The Park District of Highland Park wants to spray Confront, a dangerous herbicide not approved for residential use, on children’s athletic fields.
The label on the bottle says “Do not use on residential turf.” Yet families visiting the Park District’s parks and watching athletic games feel at home. Small children drop their snacks and toys and pick them up and put them in their mouths. Older children do this with their water bottles. Families spread out blankets and pets lay on the grass. Later, everyone tracks pesticide residue indoors. If Confront is not safe enough for home use, it’s not safe enough for children’s parks and athletic fields. In four states (New York, Washington, Oregon, and California), Confront may only be used on golf courses. Many cities in the US forbid its sale and use and some provinces in Canada do so as well.
Spraying children’s playing fields with pesticides is unsafe.
Highland Park should not take a chance when it comes to a child’s health. Doctors from the Children’s Environmental Health Center of Mt. Sinai Hospital have sent a statement to the Park District Board asking them not to spray Confront on children’s athletic fields. The Park District selected a crop scientist, Dr. Bruce Branham, to say that spraying Confront on children’s athletic fields is safe. When asked by telephone about his funding sources, Dr. Branham acknowledged that he receives funding from Dow Chemical, the manufacturer of Confront. Thus he can hardly be considered an impartial source. Low levels of pesticides can have serious health impacts. Please see the rebuttal of Dr. Branham’s statement by Beyond Pesticides here and a statement by Environmental Toxicology professor Dr. Warren Porter here.
Spraying children’s playing fields with pesticides is unnecessary.
The fields are in great shape and very playable. (See photos on http://dontspray.weebly.com.) If further improvement is warranted, it is easily achievable through natural turf management techniques. Many cities successfully manage top quality athletic fields without resorting to pesticides, as seen below.
Marblehead, Massachusetts (pop. 19,808) – Its Board of Health has developed an Organic Pest Management Policy in conjunction with Tufts University and the city has been using this pesticide-free approach for about 10 years. Chip Osborne, Chairman of Marblehead’s Recreation and Parks Department and founder of a natural turf management company, traveled to Highland Park and visited the Park District fields in question. He said he found them in very good shape, that the few weeds present did not affect playability, and that the fields could easily be improved by implementing the right practices. Mr. Osborne shared his expertise and findings with the Park District Board at the public meeting on October 11, 2011.
Arcata, California (pop. 17,231) – For 20 years Arcata has been managing its fields, forests, parks, and a semi-pro baseball field without pesticides, according to Mr. Dan Diemer, Superintendent of Parks/Facilities, who provided the Park District Board with a written statement about
Arcata’s successful natural turf management practices.
St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada (pop. 105,000) – For 12 years, the city of St. John’s has not used pesticides on park lands and sports facilities. Its 23 national regulation turf sports fields have thick and healthy turf with virtually no weeds, according to Mr. Brian Head, Operations Manager of the Parks Services Division, who provided the Park District with a written statement about St. John’s successful natural turf management approach.
Highland Park (pop. 30,009) can certainly implement a successful natural turf management program that is pesticide-free, using one/more of the above cities as a model.
A Natural Turf Management Program is needed.
The community asks the Park District to hire a vetted consultant with a top track record in natural turf management of athletic fields to work with the Park District to design and help implement a Natural Turf Management Program. This effort should be budgeted and funded adequately to ensure success. The Park District is currently paying consultants to study ways to renovate Rosewood Beach and to create a plan for repairing or replacing the bluff stairs connecting Central Park to Park Avenue Beach. Certainly it behooves the Park District to hire a consultant for an issue that impacts children’s health and safety. The
community also asks the Park District of Highland Park to please continue the efforts for transparency by responding to the community’s questions and concerns. Highland Park always strives to be best in class and should lead the North Shore in being pesticide-free.
 The term “pesticides” is used in a generic sense and includes herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, etc.