It’s satisfying when an issue you’ve been stumping for is validated by a respected group. So when the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued an AAP Policy Statement regarding pesticide exposure in children this week, I was pleased (in a sad kind of way). For all of the people who have rolled their eyes when I have gone on a pesticides jag, I have been vindicated!
But this isn’t about me. The AAP policy statement gives credence to the concern that I share with many others about the ubiquitous exposure of our children to pesticides and the adverse health effects we may be imposing on them. To get right to the heart of the concern (in my opinion) is the following passages from the Policy:
“Epidemiologic evidence demonstrates associations between early life exposure to pesticides and pediatric cancers, decreased cognitive function, and behavioral problems. Related animal toxicology studies provide supportive biological plausibility for these findings. …The concerning and expanding evidence base of chronic health consequences of pesticide exposure underscores the importance of efforts aimed at decreasing exposure.”
And this isn’t even the heavy stuff.
For those who think this is over-reactionary “doom and gloom” thinking, I remind you this comes from a respected group of pediatricians. Generally a conservative bunch, I’m guessing. These are the guys and gals you trust when your offspring are ill, so why not now?
I have attached a link to the AAP Policy for those who are interested: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/130/6/e1757.abstract?rss=1. The Policy Statement makes a number of recommendations to pediatricians and to governments, including the following two:
Advocacy (aimed at pediatricians): Work with schools and governmental agencies to advocate for application of least toxic pesticides by using IPM principles. Promote community right-to-know procedures when pesticide spraying occurs in public areas. (IPM, or Integrated Pest Management, is defined by the Massachusetts IPM Council as “a systematic strategy for managing pests which considers prevention, avoidance, monitoring and suppression. Where chemical pesticides are necessary, a preference is given to materials and methods which maximize public safety and reduce environmental risk.”)
Safety (aimed at government): Continue to evaluate pesticide safety. Enforce community right-to-know procedures when pesticide spraying occurs in public areas.
Barrington has anticipated these recommendations with regard to the use of pesticides on the Town’s athletic playing fields. Although the sports season is over for the winter, some people may have noticed new signs on field fences identifying the level of chemical use of the field. Fields are labeled as a “Conventional Treatment Playing Field”, a “Targeted Treatment Playing Field”, or a “Natural Playing Field.”
Most of the fields in town are currently Conventional Treatment Playing Fields, and are regularly treated with synthetic (and legal) chemicals to suppress weed growth and kill grubs. This is primarily for aesthetic purposes. For example, in addition to the five applications of fertilizer (various combinations of nitrogen [N], phosphorus [P], and potassium [K]) applied to the St. Andrew’s soccer field last season, the field received one treatment in April with prodiamine (a pre-emergent herbicide that prevents the seeds of grasses and broadleaf weeds from germinating by inhibiting cell division), one treatment in May with dithiopyr (another a pre-emergent herbicide that prevents crabgrass seeds from germinating), and a treatment in July with imidacloprid (a neonicotinoid insecticide used to treat grubs by acting as an insect neurotoxin).
All of these pesticides are fairly long-lasting in soil (or they wouldn’t work, now, would they), and there is no doubt that if a person has contact with the grass and soil, they also are potentially exposed to these pesticides. How much exposure occurs will vary with contact, and whether that contact can pose a health risk depends on a lot of factors.
The Town’s web page lists when, where, and which chemicals are applied to the playing field under the “Field Fertilization Program” link (since most of the chemicals are combined with fertilizers in “weed and feed” formulations), at the awkward web address of http://188.8.131.52/dpw-fields.php. I find it easier to just google the Town’s web page, go to the “Gov. Depts.” Header, scroll down to “Public Works (DPW)” and then click on the bullet called “Athletic Field Fertilization Program (2012).”
The Town website also provides links to descriptions of the products used, typically from the label on the product bag. But because the Town has the products custom-mixed, not all of the information on the product makes it to the label. So I am working with the Town to make the information a little more transparent and easier to understand. I also hope to provide links to sources of scientific information on the pesticide in the product for those who desire more information.
Whether this is important to you is not within my control, but I would hope you would seriously consider the opinion of the AAP. It is not likely that the town will reduce use of pesticides on Town athletic fields unless and until there is pressure from the public to switch to less potentially harmful methods of maintaining the fields.
Athletic fields can be well-maintained using “organic” or non-synthetic methods. Yes, it probably will cost more money and require more resources from DPW. But they are willing to go there if instructed to and provided the necessary resources to do so.
And I hope you take advantage of the information being provided by the Town. Read up, and come to your own conclusion on whether it is important for the Town to lessen their use of synthetic pesticides on the athletic fields. If it is important to you for the protection of your children, you need to make that known to either the Town Council or the Town Manager. After all, these are your kids and their health depends on your actions.