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Santa Rosa seeking alternatives to Glyphosate for landscaping

by Kerry Fugett and Elaine B. Holtz

In 1986, California voters approved Proposition 65, an initiative to address their growing concerns about exposure to toxic chemicals. That initiative became the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, better known by its original name of Proposition 65. Proposition 65 requires the State to publish a list of chemicals known to cause cancer or birth defects or other reproductive harm. This list, which must be updated at least once a year, has grown to include approximately 800 chemicals since it was first published in 1987.

The cancer-research arm of the World Health Organization in March 2015 announced that glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicide, is probably carcinogenic to humans. Glyphosate has been linked to tumors in mice and rats – and there is also what the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies as “mechanistic evidence”, such as DNA damage to human cells from exposure to glyphosate.

The State of California announced on July 7, 2017 it will list glyphosate, the main ingredient in the pesticide RoundupTM as “Known to the State of California to Cause Cancer.” Glyphosate is the most common pesticide in the world in hundreds of products. The state was cleared to move forward with its decision earlier this year to list glyphosate after a court denied Monsanto’ s efforts to postpone the listing pending the outcome of the pesticide company’ s legal challenge of the decision.

According to Kerry Fugett, Executive Director of Sonoma County Conservation Action, Santa Rosa City Council is looking at options to remove it from public spaces in Santa Rosa. Fugett hopes that this is the first step towards replacing it with safe organic alternatives in public spaces throughout Sonoma County. She reports there are many down sides to using glyphosate, particularly for landscape workers who have to work with this toxic chemical on a daily basis. She reports that the chemical not only affects people, it also affects soil health and the ability of our soils to sequester carbon, a process key to reversing climate change. Sonoma County, according to the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health, has the 4th highest incidence of childhood cancer in California, proceeded by Marin and Napa counties. Napa having the highest in the state.

At the Santa Rosa City Council meeting on July 11th, the city’s staff was seeking to extend a contract with Golden Gate Landscape Management, Inc. in Santa Rosa for one year. Councilman Chris Rodgers, during the contract discussion, suggested that in this process of reviewing and extending the contract, the city ask Golden Gate Landscape to provide information about what it would entail to move to safe alternatives and discontinue the use of glyphosate and other synthetic herbicides. While a simple question, the question is not simple to answer. In response, the following week at the July 18th meeting, City Manager Sean McGlynn advised the Council they are moving forward with extending the contract to “ ensure we have no gaps in service”. However, in parallel staff will be working to prepare an updated Request for Proposal (RFP) to solicit bids calling on landscape companies to outline how they could switch to safe alternatives. The current management company, along with others, will be invited to apply. McGlynn went on to explain that the RFP will be requesting bids in two areas:

• Use of industry standard products

• Use those products that comply with the Russian River Friendly Guidelines. Staff hopes that in doing a new RPF, the Council will have a clearer idea of the impact “ based on budget realities,” he concluded.

A local leader in this shift is Santa Rosa Water, a City department that also contracts with Golden Gate Landscape Management and has temporarily discontinued the use of synthetic herbicides like glyphosate since Fall of 2015. Megan Kaun, vice-chair of the Santa Rosa Board of Public Utilities and chair of the Landscape ad hoc sub-committee, says they are currently working on updated weed control protocols that could be applied to other City parks and open spaces.

Fugett hopes that by having the city go going through a new RFP process, it will open the conversation with landscape management companies around safe organic alternatives that can be used in place of synthetics. Marin County has taken the lead around this issue, eliminating their use of glyphosate in public spaces entirely in 2016 by switching to organic substitues, using different landscaping practices and partnering with community groups who help “ adopt-a-park” and work to maintain their neighborhood spaces through fun volunteer gatherings.

While RoundupTM is often seen as the cheap option, there are costs associated that we just don’t see, says Fugett. There are externalized costs that go to our healthcare system, shifting the burden to our landscape workers, school children, pets and our community. There are creative solutions to make alternatives economically viable, and given this shift at the state level, its clear that we can no longer kick these costs down the road. It will take the whole community coming together around this, but it’s such an important issue as it touches the health of our children, our workers, our waterways and our ability to be resilient to climate change.

On July 3rd an interview was conducted on Women’ s Spaces, a local show on radio station KBBF 89.1FM with Kathleen Furey, a member of the California Guild and the Sacramento Community Guild, where she serves as Communications Director. The California Guild advocates for legislation on Clean Food, Water and Soil Issues, Small Farmers Rights, Seed Freedom and Seed Sovereignty lobbied to have glyphosate listed as a Proposition 65 hazardous substance. Furey talked about the recent California EPA Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment and the hope now that Glyphosate has been listed they can begin the process of labeling the dangers on all products it is contained in.

In doing the research and gaining more understanding about the concerns and dangers relating to Glyphosate, we want to encourage our readers to contact your legislators requesting they support the labeling of products that have this ingredient and to begin talking to your friends and family about its dangers. A big step is shifting our personal behavior at home, moving to safe alternatives and helping be a part of leading the way towards getting rid of it all together. The image that comes to mind is a young child drawing a hop scotch pattern on the sidewalk with her dog watching next to a crack in an area in the sidewalk that has turned brown with dead weeds from using this product.

This article was written in collaboration by Kerry Fugett, Executive Director, Sonoma County Conservation Action Elaine B. Holtz Producer/Host “ Women’ s Spaces”

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