The Environmental Advisory Council recently called on the Board of Alders to take action against the excessive use of pesticides and other synthetic fertilizers in New Haven.
At its monthly meeting last Wednesday, the EAC — -a group appointed by Mayor Toni Harp to deal with environmental topics in New Haven — passed a resolution that aims to reduce New Haven residents’ and businesses’ use of pesticides. The council enacted the measure because the city has rivers and streams in the watershed of Long Island Sound, which, according to the resolution, are subject to “nonpoint source” pollution. Additionally, the resolutions points to the potentially deleterious health effects of the synthetic chemicals in pesticides.
“Children, pets and the unborn child are particularly vulnerable to adverse health effects of synthetic lawn pesticides such as cancer, asthma and neurodevelopmental disorders,” the council noted in its resolution.
Pesticides also harm beneficial insects and healthy organisms that can “limit” undesirable pests, which the resolution refers to as a disruption of “the balance of nature.” The EAC proposes that homeowners and business owners alike use organic fertilizers, such as compost materials, which do not have the same negative effects on humans and the environment.
Nonetheless, legislative action against the use of these toxic chemicals cannot be taken until the Board of Alders meets to address the concerns expressed in the resolution.
The daily management of Yale’s Office of Sustainability and facility operations could be affected by any legislation approved by the Board of Alders, given that the administration has often relied on the use of pesticides to deter pests and insects from Yale lawns. According to Yale Office of Public Affairs & Communication representative Karen Peart, the EAC has not contacted Yale regarding last Wednesday’s resolution.
In fact, according to EAC chairwoman Laura Cahn, Yale’s use of pesticides on its golf course caused the New Haven local government to stop using the nearby Maltby Lakes as a source of water for the city’s residents. Cahn added that the course’s groundskeepers were falling ill as a result of the noxious working conditions.
“[The Yale Golf Course] was given a letter by the [Connecticut] State Department of Health and told they either had to post a notice that their water was poisoned or connect to the municipal water supply,” Cahn said. “In 2001, they connected two lines to the municipal water supply and caused the houses above their land to have flooded bases and sinking foundations.”
Peart noted that Yale was unaware of any role the institution played in the decision to stop using the lake.
Cahn did not have specific numbers on the usage of pesticides in New Haven, and the resolution also did not provide statistics. However, Cahn emphasized that any implementation of pesticides is harmful.
New Haven residents also contribute to the pollution, according to Cahn. She said her neighbor, for example, treated her lawn with glyphosate, a carcinogenic herbicide used in the well-known pesticide Monsanto Roundup. Another neighbor, Cahn said, used a nitrogen fertilizer with the same chemical as Agent Orange, an herbicide used during the Vietnam War that is believed to be linked to cancer.
Cahn stressed the importance of educating the community about the adverse effects of chemicals to humans and the environment. She urged people to consider natural alternatives to pesticides like corn gluten, weed-seed suppressant and organic fertilizer.
Cahn said she did not know how much costlier these alternatives might be.
“The cost of anything other than the synthetic chemicals is far worth it because the alternative is that we are just ruining our environment and ourselves,” Cahn said.
Gordon Geballe GRD ’81, a professor at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies said that over the years, professors have expressed their concerns over pesticide use on campus, such as in athletic facilities. However, he noted that Yale has been receptive to FES professors’ requests for pesticide-free lawns. According to Geballe, the lawns adjacent to FES have become essentially pesticide-free.
“If you use pesticides the way it’s on the bag, if you use it at the right dosage, there is probably some testing that suggests that that’s safe, but what’s the balance?” Geballe said. “We don’t know how much it’s affecting the birds or the insects that the birds feed on. Why not? So I’m a big believer in the precautionary principle. Might as well not use it at all.”
In 2001, U.S. residents spent nearly $2.2 billion on pesticides for their homes and gardens.
Clarification, Oct. 19: This article has been updated to more accurately reflect Karen Peart’s job title.