nerve damage and cancer, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Risk from pesticides depends on the level of exposure and the specific type of pesticide.

"We want to reduce exposure to pesticides, particularly to young children where they play," Nogaki said. "Our campaign is to reduce pesticides in every venue in New Jersey, but we focus on parks because that is where children play."

The city has used pesticides sparingly and practiced environmentally friendly pest control for many years, but officially banned pesticide use in April, according to Al DuBois, Department of Public Works recycling coordinator and a former environmental commission member.

City Manager Al Greco said the county, which handles insect control for municipalities, has sprayed for mosquitoes "intermittently" in the past and would again when public health concerns required it.

By banning the pesticides altogether and putting up signs in city parks declaring them "Pesticide-Free Zones," DuBois said he hopes residents will think twice before using the chemicals on their own lawns, a practice over which the city has no control.

"As more and more people enter the parks, it becomes an educational tool," DuBois said. "Maybe they'll say, 'I have a landscaper who does it every year, and do I need to do that?'"

Nogaki and other no-pesticide proponents say there are safer ways than chemicals to control weeds, insects and vermin. Prevention is the most effective tool, which means keeping grass cut low, removing standing water and hand-pulling weeds. Organic pest control methods such as vinegar-based solutions are also effective.

At least a few government bodies in Passaic County have similar policies. Passaic Director of Public Works Ted Evans said his workers do not spray herbicides and pesticides in city parks. Paterson Superintendent of Parks and Shade Trees Tony Vancheri said his workers only used common weed killers sparingly, but preferred to simply remove diseased trees or resod grassy areas whenever grubs show up. Passaic County does not spray pesticides for the purposes of weed control in county parks, said spokeswoman Dolores Choteborsky. The county does provide mosquito control by spraying insecticide every year, said county Health Department spokesman Stephen Summers. Ringwood is also discussing implementing a pesticide policy, according to borough Clerk Kelly Rohde.

Reach Ashley Kindergan at 973-569-7164 or Kindergan@northjersey.com.

Copyright 2006 North Jersey Media Group Inc.