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Source: Syracuse Post-Standard

Earth Day Priorities: Barring pesticides from playing fields would lower risks

BY THE POST-STANDARD EDITORIAL BOARD

Posted: April 21, 2010
Originally Published: April 20, 2010

Environmental advocates are due in Albany today. They have their work cut out for them: In this very tough budget year, with the state facing a deficit of at least $9.2 billion, lawmakers are not in an expansive mood. Gov. David Paterson has proposed deep cuts in spending for education and health care, and the environment risks being the last priority on many lists.

Some of the lobbyists’ issues aren’t so much spending items as holding actions. Like protecting the Environmental Protection Fund from raids by revenue-hungry legislators; holding off natural-gas drillers from Upstate’s so-far pristine aquifers; and keeping state parks open. They also want to re-fund efforts to recycle waste electronics, like OCRRA’s recently abandoned collection program — with industry contributions.

These are all worthy issues. Likewise with another item on their agenda: banning the routine use of pesticides on school athletic fields and at day care centers.

The Citizens Campaign for the Environment points to a growing body of scientific evidence linking pesticide use with a range of dire health hazards — hazards that increase for children in their growing years. They note that playing fields were in fine shape in the pre-pesticide era before World War II. And they say proven organic methods are cheaper in the long run than regular applications of synthetic chemicals: techniques like aggressively overseeding, leaving mowed grass taller, watering less and applying “compost tea” — an organic liquid.

Connecticut’s new pesticide ban takes effect in July. School districts in Westchester, Nassau and Suffolk counties have adopted organic methods in place of pesticides. Environmentalists say the time has come to expand the practice statewide. Bills have been reported out of committees in both chambers of the Legislature, and the Assembly has backed the proposal before. But advocates are concerned Senate Democrats won’t get the job done — and not just because of notorious legislative inertia.

For one thing, the switch at all state schools may carry a price tag — though there have been offers of free training for school grounds managers. A study released last month by Grassroots Environmental Education predicts savings over five years, but transitional costs in the first two.

The pesticide industry notes their products are all EPA-reviewed and insist the linkage between pesticides and human ailments has not been proven. They point out that pesticides effectively control poison ivy, allergens, Lyme disease, disease-bearing mosquitoes and bees. They want the matter left up to local schools.

Scientists may stop short of cause-and-effect linkages. But accumulating evidence points to the risks of exposure, especially to children. Is that a gamble parents are willing to keep taking? “Although research is under way to characterize the risks,” one study concluded, “it is prudent to reduce or, where possible, eliminate pesticide exposure to children, given their increased vulnerability and susceptibility.”