Organic Policy Needs Work on the Seacoast

This is a joint Op Ed written with Non Toxic Portsmouth, published by Foster’s Daily Democrat on April 11th offering our assistance to the cities of Dover and Portsmouth with their organic land management programs. 

Since last September, both the Portsmouth and Dover city councils have passed resolutions calling for the end of the use of conventional toxic pesticides and for using organic land management practices instead. For this we celebrate! But it is now time to implement this new policy by incorporating it in the upcoming Fiscal Year 2019 budget, and both cities are badly missing the mark.

Their bids and budget proposals for FY19 for sidewalk weeding, turf and grounds maintenance do not follow organic land management practices and propose expensive product swaps instead. They even to go so far as choosing the use of toxic pesticides like Roundup Pro for curbside weeds in Dover. Non Toxic Dover and Non Toxic Portsmouth oppose these costly product swaps and toxic pesticides, and call for using proven steam technology to kill weeds on roadsides and sidewalks.

NTDSignCrocuses

There remains a basic misunderstanding about what “organic” land management means by the administrations of both cities. Organic land management focuses on soil health and supporting biological systems to grow plants and manage pests, not on scheduled product applications. Neither city has anyone on staff that is accredited in organic land management, as demonstrated by their budget proposals. Of the 10 pesticide companies that Portsmouth sent their RFPs to, none of the companies had anyone on their staff who was an accredited expert. Last October, we and our supporters, offered to pay for the cost of training to get city staff in Portsmouth accredited in organic land management – but were rebuffed. That offer still stands – and shall be extended to Dover as well.

Today, both cities also lack a multi-year plan for an organic land management program. We propose that Osborne Organics, the top organic consulting firm in the country should be the obvious choice to draw it up. If Dover and/or Portsmouth commit to having an organic land management plan created, we have arranged that the cost of the plan would be covered 100%.

Further, we strongly support the use of steam technology for weeding of curbsides and brick sidewalks. We have done extensive research on the technology and obtained firm bids on the cost. Over 1,000 jurisdictions in the world use saturated steam to both kill weeds and to sanitize sidewalks, park benches, and trash cans. We have recommended a U.S.-made machine that can be purchased for less than $24,000, and can arrive here with training in 3 weeks.

This is a tremendous savings over Portsmouth’s product swap budget proposal to use an organic herbicide at a cost of $164,560, instead of Roundup/Rodeo/glyphosate ($45,000 budgeted in FY18) to kill weeds on sidewalks.

Granted, a lower risk herbicide product is a big improvement over the former more toxic choices, but it is clearly more expensive and not in line with an organic land management approach which prioritizes least toxic cultural controls and alternatives first. Water certainly fits into the least toxic category (you can drink this weed killer!) and is the best choice for public health and will protect our watershed from potential runoff.

Additionally, steam weeding is far more efficient, cost effective, and significantly reduces cost over time. Why? Well traditional pesticides and swaps only kill the plant until the next seed geminates, but saturated steam both kills the plants and the seed bank, which are the weed seeds buried in the soil. A single mature crabgrass plant can produce 150,000 weed seeds! So saturated steam’s ability to reduce the seed bank increases productivity over time, as the weed seed bank is reduced, and less weeds grow. And it doesn’t take any special training or an expensive pesticide license to operate the machine – a seasonal college student for a cost of $8-9,000 can operate it.

And there’s a way to reduce costs even more, and a great marketing opportunity for either cities or green local businesses. The big water tanks on the backs of these machines are like moving billboards. The city could use the space to encourage citizens not to use pesticides, or at the right price, this could be an advertising opportunity for a new or existing business. Please contact us if you are interested in being a sponsor. More importantly, contact the City Council in Dover and Portsmouth and tell them no product swaps – we want to utilize only organic land management practices, like steam weeding, that save taxpayers money!

 

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Are Synthetic Turf Playing Fields a Good Choice for Dover?

Recently, Foster’s Daily Democrat reported on the plan to replace Dover High School’s natural grass football field with an artificial field with encapsulated tire crumb rubber infill. It has been added to the school budget and will likely be completed by spring 2019. They state that, “The new artificial field will remain in the same spot as the current grass field and will cost around $1 million.”

While the turf industry says their products are ‘safe’, we know that tires contain  carcinogens, neurotoxins and endocrine disrupting chemicals. Children playing on these surfaces are exposed through inhalation, direct contact/skin absorption and accidental ingestion.

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The EPA has been conducting research into the question of toxicity of tire crumb rubber, but the jury is still out as to the safety of these synthetic turf playing fields. To date, no epidemiological studies have been conducted on the long term health outcomes of people exposed to crumb rubber infill and synthetic turf playing fields. We do know that children are especially vulnerable to the effects of toxic chemical exposure, even very low levels can have a detrimental and permanent effect.

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Based upon the presence of known toxic substances in tire rubber and the lack of comprehensive safety studies, The Children’s Environmental Health Center of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai urges a moratorium on the use of artificial turf generated from recycled rubber tires.

Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) at UMass Lowell has identified organically managed grass as a safer alternative to synthetic playing fields.

There is little question in the mind of many scientists and physicians that crumb rubber should not be a first choice material for children to play on. Parents should be able to enjoy watching their children playing sports and not worry that they are being put at risk unnecessarily.

In addition to the hazards posed by toxic chemical exposure from crumb rubber and other infills, synthetic turf playing fields have other health concerns. For instance burns and heat related illness are due to higher temperatures on artificial turf, as well as an increased incidence of skin abrasions with potential for serious infection. Also to be considered are environmental concerns like the heat island effect, water quality and aquatic toxicity from runoff, particle migration (pollution from infill and turf like that of mircoplastics/microbeads), and effects on wildlife and other ecosystems.

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Cost is also a factor, synthetic turf costs significantly more to install, in this case $1 million dollars, and must be replaced and disposed of in a landfill when it reaches the end of its useful life. A synthetic football or soccer field is expected to cost $3 million dollars over a 20 year period. Natural grass fields (which we already have) when maintained on an organic program are cost saving long term.

Given these issues and more, it’s clear that installation of a synthetic field is in direct conflict with Dover’s recent Organic Land Management resolution and with the city’s Sustainable Dover initiative. 

Please click here to contact the city council and Joint Building Committee to let them know you oppose the installation of a synthetic turf playing field at the high school.

Learn more about the comparison between artificial turf and organic grass playing fields by watching the recording of a free workshop we co-hosted with Non Toxic Portsmouth, Eldredge Lumber and the Great Bay-Piscataqua Waterkeeper. Presentations by Rachel Massey, Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) University of Massachusetts, Lowell and Chip Osborne of Osborne Organics.

 

 

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Organic Yard Signs

Is your yard an organic oasis? A haven for pollinators and wildlife? Safe for kids,
pets and bare feet? Show your organic pride, and create awareness in your neighborhood with a butterfly yard sign.

NonToxicDoverSign

Suggested donation $10

Thanks to a seed grant from New England Grassroots Environment Fund we were able to print up 30 signs to distribute to residents throughout the city as part of an awareness  and education campaign.

Pick up a sign at one of these local businesses:

Adelle’s Coffee House

Dover Natural Marketplace

In Motion Chiropractic

Flight Coffee Co.

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A New Chapter For Dover

On February 28th, 2018 the Dover city council voted unanimously to pass an organic land management resolution. This is a welcome first step, and we are so grateful to the city and especially councilor Shanahan for sponsoring the resolution and making this commitment to protect public health and our Great Bay estuary.

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Of course, implementing a successful plan takes work and we are here to support the city in moving forward, as well as continuing to promote awareness and educate residents about lawn care and other related pollution. We are positive and hopeful about this new chapter in Dover’s journey towards sustainability.

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Organic Land Management Resolution Up For Vote 2/28

In a few months it will be five years since the issue of toxic pesticide use has been brought to the attention of the Dover City Council. On Wednesday, February, 28th at 7pm the council will be voting on a resolution sponsored by councilor Dennis Shanahan to utilize a least-toxic approach to land management on city owned and public areas.

Please read to the end to find out what you can do to support this important public health measure.

Dover has a chance this Wednesday night to take an important step to protect the health of our kids and water resources when the City Council considers a resolution to eliminate the use of toxic pesticides and fertilizers on our parks, athletic fields, streets and sidewalks. This resolution would lead the community by example in utilizing an organic land management approach on all city owned property and prioritize the use of least toxic compounds only when necessary to maintain safe and appealing public spaces.

Our volunteer group has been advocating for an organic approach to land management on city and school property since 2013. As a result of our work, in 2014 the city voluntarily eliminated use of neonicotinoids, which since that time have been shown not only to be toxic to beneficial insects, but also to pollute water sources and to cause harm to the developing brain. In 2015 the council accepted an invitation facilitated by our group to have representatives of a national non-profit organization to come and arrange municipal training to educate the city and contractors about least toxic methods of managing our public spaces, with a primary focus on soil health. Just prior to this in the Spring, the city awarded two sites, Lower Henry Law park and Sullivan Drive ball field to an organic lawn care company that we asked to bid. These two sites will be entering their fourth season in the coming months. Mayor Weston said upon the adoption of the pilot program, “You don’t want to jump in with both feet at the beginning. “Basically, this is just trying it out and seeing if it works.” Three years later there is no question – it works. In the first season alone we saw dramatic results, despite the neglected condition of the sites and less than optimal weather.

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Lower Henry Law park, May-July 2015. Photo courtesy of BeeSafe Organic Land Care.

 

In early Spring 2016 the city hosted a public workshop on natural lawn and landscape management. We have now reached a point where the city has had ample opportunity to learn about organic practices, has received free municipal training from one of the top organic turf experts in the country and has seen the method in action with our two pilot sites. And despite all of this, toxic pesticide and synthetic fertilizer use continues on nearly all of our city and school property. This resolution can change that.

Recently, the neighboring city of Portsmouth passed a resolution restricting toxic pesticides. They join Springfield, Massachusetts, Portland, Maine, Irvine, California and countless other municipalities across the country.

 

Despite this success and growing demand, misconceptions about organic methods abound. The conventional industry claims that ‘organic doesn’t work’ but a visit to Harvard University, and the Rose Kennedy Greenway both utilizing effective organic programs, and our own pilot sites here in Dover can easily debunk that myth. Neither will an organic resolution for turf and weed control impede the ability to manage invasive species, or control ticks and mosquitos as some may suggest. Not only do effective, less toxic alternatives exist for both, but the city does not conduct tick and mosquito spraying. This resolution would only cover cosmetic pesticide applications, turf sites and curbside weeds – not ticks, mosquitos or invasive plants. What about the cost? Once established, organic programs result in long term cost savings due to reduced inputs. For example, the city of Springfield, Massachusetts found that prior to the start of their organic program, grounds maintenance costs were $1,200/Acre. In year 1 of the program they were $1,740/acre; year 2 they were reduced to $1,245/acre; and by by year 3 to $1,110/acre. We spoke with the staff there very recently and they told us they are very happy with their program and are continuing to expand their number of organic sites.

Pesticides are toxic to our children, pets and environment. Synthetic fertilizers add a significant amount of nutrient pollution to our already fragile watershed. As seacoast residents we are lucky to be surrounded by incredible natural resources. An organic resolution is an important step towards preserving them along with the health of future generations. I hope to see the council continue their progress toward sustainable practices by voting in support of Councilor Shanahan’s organic land management resolution on Wednesday night.

Help support councilor Shanahan’s resolution by contacting the council by email or phone, and by signing and sharing our petition. Thank you for your support!

 

 

References:

Strongest evidence yet that neonicotinoids are killing bees. New Scientist. https://www.newscientist.com/article/2139197-strongest-evidence-yet-that-neonicotinoids-are-killing-bees/
First national-scale reconnaissance of neonicotinoid insecticides in streams across the USA. Environmental Chemistry. 2015. http://www.publish.csiro.au/en/EN15061
Project TENDR: Targeting Environmental Neuro-Developmental Risks. The TENDR Consensus Statement. Environmental Health Perspectives. 2016. https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/ehp358/
Dover trying ‘green’ landscaping approach. Foster’s Daily Democrat. 2015. http://www.fosters.com/article/20150514/NEWS/150519563
Portsmouth to stop using synthetic toxic pesticides. Seacoast Online. 2017. http://www.seacoastonline.com/news/20170919/portsmouth-to-stop-using-synthetic-toxic-pesticides
Map of U.S. Pesticide Reform Policies. Beyond Pesticides. https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/viewer?mid=1VLpVWvifO2JOrgxf1-d1DLyDruE&ll=39.03573413957711%2C-94.19459570507814&z=5
Sustainable Dover. Commitment and Vision. http://www.dover.nh.gov/government/city-operations/planning/sustainable-dover/commitment-and-vision/index.html
Ignoring Adjuvant Toxicity Falsifies the Safety Profile of Commercial Pesticides. Front. Public Health, 22 January 2018. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpubh.2017.00361/full
2018 State of Our Estuaries. PREP. http://prepestuaries.org/science-research/about-the-state-of-our-estuaries/2018-state-of-our-estuaries/

 

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A Scientist’s Letter To Dover Officals

We are very grateful to Dr. Kassotis for providing this letter and his expertise to the Dover city council and school board on the issue of pesticide use and public health.

To Whom It May Concern:

I was informed regarding the upcoming resolution to restrict pesticides on city property and wanted to reach out. I grew up and went to college not far from Dover, in the greater Keene area, and often spent time in Dover growing up. Following college, I pursued a doctoral degree and now work as an Endocrine Toxicologist at Duke University in Durham, NC. In this role, I study endocrine disrupting chemicals, which we define as chemicals or mixtures of chemicals that can interfere with our body’s chemical messenger system (the endocrine system) in any way. This is often through mimicking or inhibiting the action of hormones, the chemical messengers that our body uses to regulate a number of developmental and maintenance processes throughout the body. This includes wide-ranging processes including but not limited to fertility, metabolism, neurological function (IQ, behavioral disorders), cell proliferation (and cancer incidence), pubertal development, immune function, and others.

I’m sure that your board is aware of much of the research surrounding the use and application of pesticides, and conventional versus organic agriculture. As my expertise is in toxicology, I’d like to communicate some of the toxicological and human health data surrounding pesticide application and use. First, there is a wealth of available information correlating pesticide application and adverse health outcomes in local children. Importantly, these are not necessarily causative, but many (most notably including neurodevelopmental outcomes) have been replicated by many different labs in different regions of the US and abroad. Second, as my research interests include environmental mixtures, I’d like to spend some time describing the complexities and concerns surrounding widespread pesticide use. I don’t want to weigh this down with numerous scientific papers, so I’ve tried to select a few specific papers that review a broad amount of the existing literature on the topic and/or highlight specific points. I’m happy to provide further research if you’re interested in hearing more on a particular topic.

The associations between pesticide application and adverse neurodevelopmental health outcomes in children have been well established. I’ve attached a systematic review of the literature on this topic for organophosphate pesticides 1. Of the 27 scientific studies reviewed therein, 26 of the 27 reported significant impacts on child neurodevelopment. This literature is particularly strong as a large number of these studies were longitudinal, measuring exposure of the mothers prior to birth and then following the health of their children throughout life. These adverse health outcomes included impacted cognition (decreased IQ, working memory deficits, etc.), inhibited motor development (reflexes, etc.), and increased behavioral issues (most notably attention problems, but also autistic behaviors). I think what this review does well is summarize a broad range of studies spanning exposure levels. By that I mean, these adverse effects were demonstrated in children born to parents who received occupational exposure (applying the pesticides, working in agriculture), residential exposures, para-occupational exposures (contact with an occupationally exposed person), and background environmental exposures. This highlights that these outcomes are not restricted to high exposure levels, but that residential and general environmental exposure is sufficient to promote this same spectrum of adverse effects in some cases. While this review covered just one class of pesticides, many of these neurodevelopmental effects are observed across pesticide classes. For example, in another study, increased risks of autism spectrum disorder and developmental delays occurrence were observed near organophosphate, pyrethroids, neonicotinoids, and carbamate pesticide applications 2.

Notably, dietary interventions that switch conventional produce for organic produce succeed in reducing exposure of children to multiple pesticides. Analyses of pesticide residue data demonstrate that organically grown foods generally contain about one third as many pesticide residues as conventionally grown produce, and one half as many residues when compared to integrated pest management system produce. Non-organic options are also much more likely to contain multiple pesticide residues on individual items, increasing exposure to a broader array of chemicals. I’ve included one article that highlights some of the dietary intervention research that has been performed. These clearly demonstrate that switching standard conventional produce to organic reduced organophosphate pesticide levels in the urban/suburban children assessed 3. Similar studies have demonstrated reductions in pyrethroids, neonicotinoids, and other classes of agricultural pesticides.

This leads into my last point, which is the issue of chemical mixtures. Conventional produce increases exposure to a wider range of chemicals, adding to an array of pesticides used for other land management purposes. While each individual chemical may be applied within federal exposure limits, many promote effects through similar biological pathways. What this means is that chemicals can have “additive” effects, where a combination of chemicals can cause an effect even when each individual chemical is present below levels that elicit any measurable effects independently. In toxicology, we term this “something from nothing”, and it has been characterized for a number of biological pathways that many pesticides utilize. I’ve attached a recent article demonstrating these effects. In brief, the researchers tested a mixture of five common environmental pollutants, effecting four different biological pathways, and found that they acted together to inhibit egg production in fish in an additive manner 4. Even despite differing biological mechanisms, they acted in tandem to increase the magnitude of the effect. This raises real concerns for conventional pesticide application, where we have a multitude of different chemicals applied and occurring at low levels in tandem. It also represents an unfortunate complexity to pesticide research, where research on chemicals such as glyphosate has been complicated by different toxicity outcomes for the pure chemical versus the commercial chemical mixture sold on shelves.

In closing, I’d like to recommend to the board that it is in the interest of public health to reduce exposure to pesticide mixtures where possible. There is abundant data suggesting adverse impacts of numerous pesticides on neurodevelopmental outcomes in children. Implementing a safer organic turf and land management program and reducing or eliminating agricultural uses where possible is in the interest of community health, and I hope these factors will be taken into account during consideration of these resolutions.

Please feel free to contact me with any questions or clarifications.

Sincerely,

Christopher D. Kassotis, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Research Scholar

Duke University

Nicholas School of the Environment

Durham, NC

References:

1 – Neurodevelopmental effects in children associated with exposure to organophosphate pesticides: A systematic review.

Link: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0161813X13001514

PDF: Muñoz-Quezada et al 2013 organophosphate pesticide systematic review

2 – Neurodevelopmental disorders and prenatal residential proximity to agricultural pesticides: the CHARGE study.

Link: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4181917/

PDF: Shelton et al 2014 residential proximity pesticides and neuro outcomes CA

3 – Dietary intake and its contribution to longitudinal organophosphate pesticide exposure in urban/suburban children.

Link: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2290988/

PDF: Lu et al 2008 dietary intervention and organophosphate pesticides in children

4  The consequences of exposure to mixtures of chemicals: Something from ‘nothing’ and ‘a lot from a little’ when fish are exposed to steroid hormones.

Link: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S004896971733139X

PDF: Thrupp et al 2018 something from nothing five pollutants in fish

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Why Should You Care About Invasive Plants?

As humans we have a tendency to invent problems for ourselves, and issues related to the environment are no exception. Through the desire for ornamental plants coupled with a lack of understanding of how non-native species can become problematic, we have unleashed a plague upon ourselves and our ecosystem.

TrophicWeb

By Thompsma – Own work, CC BY 3.0

All life on our planet is interconnected. Plants are the basis of our food web, and all life on earth. Plants produce the oxygen we breathe and the food we eat, they regulate the water cycle, are a source of medicine, and they store carbon helping to regulate climate. Our everyday life depends on plants.

Native Plants Support Native Insects

Native flora and fauna have evolved together over millions of years. The introduction of new species can displace natives disrupting the established and essential ecosystem services these life forms provide.

Many insects have evolved to be ‘specialists’ meaning that they breed on very specific types of plants. These plants are called host plants. A familiar example of this is found with monarch butterflies. They lay their eggs on plants in the Asclepias spp. family, commonly know as milkweed. While adults can feed on the nectar of a variety of flowers, their caterpillar offspring must have the leaves of milkweed to eat. There are thousands of other such examples of butterflies and other insects who have evolved to breed on specific host plants.

Native plants protect and restore biodiversity by supporting the insect species they co-evolved with. Here in the Northeast, that means oaks, hickory, beech, goldenrod, asters, milkweed, violets and many many other plants are what our valuable insects and the animals that feed on them need to survive. These native species of trees, shrubs and flowers support hundreds of types of insects – oak trees alone support over 500 types of moth and butterfly species. Goldenrod supports 115 species. Nesting birds need  thousands of caterpillars to feed their young. Only native plants can fill that need.

Non Native Plants Harm Biodiversity

According to Doug Tallamy, University of Delaware professor and author of Bringing Nature Home, “Over 3400 species of alien plants have invaded 100 million acres of the U.S, and that area is expected to double in the next 5 years.”

Biodiversity is essential to our survival as a species because without the plants and insects that evolved together in our area birds and other wildlife can’t survive. Non-native plant species support 29 times less biodiversity than native ornamentals.

In addition to impacting natural resources and the environment, invasive plants also impact the economy and human health.

Suburban Sprawl Has Decimated Vital Habitat

To date in the United States, we have at least 40 million acres of lawn. This does not include agricultural areas, roads and other impermeable surfaces or structures. We are taking what was once biodiverse landscapes buzzing with life and transforming them into sterile landscapes. Altogether we have converted an astonishing 95% of nature  to inhospitable territory, and still counting.

Combining this with the open spaces that have been over taken by invasive plants like Oriental bittersweet, Japanese barberry, glossy buckthorn, burning bush and Norway maple we have a critical situation. In regards to the issues facing our planet, including those of loss of soil productivity, deforestation, and species loss, thousands of scientists recently warned that “Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory.”

You Can Be Part of the Solution

Rather than feel overwhelmed by the issue, we should feel encouraged by the fact that each one of us can take action to reverse this trend, and restore biodiversity right in our own backyards.

Our suburban landscapes have the potential to be a haven for wildlife. According to Professor Doug Tallamy, professor and chair of the department of entomology and wildlife ecology at the University of Delaware, “Even modest increases in the native plant cover on suburban properties significantly increases the number and species of breeding birds, including birds of conservation concern.” City dwellers can contribute to conservation too. Urban gardens and green spaces have been shown to help support vital insect species.

We can see real, tangible results in our own environments if we put in a little effort. By removing and monitoring for invasive plants, and planting native ones, we can increase the numbers of local wildlife that depend on them for breeding, food, and forage, while at the same time beautifying our surroundings.

Check out the helpful links below to get started on making a difference in your backyard and beyond.

New Hampshire’s Prohibited Invasive Plants

Attract Butterflies, Moths and Birds To Your Yard

Search For Native Plants

 

 

 

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