Without much fanfare, the Dover City Council voted unanimously on Wednesday, June 24th to award the turf services contract to the same vendor doing our Stonyfield site at Woodman Park School ball field.
This means that all city owned property is now maintained using organic methods.
We are grateful to the staff and Council for taking these important steps to protect public health and the environment.
Always happy to have good news to report, and this year’s turf services and curbside weed control are no exception. Earlier in the year the City continued their contract with PJC Organic for turf services, and at Wednesday’s City Council meeting they are set to approve a program for weed control on City curb lines, sidewalks and other hardscapes along 33 miles of Dover’s roads.
From the resolution background materials included in the June 9th agenda:
“Municipal Pest Management Services, Inc. provided a scope of services that proposes a SWEEP (Sustainable Weed Control on Pavements) Program for the 2021 season. The SWEEP program consists of crack filling, sediment removal and hand pulling.
Also included in the proposal is the use of an organic herbicide, Finalsan Herbicide, as well as the testing of several new organic herbicides for potential, all of which will be vetted by the Community Services Department.”
This is the third year our curbside weed control program will be fully organic, and the second year for turf services. We are grateful to the City Council and Community Services staff who have made our streets, parks, and athletic fields a safer place to live and play!
Over the years, a pattern has emerged with the Dover School Board that cannot be ignored. After years of attempts by Non Toxic Dover members to work together with the board, the last regular meeting culminated with a display of their disregard for legitimate concerns brought forward about student safety and harm to wildlife as they discussed and voted on the draft policy written and submitted by our group.
After contacting the board about the fact that their Buildings and Grounds Management/Integrated Pest Management Program policy is being violated by subcontractors (and has been for years), the ward 4 school board member suggested that we draft a policy.
“My suggestion is that you take the current policy and use your knowledge to write a policy to meet your standards and specifications. (Ward 3 school board member) and I are not experts in this field and even with talking with experts, we have a lot to still learn.
So your mission, should you choose to accept, is to lobby us with your written policy. Instead of giving us money, prove to us that your written policy is better than ours and make it impossible for us to not agree to back it at the school board.“
We accepted this mission, assuming it was intended as a constructive way to resolve the issue for good. Unfortunately, repeated requests for a dialog were met with no response. We offered to discuss the formation of a committee and all other details of the policy. The last response received about two weeks before the final reading of the draft policy was to a follow up email we sent about the draft policy, from the ward 3 school board member. Here it is in its entirety: “It’s possible that no one has any questions for you.”
If you watched the discussion in the video linked above, CLEARLY there were questions and concerns! Unfortunately no school board members reached out to us to discuss them. Not one.
We are not at all unsympathetic to the fact that people are busy and the special circumstances we all find ourselves in at present time, however this is not an excuse to put ongoing issues that directly effect the health and safety of students and our ecosystem on the back burner.
It is the job of the school board to enforce their own policy and they have a longstanding history of not doing that. This is all a matter of record, and the actions of the board show that they are more interested in paying lip service to the policy, while in reality protecting the status quo. It’s their watch allowing subcontractors to lead staff around by the nose, while taxpayers foot the bill for toxic practices that violate district policy.
This has got to stop!
All the progress made to date has been as a direct result of action taken by our advocacy group members. It was a resident who brought in an expert to consult with them on the athletic fields, and a resident who took a course in school integrated pest management and gave them suggestions to use for rodent control. It was residents who have written in, asking them to do something about this situation, again and again over the years, some of whom have reported they received rude and dismissive responses.
That aforementioned expert, Mr. Osborne, was brought in because of the athletic fields subcontractor using blanket applications of a synthetic grub control, and because they planned to spray 2,4-D, dicamba and MCPP for weeds. He has never stated that the program was fine as is, the entire purpose of his visits were because things were not fine. If it were not for residents doing the job of the board, we’d still be violating the policy in regards to the athletic fields.
As far as the integrated pest management (IPM) program for the buildings go, it is laughable. Using rodenticides as a “prevention” and spraying synthetic pyrethroids for a nuisance pest like ants, is not IPM, and will never be. We have shared resources with the Superintendent.
He stated in a letter dated February 23, 2021, “Thank you for reminding us of the need to implement this new policy and the important issues that underlie it,” and “...the district needs to identify if and to what extent its current system should be amended in light of the new policy.”
The joke made during the meeting about the “hawks not doing their job” was especially insensitive given that this information had already been shared with them, and the school board was defending the subcontractor’s practice of setting out poison baits which actively poison the raptors food supply. We have already shared examples of baby owls poisoned by rodenticide locally as well. This is not a good look for the board.
Plenty of other municipalities and school districts manage their properties without the use of toxic rodenticides, most recently the city of Malibu, California had a full ban approved after extensive coordination between multiple state, county and municipal agencies alongside a local advocacy group. That level of effort illustrates just how important this issue is. And yet, our school board who state that they “are the oversight” are willfully failing to collaborate with residents like myself, and other members of our group to resolve pest issues without resorting to the use of toxic compounds that put students and wildlife in harm’s way. It’s extremely disheartening.
The members of Non Toxic Dover are always willing to work together with school board members who want to engage us in good faith.
So far, our experience with our representatives has been that they are preoccupied with other matters and do not think that protecting students from toxic chemical exposures, or protecting the natural resources of the land we live on is something that they need to prioritize. But the mess we find ourselves in today with the pandemic, climate and biodiversity crisis, is precisely the results of this sort of attitude.
For years there has been a systemic failure of the district to make sure we conduct our buildings and grounds management in a responsible way. Both the board and the staff have taken the easy way out by relying on third-party subcontractors to dictate our practices. Residents who have tried to step up and change things are met with resistance at every turn, and even unprofessional rudeness and mocking at times from people who are supposed to represent them. All of this is absolutely inexcusable. It is not the job of parents, residents or Non Toxic Dover to oversee that policy is being followed. This is the job of the board and any failure on their part is due to pure willful negligence at this point.
The only thing standing in the way of what could be a pleasant collaborative exchange of ideas and a learning experience that improves safety for students and the environment is the school board’s lousy attitude.
It is our hope that the school board will stop making poor excuses as to why they can’t practice IPM or organic land care that so many other school districts, universities and municipalities are embracing, and do the job that is expected of them. We will be here waiting, and watching.
We need this policy to be approved for the kids safety, and to stop the use of cruel glue traps, toxic herbicides, insecticides, and rodenticides that kill owls, hawks and other wildlife. This new policy will prohibit these outdated practices, and ensure that the district does not continue violating their policy over and over like they have been doing for many years.
Ask the School Board to do the right thing, and give our children and wildlife the gift of freedom from toxic chemicals that put them at risk on May 10th at their regular meeting.
There will be a time when we encounter wildlife who decide to create a nest or den in a spot that’s less than ideal – like inside our home, or under a shed or walkway. Like you, we care about wildlife and are interested in solving the problem in the most humane way possible.
Here are a few tips.
NEVER attempt to trap and release
We may have been led to believe that this is a humane option, but it’s not. Trapping and releasing wildlife should only be done by trained professionals. The Center For Wildlife strongly advises against this practice as it is harmful, and doesn’t solve problems in the long term.
The following information is excerpted from a post on their Facebook page:
TRAPPING AND RELOCATING DOES NOT WORK AND IS NOT HUMANE!
This is the time of year that we start getting MANY calls about trapping and relocating. DON’T DO IT!
Here are 10 reasons why.
1. Read this article from The Humane Gardener – it sums it up
2. You may create orphans who will slowly starve to death, not to mention that the mother will be frantic and confused trying to get back to her babies. Put yourself in their shoes.
5. You are just opening up an apartment for another animal to move into and creating more work and expenses for yourself.
6. Animals that are trapped may injure or kill themselves trying to escape the trap or due to stress. We see this often at the Center, unfortunately.
7. Trapping wildlife, transporting it off your property, and releasing it elsewhere is also illegal in many states. Relocating an animal may not only give someone else a nuisance problem, but spreads diseases, such as rabies and distemper, Lyme disease and West Nile virus. Handling wildlife may also put you at risk for disease.
8. There is a tendency to adopt a band-aid approach to wildlife intrusion problems, often dealing only with the existing problem and neglecting potential problem areas. This does not end up solving the problem, but is more costly in the long-run, and will certainly cause more animal suffering. Preventive measures have proven to be less costly and less stressful for both wildlife and the homeowner. BE A GOOD NEIGHBOR!
9. Animals trapped and relocated in another location have no idea where the food and water sources are. This often leads to starvation and death. Studies done on raccoons that were relocated support this finding. The animal will typically die within 2 weeks of being relocated.
10. It is NOT effective or humane. Remember, the animal isn’t moving onto your property to bother you, they are just trying to live and raise their young. For ideas on how to be a good neighbor, or in this case a “bad” neighbor in that you will create an environment that they don’t want to live in, please read the above linked articles.
DON’T use mothballs to deter wildlife
We see this recommended often – but it’s harmful and an illegal practice under federal law.
The National Pesticide Information Center state on their website that, “Using mothballs in a way not specified by the label is not only illegal, but can harm people, pets or the environment.” They say that a “common mistake is using mothballs in gardens or other outdoor locations to control insects, snakes or other wildlife. Using mothballs outside can harm children, pets and other animals. Mothballs used outdoors can also contaminate soil, plants and water.”
Use the deterrent tips recommended in the links above instead.
An Officer of the Wildlife Division of New Hampshire Fish & Game gave us some advice and resources:
New Hampshire Fish & Game has Wildlife Control Operator (WCO) licensing in place. A person providing wildlife capture for nuisance wildlife, and nuisance wildlife work, is to be licensed as a WCO.
The Wildlife Help website is a cooperative amongst a number of states and provides education about wildlife. The website has list a of Wildlife Control Operators who wish to advertise using Wildlife Help.org. The Wildlife Help.org website is not a full list of licensed Wildlife Control Operators as some Wildlife Control Operators choose to not advertise there.
Should you be hiring a company, or person, the question about licensing would be: Do you hold a New Hampshire Wildlife Control Operator License?
Continuing on the theme of disappointment, our most recent records requests also revealed that the district has been using two second-generation, anticoagulant rodenticides at our schools.
Difethialone, a highly toxic chemical that poses a high risk of secondary poisoning to birds and mammals and bromadiolone, a highly toxic chemical that poses a high risk of secondary poisoning to mammals and a moderate risk to birds, (source) are the baits being used at all district schools. This violates District policy, as does the planned herbicide use for next year outlined in our last post.
“The Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program will provide for the safest and lowest risk approach to controlling pest problems while protecting people, the environment and property. The IPM program focuses on long-term prevention and ensures that non- chemical methods will be considered first when selecting appropriate pest and weed control techniques. The District will strive to eliminate the use of all chemical controls.” – Dover School District Buildings and Ground Management/Integrated Pest Management Program
These toxic baits are being used on a monthly schedule by Terminix, as the invoices we received from the city show. This is a way to sell services, not a way to solve pest problems.
Rodenticides cause more problems than they solve through secondary poisoning of beneficial predators. We were given permission to share these screenshots from a Dover resident who last summer, witnessed the death of three juvenile owls from secondary poisoning on Bellamy Road which is adjacent to the High School and Middle School.
Best practice for structural IPM is to focus on sanitation and exclusion, and to use traps instead of poison. There is no one solution, but rather many management strategies that must be used together to solve rodent problems for good.
Our third record request has revealed that rodenticides are not the only toxic chemical that’s been used at the District’s school buildings. Deltamethrin, a synthetic pyrethroid linked to health harms such as endocrine disruption and cardiovascular disease has been used to control ants. It was sprayed on baseboards in locker rooms and other areas.
This is not a least toxic chemical control. Another worrisome aspect of indoor use is that it takes chemicals much longer to break down because they are sheltered from sunlight, rain and microbes that would help this process. There are much better ways to handle ants, which are simply a nuisance, and not a public health emergency.
Terminix has also used glue boards at the schools for rodents which are an unsanitary and completely inhumane method of dealing with rats and mice.
We have requested to work together to address the latest pest and weed control issues that are being managed in a way that goes against district policy. Our founder first approached the school district about their pesticide use and policy in 2014. Now, over six years later, the policy is not being adhered to. Why have any policy at all if we aren’t going to follow it?
Please email the School Board or call the Superintendent’s office to ask that they take immediate action to remedy these problems.
While we took a big step forward this year with the halting of blanket applications of a synthetic insecticide for grub control, problems with the athletic fields maintenance program persist, much like the Acelepryn (chlorantraniliprole) with its half life of 1,130 days in soil.
Despite a productive visit from a local organic turf expert with our Facilities Director and Athletic Director to monitor for grubs and do a site visit and assessment this Fall, we are still not getting the program promised by the subcontractor in their 2018 bid.
A synthetic fertilizer was used on some of the athletic fields, which falsifies the statement that “Years 3+ would continue the 100% natural organic program and services.” Just like their use of synthetic insecticide and herbicides in 2018 and 2019.
Praise is much-deserved for the steps taken by the Facilities Director and Athletic Director to meet with an expert consultant and learn how to do grub monitoring. This simple action saved us a total of $3,505 on grub control last year, but the failure to use all organic fertilizers and amendments by the subcontractor is just inexcusable.
The District could easily be purchasing products from a local distributor and hire out the applications. This would cut down tremendously on cost, and eliminate the excess phosphorous from the program, which is not needed unless soil tests indicate it.
The soil test taken did indicate a need for calcitic lime to adjust the ph of all the fields, but none was applied. And the organic matter percentage of the soil was not even measured.
“Soil organic matter…affects the chemical and physical properties of the soil and its overall health. Its composition and breakdown rate affect: the soil structure and porosity; the water infiltration rate and moisture holding capacity of soils; the diversity and biological activity of soil organisms; and plant nutrient availability.” – The FAO
If we want to see a return on our investment in these eight fields, (~$30k a year at this point) it means we need to do a better job of taking care of them. The central focus of organic land care is on soil health. Synthetic fertilizers harm soil health, water quality and contribute to climate change.
Our kids deserve safe, healthy fields to play on. This is readily achievable if the right choices are made.
On January 8th, an email was sent to the Facilities Director, Athletic Director, School Board and Operations Manager of C&W Services to make these two requests:
An update on the status of plans to implement recommendations made regarding aeration, compost, and seeding, purchasing product direct from a local distributor and hiring out the labor, and some additional equipment investments over the winter months.
A promise that the use of synthetics will cease from here on out.
We received a response from the staff on Jan 11th – they tell us the synthetic fertilizer was a typo. Since there’s no way to prove this, we will just have to take it on faith.
The program for 2021 was also attached in the email response, and while the applications of Acelepryn were whited out, it lists “Broadleaf Weed Spray, Lesco 3-Way Bellamy fields” for July.
This is definitely not a “100% natural organic program and services.“ Lesco 3-way herbicide has no business being used near our children or in our environment. Studies have shown that this type of combination product is toxic at very low levels.
We also don’t need it. It does not solve the weed issue we have, mainly plantain, which is an indicator of compaction. Increasing aeration to relieve compaction will do that. The presence of clover indicates a need for fertility.
In an email dated Jan 12, the staff from C&W Services tells us that they “…have removed core and deep tine aeration from Boston Co.’s contract and are purchasing in the next few weeks a commercial grade core aerator as an attachment for our tractor. We have removed synthetic fertilizers from our program with no intentions of using again. Our goal is: Aerate more often, Apply compost to multiple fields in the spring, Seed fields appropriately and continue the organic fertilizer program.“
And, “…we have made and are making investments within our grounds team as well as equipment with the goal to perform even more in-house with our internal team based on ability and training.”
We are in full agreement with this plan, but they still insist that use of Lesco 3-Way herbicide is needed. That we cannot support.
“A selective and limited treatment of a broadleaf application for Bellamy fields for clover is planned for this season.”
“Unfortunately we have an abundance of clover on the Bellamy Fields that needs to be taken under control and the reason for the broadleaf treatment on the contract. Hopefully with this new program we can drive these pest weeds out and continue with an organic solution.“
This is not how organic works. From Purdue University: “Clover is a legume and is very competitive under low N conditions, so increasing annual N is best method for long-term control.“
This application, even just one, does not constitute the promised “100% natural organic program and services.” This is how their conventional program has been run the whole time, to be reliant on synthetics.
The question we have now is, what will be done about it?
Email the School Board, Facilities Director and Athletic Director and let them know this expensive, fake organic program has got to go!
This year has been challenging for all due to the pandemic, and the turf services contract is no exception. The starting conditions of the city’s turfgrass areas being maintained under a contract by vendor PJC Organic are less than desirable as is the weather – high temps and drought conditions. The severe drought means that irrigation has ceased for the athletic fields that have it. From a report in Foster’s Daily Democrat:
“Dover officials announced earlier this week that they were not going to water athletic fields in the city because of the drought. “Other noticeable impacts will be seen in the drying of our athletic fields in the weeks ahead due to the lack of irrigation of the turf,” Joyal said.”
A late start adds to the challenge. None of these odds are insurmountable, but it’s very important to remember that the fields and turfgrass areas did not get in this condition overnight, and they will need time to recover.
PJC Organic tells us they are planning to start aeration/overseeding and product applications next week. With the cooler night time temperatures it will help to break the product down. The goal is to open up the soil and get product into the root zone so as the turf comes out of dormancy there will be a ready food source. They will be doing another aeration/overseeding and product application the first week of October as well.
This will help prepare us for next spring where work can start on time and the city, mowing, and turf vendors will continue getting things on track.
Malagras Field July 2020 – Looking forward to improved conditions on the horizon…
The synthetic field testing of the high school’s Tom Daubney Field was commissioned by the local citizen’s group Non Toxic Portsmouth.
In a June 1, 2020 letter to the Portsmouth City Council, the Ecology Center, a respected environmental research organization in Ann Arbor, Michigan, warned that independent lab testing of samples collected from the PHS synthetic turf field had a total fluorine content of 79 ppm, showing that PFAS contaminate the field.
“This means that for nine years, our kids have been playing on a field containing PFAS,” objected Ted Jankowski of Non Toxic Portsmouth. “Now the city is poised to construct two more, brand-new synthetic fields with no assurance that the fields will be PFAS free. Can’t we keep our kids safe?”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, PFAS exposure can affect children’s growth, learning and behavior, and lower a woman’s chance of getting pregnant. PFAS persist in the environment and bioaccumulate in humans, hence their nickname “forever chemicals.”
Last October, the Boston Globe and the Intercept reported that independent tests overseen by the Ecology Center found for the first time evidence of PFAS in synthetic fields in two southeastern Massachusetts communities.
Jeff Gearhart, Research Director at the Ecology Center, spoke to Non Toxic Portsmouth about the PFAS discovery in Portsmouth: “This is the second time in recent months that PFAS chemistry used in plastic production has been found in finished consumer products. This new finding in Portsmouth is maybe the tip of the iceberg on finding PFAS in synthetic fields throughout the country. We are calling for manufacturers to fully disclose all PFAS production chemistry and quickly move to safer alternatives”
Portsmouth is already in the midst of a pediatric cancer cluster. With the discovery of PFAS in the drinking water at Pease, Seacoast residents have become increasingly aware of the dangers of these forever chemicals.
The Portsmouth City Council is poised to give final approval to new synthetic turf fields. Portsmouth city staff and their paid consultants have already said these will be “PFAS free,” as recently required by the City Council.
However, the manufacturer’s own laboratory testing of the synthetic turf field – called Sprinturf – that the Portsmouth city staff and its consultants recommended, shows that it contains PFAS. It is not “PFAS free.”
In light of these findings, we call on the City Council to make sure the city protects its multi-million dollar investment in new PFAS free playing fields by hiring an independent third party to test any recommended synthetic turf before construction starts. We urge the City Council to choose one of the independent labs the Ecology Center recommends to test the proposed turf.
According to Diana Carpinone of Non Toxic Dover, “These new concerns continue to show that natural grass fields are the safest and most economical choice.”
In a letter submitted to the City of Portsmouth’s Director of Finance and Administration dated June 1, 2020, by the Research Director of the Ecology Center, a nonprofit organization located in Michigan, it was revealed that samples collected by Non Toxic Portsmouth from the synthetic turf football field at Portsmouth High School were found to have a total fluorine content of 79 ppm in an independent lab test.
“One sample of turf fiber we tested was from the Tom Daubney Field in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, which had 79 parts per million (ppm) fluorine (Sample ID 120355, page two on attached lab report). This sample was tested by Oxygen Flask Combustion with Ion-Selective Electrode. The level of fluorine detected indicates PFAS were present in or on the turf fibers.”