San Francisco “Natural Resources” Herbicide Usage Up 57% in 2017

We have recently analyzed the data for herbicide use in the full year 2017 for San Francisco’s so-called “Natural Resources Department” (NRD – formerly Natural Areas Program). It’s up 57% from the previous year.

NRD is a department of San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD). We were greatly encouraged when NRD started reducing herbicide use in 2014. Before that, pesticide use had increased sharply from 2009 onwards. (You can read an article about that here: SF’s Natural Areas Program – more pesticide in 2013.) Another sharp reduction in 2016 was even more encouraging – though it’s never come down to 2008 or 2009 levels. (The graph above shows annual NRD herbicide usage in fluid ounces of active ingredient.)

But this year, it’s up again, almost to 2015 levels. We have been hoping that SFRPD is working to eliminate all Tier I and Tier II herbicides, with leadership from the Department of the Environment (SF Environment).

For the rest of SFRPD (excluding Harding Golf Course, which is managed under a PGA contract), they have actually reduced usage. They use a greater variety of herbicides than NRD, of which more later. But they are using less – across all their parks and golf courses – than the NRD is. NRD forms a quarter of the area of SFRPD.

WHAT’S WRONG WITH THESE HERBICIDES?

NRD uses four herbicides: Two that SF Environment classifies as Tier I (“Most Hazardous”) and two classified as Tier II (“More Hazardous”). The Tier I herbicides are Roundup/ Aquamaster (glyphosate) and Garlon 4 Ultra (triclopyr); and Stalker/ Polaris/ Habitat (imazapyr) and Milestone VM (Aminopyralid) are Tier II. (In the first picture, with the white dog, the sign posted on Mount Davidson indicates they are using Aquamaster, Garlon, and Milestone in March 2018.)

These hazard rankings can change: Roundup/ Aquamaster (glyphosate) was reclassified from Tier II to Tier I when the World Health Organization found it was a probable human carcinogen. Milestone (Aminopyralid) was reclassified from Tier I to Tier II, despite the fact that it is extremely persistent and mobile in the environment.

THE FEARSOME FOUR

As you research these herbicides, you may find – as we did – that much of the research originates with the companies that produce them. It may be unbiased, but the evidence is that it often is not. So we looked for other sources, which are easier to find for well-established herbicides like glyphosate (Roundup or Aquamaster). It doesn’t mean the others are innocuous.

ROUNDUP or AQUAMASTER (Glyphosate)

  • Carcinogenic. In April 2015, the World Health Organization determined glyphosate was a “probably carcinogenic.”  EPA scientist Dr Marion Copley  sent a letter before her death saying it was essentially certain that glyphosate  causes cancer. She also said that as a chelater, it was likely an endocrine disruptor.
  • Associated with birth defects. It’s been associated with birth-defects, especially around the head, brain and neural tube — defects like microcephaly (tiny head); microphthalmia (tiny undeveloped eyes); impairment of hindbrain development; cyclopia (also called cyclocephaly – a single eye in the middle of the forehead).
  • Bad for the soil. Research indicates it kills beneficial soil fungi while allowing dangerous ones to grow.
    It binds to the soil, and acts as a “chelating agent” – trapping elements like magnesium that plants need to grow and thus impoverishing the soil.
  • Bad for other living things. It’s very dangerous to frogs and other amphibians, and quite dangerous to fish.

GARLON (Triclopyr)

  • Garlon is even more hazardous than Roundup. It’s been classified as Tier I for at least as as long as we have been monitoring pesticide use in San Francisco.
  • Garlon “causes severe birth defects in rats at relatively low levels of exposure.” Baby rats were born with brains outside their skulls, or no eyelids. Exposed adult females rats also had more failed pregnancies.
  • Rat and dog studies showed damage to the kidneys, the liver, and the blood.
  • About 1-2% of Garlon falling on human skin is absorbed within a day. For rodents, its absorbed twelve times as fast. It’s unclear what happens to predators such as hawks that eat the affected rodents.
  • Dogs  may be particularly vulnerable; their kidneys may not be able to handle Garlon as well as rats or humans.  Dow Chemical objected when the Environmental Protection agency noted decreased red-dye excretion as an adverse effect, so now it’s just listed as an “effect.”
  • It very probably alters soil biology. “Garlon 4 can inhibit growth in the mycorrhizal fungi…” ( soil funguses that help plant nutrition.)
  • It’s particularly dangerous to aquatic creatures: fish (particularly salmon); invertebrates; and aquatic plants.
  • Garlon can persist for up to two years in dead vegetation .

The NRD uses Garlon extensively against oxalis. If it terminated its war on oxalis, it could stop using Garlon altogether.

POLARIS, HABITAT, STALKER  (Imazapyr)
This is a relatively new pesticide, and not much is known about it — except that it’s very persistent. In Sweden, it was found in the soil 8 years after a single application. It not only doesn’t degrade, some plants excrete it through their roots so it travels through the environment.

It can cause irreversible damage to the eyes, and irritate the skin and mucosa. As early as 1996, the Journal of Pesticide Reform noted that a major breakdown product  is quinolic acid, which is “irritating to eyes, the respiratory system and skin. It is also a neurotoxin, causing nerve lesions and symptoms similar to Huntington’s disease.”
It’s prohibited in the European Union countries, since 2002; and in Norway since December 2001 because of groundwater concerns.

MILESTONE (Aminopyralid)
Milestone is a Dow product that kills broadleaf plants while ignoring most grasses. This is even more problematically persistent than Imazapyr; a computer search yielded warnings of poisoned compost.

What?

It seems that this chemical is so persistent that if it’s sprayed on plants, and animals eat those plants, it still doesn’t break down. They excrete the stuff in their droppings. If those are composted — it still doesn’t break down the chemical. So now the compost’s got weedkiller in it, and it doesn’t nourish the plants fertilized with the compost, it kills them.

The manufacturer sees this as  a benefit. “Because of its residual activity, control can last all season long, or into the season after application on certain weed species,” says the Dow AgroSciences FAQ sheet.
Nevertheless, after an outcry and problems, Dow AgroSciences stopped selling Milestone in the UK for a number of years. It’s also prohibited for use in New York.

IT’S TIME TO STOP

There’s growing evidence that herbicides are more dangerous, more mobile, and more persistent than their manufacturers claim. Glyphosate, for instance, is widely found in all water sources, in the soil – and in people. A UCSF study of glyphosate in urine found: “Glyphosate residues were observed in 93% of urine samples in voluntary public testing in the U.S. general population; this is higher than the frequency observed in Europe using GC-MS (43.9%)”  and “exposure is likely due to dietary intake or environmental exposure.”

With endocrine disruptors, the old theory “the dose makes the poison” doesn’t work. They are potent at very low levels.

These are parks that we visit with our families, including kids and pets. Kids are particularly vulnerable to pesticides because of their low body weight and rapid growth. These are the watersheds that feed chemicals into our groundwater (which is also now being added to our domestic water supply).

The San Francisco Forest Alliance stands for No Pesticides in our Parks.

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San Francisco Parks and Pesticides, Jan-Oct 2016

2016-11-02_mtd-imazapyr-blackberryOur regular readers may know that we have been following the use of herbicides in our city parks, and particularly in our so-called Natural Areas. Contrary to their name, they are a major user of herbicides. We collect the monthly pesticide use reports under the Sunshine Act, and compile and analyze them.

For the first 10 months of the year:

  • The good news is that the volume of Tier I and Tier II herbicides used in our parks has dropped considerably.
  • The bad news is that it’s dropped less in Natural Areas.

(The “Tier” classification is the SF Department of the Environment – SF Environment – designation for hazard. Tier III is Least Hazardous, Tier II is More Hazardous, and Tier I is Most Hazardous.)

HERBICIDAL FREQUENT FLYERS

The Natural Areas Program, which has rebranded itself the Natural Resources Department (as though it was responsible for leasing out mineral rights) was hands down the most frequent user of herbicides in the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD). It was remarkable. We get the pesticide usage reports in the form of individual reports from around 30 departments within SFRPD. Each month, the vast majority of them said “No Pesticides Used.”

From January through October, SFRPD (excluding Harding Golf Course) used herbicides 126 times. Of those, 107 applications were in Natural Areas. And if we include the NAP-managed areas under SFPUC control (Laguna Honda, Lake Merced), the NAP application number rises to 111 of the 126 applications. NAP made 85% of SFRPD’s herbicide applications.

(These numbers exclude Harding Park golf course, which is under a management contract to the PGA Tour, and thus not under SFRPD control as such. Unlike the other SFRPD golf courses, Harding does use a lot of pesticide. However, it’s mostly in areas where the general public are unaffected.)

CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE

After a sharp increase in herbicide use from 2010 through 2013, the Natural Areas Program finally started reducing their volume of herbicide use in 2014. That continued in 2015, and it seems to be on track to continue through 2016. Total usage is finally going back toward 2008 level (but has not yet reached 2009 levels, the lowest since we started tracking NAP’s herbicide use).  NAP’s greatest success has been to reduce Roundup (glyphosate) use. In the first ten months of 2016, it had already increased its use of Garlon (tricyclopir), imazapyr, and Milestone VM (aminopyralid) over 2015 levels. However, they are down from 2013, which was peak pesticide for NAP.

herbicide-use-2008-2016

We’ve had people asking, so why didn’t they do it before? That’s a good question, but at least they are doing it now. However, the sharp rise between 2009 and 2010 shows that it behooves us to be watchful, since there’s a precedent for an unexpected increase.

GARLON FOR SOURGRASS

oxalis and california poppies smIn the first ten months of 2016, NRD (formerly NAP) has already exceeded the amount of Garlon they used in all of 2015. They applied it 19 times, for a total of 95 fl ounces, as compared with 63 fluid ounces used in 13 applications for all of 2015. We expect this number will increase by year end.

The main reason NRD uses Garlon is against oxalis. With very little evidence other than some assertions by Jake Sigg, they insist that oxalis will destroy all other plants in a landscape. Empirical evidence suggests this is not true.

Garlon is a particularly hazardous chemical. San Francisco’s Department of the Environment classifies Garlon 4 Ultra as Tier I: Most Hazardous. It’s been listed as HIGH PRIORITY TO FIND AN ALTERNATIVE (their caps) at least since we started following the issue. It’s 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 )

The easy way to stop using using this chemical would be for NAP to stop obsessing about oxalis. They are currently the only users of Garlon in our parks. This would be an easy win for NAP and for SFRPD.

The “fearsome four” herbicides that NAP uses are: Garlon and Roundup, currently both Tier I; and imazapyr and Milestone VM, both Tier II. (SF Environment sometimes changes the classification: Milestone was earlier Tier I, because of its astonishing persistence, but is now Tier II; and Roundup was Tier II but has been reclassified as Tier I since the finding that it is a probable carcinogen.)

They are all concerning. Garlon and Roundup are both hazardous to human health, and imazapyr and Milestone are both mobile in the soil, meaning they don’t stay put, as well as very persistent. The frequent use of imazapyr in forested areas is especially problematic, since it can damage tree roots over time even if it’s targeted at something else, like blackberry.

OTHER SFRPD DEPARTMENTS DID BETTER

As we mentioned above, while NAP (or NRD) did reduce herbicide use in 2016, the rest of SFRPD did much better.

After April 2016, when SF Dept of the Environment had some training sessions for SFRPD, the use of herbicides dropped sharply. Between May and October, only two departments of SFRPD used herbicides besides the Natural Areas – the Golden Gate Nursery and the Balboa Sports Complex. Most of those were Tier II, not Tier I herbicides.  One of the Tier II herbicides that the Nursery used is Greenmatch, actually approved for organic gardening use. It’s only classified as Tier II because of a handling risk with the concentrate, but it is harmless to the public once applied.

In the first ten months of 2016, NAP, which controls 1/3 of the parkland in San Francisco, used nearly 2/3 of the Tier 1 herbicides.

nap-herbicide-use-vs-sfrpd-other-jan-oct-2016NAP (or NRD) used 44% of the Roundup used in our parks, 100% of the Garlon, and around 99% of the imazapyr and Milestone VM.

This pattern of frequent use, together with the fact that NAP still applies more herbicides than any comparable parks area, makes for a great deal of public uncertainty. With over 100 applications a year, park users are quite likely to encounter herbicide spraying. Furthermore, as people have started observing and reporting, it’s also becoming apparent that the notices – and possibly the reports – are not always accurate, and that guidelines are not always followed. At the recent hearing, the public expressed concern about herbicides in runoff and ground water. We renew our call to SFRPD to stop using herbicides in Natural Areas altogether.

2016-11-02_mtd-cutting-eucalyptus-herbicide

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