Rodent Problems Must Be Managed Responsibly

Neighborhoods in the downtown area of Dover have been dealing with an influx of large numbers of rats this summer. Residents are naturally concerned with getting these populations under control. It’s important to do so, as rodents can carry disease, and cause damage to property. But often overlooked is that the measures we use to control these pests are equally important.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a system of management that considers the whole ecosystem in deciding on how to manage pests. It focuses on habitat modification, sealing and structural repairs, sanitation, and least toxic control options with a minimal reliance on pesticides. Using IPM is an important strategy for the health of the public and the environment. IPM is cost effective, reduces the use of toxic materials and better pest control is achieved.

While commonly used, and even being recommended by some city officials in news reports, rodenticides (poison baits) are not considered a least toxic option in an IPM program. Just because a product is regulated by the government (think cigarettes) it is not an assurance of safety. Poison baits are very toxic. Tens of thousands of cases of direct poisoning are reported every year. At highest risk are children under five and pets. Our pets, along with wildlife are also at risk of secondary poisoning. What this means is that the poisoned rodent doesn’t die right away, but is slowed down and makes easy prey for neighborhood cats, dogs and wild predators. Surely, people are concerned about their children and pets, but why should we be concerned with the effects on other non-target species?

Scientific research has shown that diverse populations of predators like fox, opossum, and raccoons help to reduce the numbers of rodents in an ecosystem, thereby reducing the number of Lyme disease infected ticks. This means predator diversity equals lower Lyme infection rates. In Strafford county, where the infection rate of black legged ticks is more than 60% we are in dire need of a proper balance of predators and prey.

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Photo by Diana Dumais

Birds of prey like owls and hawks are also at risk of secondary poisoning including sublethal effects that make them more susceptible to disease and accidents. Raptors are a part of the solution to rodent problems, and are encouraged as a part of rodent control programs with documented success. By killing and harming our beneficial predators, we indirectly cause an increase in the number of rodents, worsening our problem. What then, can we do to manage our rat problem in a safer more effective manner?

Prevention of pest problems is the best place to start. Follow these three basic steps. Seal: To permanently keep rats and mice out of structures, all possible entry points must be sealed. Clean: Sources of food and water must be eliminated, indoors and out. Trap: To address a current infestation, snap and electric traps can be used. Do not use glue traps and never use poison baits. For detailed instructions, visit Safe Rodent Control Resource Center.

Dover residents must work together to resolve the rat problem in a safe and effective way. By using IPM techniques, we can prevent future infestations and solve the issue for good, while protecting our children, pets and wildlife from being poisoned.

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An Open Letter To The Joint Building Committee

We all want our children to be healthy, and playing team sports is an important part of that. We need to be sure that the playing surfaces we choose are the safest for our young athletes and for the environment they will inherit from us.

The Sustainable Dover initiative adopted in 2005 is designed to assist the city in decision-making, policy development, and city planning. Part of the framework specifies taking action to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, chemicals and other manufactured substances that can accumulate in nature, and activities that harm life-sustaining eco-systems. We applaud this initiative, but worry that it was not referenced when making the decision to install a synthetic turf field at the high school.

Synthetic turf is a fossil fuel intensive product. It is treated with toxic chemicals like flame retardants. The most common infill, crumb rubber, contains at least 92 chemicals, 11 of which are known carcinogens, and heavy metals like lead, sometimes at high levels. The CDC has concluded that there is no reliable evidence for a safe level of lead. Lead has been found in numerous samples of synthetic turf fields—even after the industry promised to stop using lead to dye the plastic grass. Lead is known to reduce IQ points in children.

Synthetic turf must be replaced 8-10 years on average. The most common method of disposal is in a landfill. Pieces of plastic grass and infill migrate into our environment and watershed. Studies have found that synthetic turf poses a threat to biological organisms, and zinc has been found at levels above EPA Fresh Water Standards. Due to the variability in toxic contaminants found, one study has called for the testing of every artificial field to measure its risk to players, especially children.

Children are most vulnerable to the effects of toxic chemical exposure. Players absorb chemicals they come in contact with through their skin, and by accidental ingestion. Chemicals are inhaled through dust or volatilization. Because athletes respiration rates are faster, they intake more of these chemicals. Often, small children sit on the sidelines of these fields where they can put their hands, infill, or grass pieces in their mouths.

Synthetic fields get up to 70 degrees hotter than the surrounding air. On warm sunny days temperatures can range from 120 to 180 degrees. Playing on synthetic turf can melt shoes, blister hands and feet, and induce dehydration and heatstroke. This ‘heat island effect’ has many negative impacts on the surrounding community, as well. According to the EPA, impacts include increased energy consumption; elevated emissions of air pollutants and greenhouse gases; compromised human health and comfort; and impaired water quality.

A grass field stays naturally cooler through evaporation – keeping athletes safe and mitigating impacts of the heat island effect. Grass fields are identified as the only known safe alternative to synthetic fields by numerous independent public health organizations. Toxics Use Reduction Institute at UMass Lowell, and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, are just some who recommend natural grass for playing fields.

As a group dedicated to protecting public and environmental health we can only advocate for the known safe alternative – an organically maintained natural grass field. By utilizing organic land management practices according to what is now city policy, we can more than double the current use of our existing grass field to 1000 hours of use per season, at a mere fraction of the cost of a synthetic field. 

We firmly oppose the installation of a synthetic field, because of the unacceptable environmental and health hazards they present. In the event that the committee decides to go against the advice of independent public health experts and to reject the safest option for our children, we ask that the options of crumb rubber and EPDM be removed because of the known hazards they pose. We can’t advocate for any infill alternative over another because they have not been tested for safety and are currently unregulated. Despite deceitful marketing tactics, there exists no infill certified by the USDA or any third party as organic. Information on synthetic turf from three public health groups has been provided in print form to the committee by our group in recent weeks. Infills are discussed therein, as well as safety claims and a detailed cost comparison. We strongly urge the committee to make the choice that is in line with city policy, and is safest for Dover’s athletes and for our environment – organic natural grass. Thank you.

Click here to send a message to the Joint Building Committee – Say No To A Synthetic Turf Field At Dover High School

References and resources:

Video of the event we co-hosted with Non Toxic Portsmouth on artificial turf versus organic grass athletic fields is available to watch in its entirety. Speakers include Rachel Massey, Toxics Use Reduction Institute, University of Massachusetts, Lowell and Chip Osborne, Osborne Organics.

Crumb rubber field coming to Dover High 

Meet the ‘rented white coats’ who defend toxic chemicals

EHHI Synthetic Turf Report: Industry’s Claims Versus the Science Summary of Findings

Artificial Turf A Health Based Consumers Guide by The Children’s Environmental Health Center of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai 

Artificial Turf – Selecting Safer Alternatives for Athletic Playing Fields by Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) at UMass Lowell 

Penn State’s Center for Sports Surface Research, High Surface Temperatures 

Synthetic Surface Heat Studies by Brigham Young University 

Plastic planet: How tiny plastic particles are polluting our soil

Sports Turf Alternatives Assessment: Preliminary Results
COST ANALYSIS by Massachusetts Toxics Use Reduction Institute 

THE 100-YARD DECEPTION
A six-month NJ Advance Media investigation found FieldTurf, the top U.S. maker of artificial sports fields, made millions selling high-end turf to taxpayers in towns and schools across N.J. and the U.S. after knowing it was falling apart. 

The Latest FieldTurf Issue Is Nothing 1,000 Gallons of Glue Won’t Fix

Commitment to Organic Land Management Practices (search ‘organic’)

Sustainable Dover

 

 

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2018 Curbside Weed Control

Despite the unanimous vote  by the Dover city council for a Commitment to Organic Land Management Practices this February the vendor will be spraying glyphosate based herbicide along the curb lines of our downtown area streets, sidewalks and parking areas on or around the first week of June, July, August, and September.

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City staff chose option A. The product is listed on the bid is Roundup Pro.  The right-of-way special permit lists Roundup Pro Max and Rodeo, both glyphosate based herbicides, and Reward herbicide active ingredient diquat dibromide. Recently, along with Non Toxic Portsmouth, we identified steam weeding as a cost effective and safer option to using herbicides. Since this is something the city must look into and test before making a purchase, we proposed that in the interim, the city ask that the vendor uses horticultural vinegar as it is a less expensive and least toxic option. Horticultural vinegar or acetic acid is listed by the Bio-Integral Resource Center, a non profit IPM organization, as a least toxic chemical control of weeds on their directory. It is also listed as compatible with organic land management.

Sadly, the vendors rebuffed this suggestion, and we have yet to hear anything more. We find this unacceptable, as we should not be allowing the vendors to dictate policy to us under any circumstances. The city decided on a grub control product back in 2014 and instructed that be used instead of neonicotinoid insecticides – why can that not be done here? Dover is violating their own policy by choosing to use Roundup Pro.

During the recent turf bid discussion, the Director of Community Services was kind enough to offer residents the ability to ask to opt out of curbside weed control in front of their homes. He speaks about it here at 50 minutes.

Are you on the spray route? Here is the list of streets that are usually sprayed, however residents whose streets were not on this list have spotted contractors spraying in the past, so please keep that in mind. Spraying has occurred late in the fall season as well. Click on the photos to enlarge.

 

We ask residents that if you do opt out that you consider being willing to manage your own curb line to help the city by hand pulling or weed whacking. A propane torch (flame weeder) would also do the trick when used responsibly. Please note that it would be illegal for a resident to spray any type of herbicide without a special permit from the state. Please exercise caution when removing weeds, especially near busy roads.

To opt out of spraying, contact Community Services at (603) 516 – 6450.

 

 

 

 

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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.

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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.

Roots Juice Bar

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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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