Community Services Department Director Cory Styron
BY KIRSTEN LASKEY
Los Alamos Daily Post
Herbicides containing glyphosate could be banned on Los Alamos-owned land if Council follows the Environmental Sustainability Board’s (ESB) recommendation and approves it.
During the Oct. 21 meeting, the ESB approved 5-0 to recommend the following: require pesticide application information, including the area that will be sprayed as well as the product that will be used, be posted on the County website 72 hours in advance whenever possible, or within 24 hours of each application and for at least six months after application. The post should include the Department of Agriculture Pesticide Application record.
Additionally, the ESB recommended to stop the use of any herbicide containing glyphosate on County land. Also, the board agreed to recommend prioritizing and supporting expansion of integrative pest management efforts by relevant departments to decrease the amount and frequency of chemicals used on County land.
Glyphosate is controversial; its impacts on humans as well as the environment are being questioned and the manufacturers have faced and lost numerous lawsuits, ESB Vice Chair Dina Pesenson said. Although approved by the Environmental Protection Agency and the New Mexico government as being safe for use, some argue during the ESB meeting that there is evidence that it is a carcinogen for humans; additionally, it negatively impacts the environment.
Community Services Department Director Cory Styron said the use of pesticides is limited in the County. Herbicides containing glyphosate is used along the fence line at Los Alamos County Airport, around the solar array and a few of the County’s right-of-ways. It also is used as needed for “spot treatments” in parks and athletic fields. While other pesticides are applied on athletic fields, the golf course and problem maintenance areas.
“We have taken a very measured approach for the use of pesticides in our community,” he said. “In fact, in 2020 we only used 13 gallons of Round Up and EndRun across our spectrum in the White Rock and Los Alamos townsite. In 2019 we used about 26 gallons of product … across the County. Specifically on the golf course, we used about 3.4 gallons in 2020 for weed control primarily on our greens and then in 2019 we used about 4.5 gallons for weed control on our greens.”
Styron added that 120 pounds of dry insecticide were used on the golf course for a “very bad invasion of grub worms.”
Using herbicides is not as simple as walking into a store to buy weed killer spray. Styron pointed out that workers who use these products need to take a test to become licensed and follow up with training. Also, workers are required to follow the directions for using the herbicides and wear personal protective equipment. All products being used can be found in any hardware or garden store where the public shops, Styron said.
Not applying herbicides could have consequences, too, he said. Clump grasses could affect the golf course’s condition and pose tripping hazards and injuries on the athletic fields. Plus, herbicides are an effective and quick way to address weeds growing in sidewalks, traffic medians and other areas, Styron said. If herbicides are not in the County’s “toolbox” then that could pose a safety threat to workers.
County Traffic and Streets Manager Juan Rael said his division also uses herbicides although grasses and weeds are primarily controlled by mowing. In fact, during the past two years, the traffic and streets division has not used herbicides.
If there is another suggestion on how to address weeds, he is open to it, Rael said.
“As this board provides recommendations, I would like to say if there are any alternatives … we are up for trying (them) … we are open to try different things knowing our operations are not spot specific and time specific in some areas,” he said.
Members of the public who spoke during the meeting were all in favor of finding alternatives. Jody Benson, a member of the Pajarito Group of the Sierra Club, said while she appreciated the County’s diligence in following all the rules regarding herbicides, she still felt there are other methods that can be utilized.
“Other counties and cities in New Mexico and in the U.S., and even other countries are banning glyphosate and using a system-approach, not more pesticides and herbicides, but a system-approach of planting, mulching, maintaining landscaping and in Los Alamos that would be xeriscape landscaping,” she said.
Pesenson agreed; pointing out that just because a pesticide is currently government approved doesn’t mean it isn’t harmful or won’t be banned in the future. She pointed out that DDT was at one time approved for use.
“Fifty years ago, we banned it (DDT). It was approved before we banned it and we’re seeing the damage in people whose grandmothers were exposed to it,” she said. “I think that is very important to note.”
In an interview with the Los Alamos Daily Post Tuesday, Pesenson further pointed out that over-the-counter products with glyphosate are about to become extinct. Due to the number of successful lawsuits against the manufacturers of glyphosate, it was announced that herbicide will no longer be available for public use starting in 2023, she said. ESB’s recommendation for banning glyphosate is tentatively scheduled to go to council Dec. 14. The Parks and Recreation Board will hear a presentation about the herbicide during its meeting Dec. 9. Pesenson also will present the case for restricting its use at the Dec. 9 meeting.
The public is encouraged to contact the County Council to provide their feedback on this issue.
Pesenson emphasized that the County has been a great partner in working on this issue and encourages the public to reach out and give their thoughts on this issue.
“I have had very good experience speaking with County staff about my concerns; it is really important if you have strong feelings (on this issue) that you talk to staff in a considerate manner,” she said. “They need to know what the community thinks.”