VIEWPOINT: No more pesticides in Claremont?

by Evaggelos Vallianatos

Something remarkable happened during a lively meeting of the Claremont City Council on January 27. Trees, all 24,000 of them, and pesticides were at the heart of the technical-political discourse.

City staff recited a lengthy report on the conventional care of trees, which included the use of poisonous pesticides. Then the public, including this writer, addressed the mayor and the members of the city council.

A young mother and member of the Tree Action Group, Emily Cavalcanti, pleaded that the pesticide decisions of the city council ought to have her and her children in mind. She left no doubt that pesticides and children cannot coexist in city parks.

A Native American resident of Claremont spoke eloquently about Mother Earth. He said, quite rightly, pesticides have no place in our life and natural world.

A Vietnam War veteran reminded the Claremont politicians of the war connection of pesticides. He recounted the horror of Agent Orange. This was a chemical pesticide cocktail the US Army sprayed over rice fields and forests of Vietnam. This chemical warfare agent was made up of two weed killers, 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D.

In 1983, the US Environmental Protection Agency banned 2,4,5-T because the chemical was contaminated by the acutely toxic dioxin. Yet, 2,4-D is still in the market.

I, too, focused my four-minute speech on the dangers of pesticides. I said pesticides are petrochemicals designed to kill all life. They are biocides. Second, I cited my 25 years of work with the EPA. I suggested one couldn’t trust the government’s assessment of these chemicals because the industry has, for all intents and purposes, captured the EPA. As a result, the industry and the government give pesticides unwarranted protection.

The basic reasons why one cannot trust the EPA’s “registration” or approval of pesticides include decades of fraud in the testing of these chemicals and the deception wrapped around pesticides used by farmers and city folk for insect and weed “management.”

The approved chemical known as the active ingredient is never used alone. It is sold as a mixture of chemicals the EPA calls “inerts.” But these so-called inerts include carcinogens and other hazardous materials. Thus the final product used in our parks, farms, lawns and trees is definitely dangerous, no matter the official classification and wording of the label on the can.

This unethical practice reflects decades of deep corruption. The chemical industry has its ways in the White House, congress and the government.

The mayor and the members of the cty council listened to us, the people, carefully. They talked to each other and, almost unanimously, agreed the city staff had to rethink its practices. In a sense, the Claremont politicians and, especially, the mayor, concluded the time had come for freeing Claremont from unnecessary and dangerous pesticides.

Why are pesticides unnecessary? Organic farmers raise food without them. And responsible city people maintain parks and lawns without toxic sprays. Organic farmers and ecological park and lawn managers employ cultural and biological alternatives to poisons.

Farmers using a variety of crops and animals don’t need pesticides. If they maintain plants protecting the over-wintering of beneficial insects like ladybugs, they assure their crops will be safe from harmful insects.

But most insects are absolutely essential to healthy ecosystems. They make up 75 percent of all life on Earth. Honeybees, for example, pollinate a third of our crops. Yet the neurotoxic poisons farmers spray all over the country have brought honeybees on the verge of extinction.

According to Beyond Pesticides, a Washington, DC-based environmental organization, 17 of the 30 most used lawn pesticides are possible or known carcinogens; 18 are probable endocrine or hormone disruptors; 19 cause reproductive and sexual abnormalities; 11 cause birth defects; 14 are nerve and brain poisons; 24 cause liver and kidney harm; and 25 are irritants.

Beyond Pesticides also reported that children less than one year old are especially vulnerable to weed killers: if they get exposed to herbicides, they suffer a four-fold increase in asthma.

So let’s hope January 27, 2015 becomes a historic day when the politicians of Claremont brought the pesticide plague to an end in Claremont. The entire country is bound to be grateful to such a courageous and wise action.


Evaggelos Vallianatos, a former analyst with the EPA and a resident of Claremont, is author of several books, including “Poison Spring: The Secret History of Pollution and the EPA.”


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