New evidence has emerged that Monsanto influenced the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to downplay the cancer-causing risk of Roundup. This pesticide, and others that may be even more hazardous, are used in our parks and watersheds. And now, since San Francisco is adding ground water to the Hetch Hetchy water we have been getting, our water may contain traces of these hazardous chemicals.
MONSANTO OFFERED TO GHOST-WRITE KEY REPORT SECTIONS ON ROUNDUP
Bloomberg and other news sources show that Monsanto offered to ghost-write sections of the EPA report on glyphosate, and sought the help of an EPA official to kill the reports that glyphosate is a probable carcinogen.
We reported earlier that a letter by an EPA employee Dr Marion Copley, written as she was dying, says: “It is essentially certain that glyphosate causes cancer.” She also said it is an endocrine disruptor, and alleged corruption within the EPA.
A California Superior Court judge has ruled that Roundup can be added to the Prop 65 list of known carcinogens, despite Monsanto’s attempts to block such a listing. “State regulators were waiting for the formal ruling before moving forward with the warnings, said Sam Delson, a spokesman for the state Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment.”
Dr Copley’s letter only used glyphosate (Roundup, Aquamaster) as an example. The letter hinted that other chemicals might have fared similarly – that is, not been properly evaluated because of corporate influence on EPA employees. We the public cannot assume that toxicology tests performed by the companies producing the pesticides or scientists they may pressure are sufficient to prove the chemicals are harmless.
ROUNDUP AND GARLON IN OUR PARKS
Roundup has been used for years by SFRPD and other city entities. Only in 2015 was it designated a Tier I (most hazardous) pesticide. We tracked its use in San Francisco’s Natural Areas from 2008 to 2016. (It’s also used in other parks, and by the PUC, but we have not compiled those data.)
In the bar-graph here, the green section represents Roundup. The Natural Resources Department (NRD) increased its use of Roundup each year from 2009 to 2013, then decreased it in 2014, slightly increased it in 2015, and now has brought it down to below 2010 levels – though not as low as in 2009 or 2010.
The orange section is Garlon, a Tier I (Most Hazardous) herbicide that’s considered even more toxic than Roundup. Garlon is also supposed to be twenty times as toxic to women as to men. (See page 28 of this California Native Plant Society Presentation which discusses best management practices in herbicide use: Law_Johnson 2014 presentation toxicity )
Nowadays, Garlon in San Francisco is used only by the Natural Resources Department against Bermuda buttercups (oxalis).
PROGRESS – AND A NEW PROBLEM ABOUT TO HAPPEN
SF Environment has responded to community concerns (including a petition opposing pesticides in schools and parks that has more than 12,000 signatures) by introducing a list of restrictions on the use of Tier I (but not Tier II) chemicals. (Their Tier system classifies all allowable pesticides as Tier III – Least Hazardous, Tier II – More Hazardous, and Tier I – Most Hazardous.)
Though we believe the restrictions do not go far enough, they are a start. SF Environment has not published the final version, but there is a current draft. We are providing our comments to the Commission for the Environment and to SF Environment in the hope that they will modify the conditions under which use of Tier I herbicides are permitted. (We’ll post about this soon.)
But – starting 2017, SF Environment is going to approve the use of something new: Milestone VM Plus. It’s a mix of Garlon and Milestone VM (aminopyralid). This combination is being approved as a Tier II herbicide. Amino-pyralid is the pesticide so persistent that it lasts for years – and if an animal eats treated vegetation, its droppings become toxic too. It was considered a Tier I pesticide until SF Environment decided to reclassify it as Tier II in 2013. It’s banned in New York and effectively in a number of other states too.
We’ve protested. Here’s our letter:
Dear Commissioners, Director Raphael, and Dr Geiger,
We are dismayed that a new triclopyr-based pesticide is being added to the 2017 pesticide list, and in combination with aminopyralid – and that too as Tier II. This is at a time when we’re working to *remove* triclopyr (as Garlon) from the list. We refer to Milestone VM Plus, which is Aminopyralid, triisopropanolamine salt, 2%; Triclopyr, triethylamine salt, 16%. It’s for injection and for tree stumps. As we understand it, this is a mixture of Garlon 3 and Milestone.
This could be disastrous. Triclopyr is one of the most toxic herbicides still on the list. And Milestone VM (Aminopyralid) is uncannily persistent – it can last for years. If vegetation treated with it is eaten by animals and excreted, the excreta still contains enough herbicide to harm plants. Until 2013, Milestone was considered a Tier I chemical for its persistence – and then changed to Tier II (possibly at the request of the Natural Resources Department, since other SFRPD departments don’t use Milestone VM.) If Milestone VM Plus is used on trees in a forest or stand of trees, it could weaken adjacent healthy trees through the intergrafted root network, thus destabilizing groups of trees.
We urge you to delete Milestone VM Plus from your restricted list. It’s no better than using Garlon with some added Milestone. If it must be retained, please classify it as Tier I.
San Francisco Forest Alliance
[Edited to Add: Unfortunately, Milestone VM Plus was approved and classified as Tier II. The 2017 List is given here as a PDF: sfe-th-2017-reduced-risk-pesticide-list ]
HERBICIDES IN OUR WATER?
This year, San Francisco started adding well water drawn from under the city to our tap water. Roundup or Aquamaster (glyphosate) and other pesticides such as Garlon (triclopyr), Milestone (aminopyralid), and Stalker (imazapyr) – and their breakdown products, some of which may be even more toxic – could well be contaminating our water supply.
Pesticide supporters argue it doesn’t matter, because the amounts are small. But:
- Herbicides (and other chemicals) could interact in ways that are unpredictable. No one has researched them.
- There’s no way of knowing how much the cumulative exposure is for any individual. This is particularly a concern for children, whose low body weight and fast growth make them especially vulnerable; and for people with illnesses or chemical sensitivities.
- Importantly, if they are endocrine disruptors – which means they act like hormones in the human body – tiny amounts can have a disproportionate impact. It’s an exception to the “dose makes the poison” saying. Here’s an article that cites references to studies showing endocrine disruption from glyphosate: Why Low Dose Pesticides are Still Hazards.
PESTICIDE FREE PARKS
We have heard some parents don’t take their children to Glen Canyon any more, owing to pesticide concerns. One of the restrictions that SF Environment will impose is no use of Tier I pesticides in areas frequented by children. (Tier II herbicides will still be allowed.)
While the San Francisco Forest Alliance asks for no pesticides in our parks (and watersheds), San Francisco could make a start by converting parks with children’s play areas to Pesticide-Free Parks. Here’s an example from Seattle.
Opponents of restricting pesticide use in this way might fear that the park looks awful, so we went and had a look. It was a sunny afternoon, and the park was beautiful.
The park was full of kids of all ages, from babies and toddlers to teenagers. One man rocked his tiny pink-clad baby daughter. Another dad brought his small son to kick a ball around in the grass. School age kids chased each other with squirt-guns. Some families brought their dogs, who are allowed in the park. It must be a relief to know that you can safely take your family to such a park, and not encounter Roundup or Garlon, Stalker or Milestone VM.
The park has a nice playground.
It also had an organic community garden…
… complete with a green roof.
And a rain garden.
And a multilingual welcome sign.
It was a lovely example of the kind of Inclusive Environmentalism that San Francisco Forest Alliance stands for.