District says it's confident with current pest management plan, despite concerns expressed by some parents

TIDINGS PHOTO: CLARA HOWELL  - Non Toxic Wilsonville and other community members are trying to encourage a switch to an organic alternative to pesticide treatment on school grounds and in city parks.Over the last few months community members from West Linn and Wilsonville have met with the WL-WV School District and officials from both cities, as well as making public comments during meetings about the use of chemicals on school grounds, turf fields and in city parks to control weeds.

"My job as a mom to my girls is to make sure that I'm setting them up to be as healthy as possible and to not send them into places to play that are full of toxic chemicals," said Katie Hamm, co-founder of Non Toxic Wilsonville, a group that advocates for the use of organic alternatives for combating weeds and pests.

The district uses an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) plan in compliance with state law that requires public schools to adopt a low-impact pesticides list and designate IPM coordinators that create a plan to use a wide variety of tactics to suppress weeds and pests long-term. The school district's IPM plan uses Oregon State University's list of low-impact pesticides, which includes both herbicides for weeds and insecticides for garden pests.

"Following an approved list from Oregon State University for schools gives us the confidence that what we are using is appropriate for schools with the law, as outlined by Oregon State University," said Tim Woodley, WL-WV director of operations, during the June 11 school board meeting. "One of the primary goals of the IPM plan is the reduction of pesticides."

He added that glyphosate — the active ingredient in Roundup — dicamba and 2, 4-D are sprayed about once a year or less at each school and notices go out before the spraying.

"While it's probably true that the district has noticed for spraying at sites more than once in any given year, we often are not able to spray because of weather conditions or other factors," Woodley said. "Similarly, because our sites are large and the window of time when we spray is so narrow (only when kids are in the building), we occasionally have to come back a second time to finish what we weren't able to get to on the first visit. ... But we do not spray the same area twice during any school year."

Woodley said the use is targeted and timely, and that applicators are trained. The district has also reduced the use of pesticides by about 80 percent since adopting the plan. He said they follow strict parameters like not spraying if the wind is more than 5 mph.

"We do not spray the same area twice during any school year." — Tim Woodley

Woodley also said the applicators mainly focus on fence lines, curbs and in parking lot surface areas.

But because of negative health concerns for children who are exposed to pesticides — the International Agency for Research on Cancer listed glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen — Non Toxic Wilsonville, local experts and other community members have been trying to get the school district to switch to organic alternatives and ban the use of glyphosate, dicamba and 2, 4-D.

"Cancer hits close to home for me, for a lot of people, and we have a responsibility to do better," said Hamm, who has a daughter at Lowrie Primary. "Even if it's a drop, it's not safe for kids and that's our main concern. The thing about these toxins is they don't stay put. We know that because it's in the food supply worldwide; it's in soil samples."

Officials respond to concerns

During the June 11 school board meeting, the five-member Non Toxic Wilsonville group was thrown a curveball when the school district declined to ban the use of the three herbicides, saying it supports keeping the current IPM plan.

Woodley said there's only one organic pesticide on the OSU list and he doesn't know if the district's experimented with it, but that they've tried a few different herbicides from the OSU list and had the best luck with Roundup, especially for weeds on curbs. He said with others, they might have had to use it more frequently.

The other two herbicides — 2, 4-D and dicamba — are primariliy used used for turf, as oftentimes clover grows on turf, attracting bees, but Woodley said they rarely spray turf.

WL-WV School Board Chair Ginger Fitch said she'd heard discussion surrounding whether the application was for beautification, but Woodley assured the board that aesthetics were not a top priority.

Board member Betty Reynolds said she'd like a policy analysis to be done on the current IPM plan and for the school district to look into organic alternatives.

But Fitch said she advised Non Toxic Wilsonville to talk to state officials and people at OSU about their concerns.

"I feel that's the avenue for addressing larger issues on pesticides and that there is a process by which to do that on a (higher) level...," Fitch said. "I'm not convinced the science leads to a connection to the kind of use we do to increased risk of exposure to children. I'm comfortable that we have already established a policy and an IPM that reduces exposure — reduces risk."

Bob Johnson, co-founder of Non Toxic Neighborhoods, did meet with the state of Oregon's IPM coordinator and plans to meet again over the summer.

"We are going to our local officials to enact change locally," Hamm said, adding that it should be the school board's job to put students first.

"Cancer hits close to home for me, for a lot of people, and we have a responsibility to do better." — Katie Hamm

Non Toxic Wilsonville gave a similar presentation to Wilsonville City Council during a meeting June 4. At the meeting, Wilsonville City Manager Bryan Cosgrove said the City also uses the bare minimum of pesticides in maintaining its parks and city-owned natural areas and said City staff would show the council how they use those materials before establishing its pest management plan.

Mayor Tim Knapp said he needed more information before having an opinion on what the City should do next.

Councilor Charlotte Lehan, though, advocated for lessening the use of glyphosate.

"It is pretty scary the ubiquitousness of glyphosate now. It's in virtually all urine. Human urine will test positive for glyphosate," Lehan said. "I can tell you as a child development specialist, children are much more vulnerable partly because they're metabolizing everything much faster than adults ... They're taking in more of everything and so it's a big responsibility when we use these products."

An alternative approach?

Non Toxic Wilsonville is a branch of Non Toxic Neighborhoods, previously known as Non Toxic Irvine, a group that prompted the City of Irvine to adopt an organics-first landscaping policy in 2016. This means City of Irvine now uses organic methods for getting rid of weeds, pests and rodents. Its methods include using live-trapping techniques for rodents if keeping food away from certain areas doesn't work, relocating hives, hand-pulling weeds and using steam weeding machines and as a last resort, using an organic pesticide.

Following the June 11 board meeting, Woodley did say he would research steam equipment.

"If it works, it would certainly a be a first-response activity for us, but the jury is still out on its effectiveness," he said.

Kristal Fisher, co-founder of Non Toxic Wilsonville and parent of a student at Lowrie, said the Irvine Unified School District saw no cost increase after the first year of their pilot program from conventional maintenance to an organic approach, but the City of Irvine saw a 5.6 percent cost increase.

"Once all the toxic chemicals are out of parks, you're going to have more volunteers coming to help with weed pulling," Fisher said.

Members from Non Toxic Wilsonville said it all starts with increasing soil health to choke out the weeds organically by feeding the soil what it's missing.

"Non Toxic Irvine has a blueprint that we can use and adopt and it will obviously need to be modified for our local environment and climate, but we're not reinventing the wheel," Hamm said.

And while some community members were disappointed with the June 11 school board meeting decision to not ban the three herbicides, they don't plan on giving up anytime soon. They will continue to try to sway the school district by providing the public with more education and awareness on the topic.

"We said that from the beginning we are in this for the children, for their safety and with that we are in this until we achieve our goal to rid our schools playgrounds, etcetera, from toxic pesticides," Non Toxic Wilsonville member Mary Closson said.

Reporter Corey Buchanan contributed to this article.

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