By Daniel “digger” Romano. Used with Permission.
Across the globe, parks, playgrounds, school yards, roadways and other public areas are routinely sprayed with a variety of pesticides used to control insects and undesired plants (often called weeds). Over the years evidence has mounted showing that these pesticides are not only damaging the environment but also affect human health. The unintended consequences to non-targeted plants and animals are of great concern. For example, in 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC, part of the World Health Organization) classified glyphosate as a “probable carcinogen”. Several recent court decision have established a clear link between glyphosate (the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide), non-Hodgkins lymphoma and other cancers.
St. Louis. Missouri is the world headquarters of Monsanto—now the Crop Sciences Division of Bayer. Activists here have long opposed the Corporations toxic products, including GMO crops, PCBs, pesticides and others.
Recently I confirmed that the City of St. Louis routinely sprays toxic herbicides (including Roundup, which contains glyphosate) on its public parks and recreation areas. This has been confirmed from eye-witness accounts and conversations with employees and supervisors of the St. Louis Department of Parks. This poses a public health threat because families naturally spend time with children in these places. As part of the No Spray Coalition, I submitted a Sunshine Law request in July 2020 for city records disclosing exactly what pesticides are used in its public parks. The City defied the request, refusing to identify exactly what pesticides it uses on which city parks. This is typical of the non-responsiveness that many experience when questioning government oversight of corporate products. A 2020 report by The Black Institute of New York City* found that toxic pesticide use was disproportionately higher in parks in African-American and low-income neighborhoods. The No Spray Coalition wanted to know is: Is the same thing happening here?
In July of 2018, a California jury awarded Dewayne “Lee” Johnson $278 million in a lawsuit he filed against Monsanto, ruling in favor of Johnson’s allegation that his non-Hodgkin lymphoma was caused by Roundup. Johnson is an African-American man who used Roundup many times as part of his long time landscaping work. Since then, an estimated 100,000+ people have have sued Monsanto (now owned by Bayer), alleging that cancers they contracted were caused by Roundup. Bayer has settled out of court with a pair of settlements in which they will pay present and future plaintiffs $12 billion+! In effect, Bayer is admitting that their product causes cancer. (As of this writing, much of that settlement money is still stuck in limbo.)
Here are some troubling facts about the use of pesticides and their health effects on children**:
- The National Academy of Sciences reports that children are more susceptible to chemicals than adults and other scientists concur that children take in more pesticides relative to body weight than adults and have increased risk of cancer.
- Consistent observations have led investigators to conclude that chronic low-dose exposure to certain pesticides might pose a hazard to the health and development of children.
- The World Health Organization (WHO) cites that over 30% of the global burden of disease in children can be attributed to environmental factors, such as pesticides.
- The School of Public Health found that children’s exposure to pesticides in and around the home results in an increased risk of developing certain childhood cancers.
- The probability of an effect such as cancer, which requires a period of time to develop after exposure, is enhanced if exposure occurs early in life.
- The EPA, as well as many state and local regulatory agencies, are not doing enough to protect communities from pesticide exposure. It’s important that cities and states act quickly to protect their citizens.
In Spring of 2020, I and others witnessed the spraying of pesticides in St. Louis’s Tower Grove Park. When asked, the workers said that it was an herbicide using a glyphosate based formula. We also noticed that the workers used no rubber gloves or other personal protective equipment while applying the herbicide. During a phone conversations and follow-up emails sent to William Rein, Director of Operations & Special Projects for the park, he avoided my question about the use of glyphosate-base herbicides and would not reveal the specific formulation used.
I spoke by phone to Matt Winkler, Director of Operations for the St. Louis Department of Parks, in June 2020. He confirmed that the city sprays glyphosate formulations in the parks, used “sparingly” he said. When asked, he also would not tell me the specific formulation used. Shortly after, I followed up with a call to Greg Hayes, Director of Parks for the City of St. Louis who, once again, refused to divulge the glyphosate formulation used in the City Parks or exactly how much was used. Hayes told me I could submit a Sunshine Law request for this information.
My interest in using the Sunshine Law to obtain records on the City of St. Louis’s use of pesticides in parks and public spaces was informed by several other events and sources:
- The 2018 publication of “Whitewash: The Story of a Weedkiller, Cancer and the Corruption of Science,” written by investigative journalist Carey Gillam***. The book documents Monsanto’s role in suppressing scientific evidence (including their own studies) indicating the cancer-glyphosate connection, the undue influence the corporation has over regulatory agencies (such as the EPA) and their influence over science and certain scientists using their vast financial resources.
- A report from The Black Institute, a New York City based think-tank, entitled Poison Parks published in January 2020. The report states: “Unfortunately, people of color that live in low-income neighborhoods bear the brunt of poor environmental policy and suffer from environmental racism. This is not isolated to Flint [Michigan, site of lead-tainted municipal water supply] alone. Here in NYC, Black and Brown neighborhoods are being disproportionately sprayed with glyphosate, the cancer-causing, active ingredient in Roundup.”
Due to the environmental dangers and links to severe, adverse human health effects, many cities have implemented full or partial bans on Roundup and other pesticides. This includes Philadelphia, PA, Evanston, IL, Chicago, IL (partial ban) Northampton, MA, Malibu, CA. Baltimore MD among many others. **** It is time for Missouri cities to join this trend.
The No Spray Coalition demands the City of St. Louis and all Missouri cities and municipalities stand up and protect their children, citizens and their public spaces and pass comprehensive No Spray Policies: 1) Fully disclose what toxic pesticides it is using and where they are spraying and 2) Ban the spraying of all toxic pesticides in public spaces. The health of our communities and our children depends on taking this action.
The No Spray Coalition urges others to join anti-poisoning groups everywhere to take down Bayer-Monsanto. This corporation has a long history environmental destruction, environmental racism and a blatant disregard for the communities where they produce and market their toxic products.
Join us for Black and Green Wednesday on April 7, 7pm, for a virtual panel discussion of the No Spray Policy. Speakers include:
- Warren Porter PhD (Professor Emeritus,Department of Integrative Biology. University of Wisconsin): The science behind Roundup’s classification as a carcinogen that are part of standard testing procedures
- Kent Rowe (Kansas Green Party): Alternatives to pesticide use
- Daniel “digger” Romano: Efforts in St. Louis for a No Spray law
- Delilah Barrio (Green Party of Texas) The campaign for a No Spray policy in San Marcos
- Em Ward (Green Party of Albuquerque Metro Area) No Spray campaign in her area
For more information and register: https://www.gateway-greens.org
Daniel “digger” Romano, Gateway Green Alliance/No Spray Coalition /Green Party of St. Louis is eager to collaborate with others working towards a No Spray policy. He can be contacted at:
- email: [email protected]
- Phone: 314-771-8576
- Facebook: March Against Monsanto St. Louis
- twitter: @MAM_STL
*** Whitewash: The Story of a Weedkiller, Cancer and the Corruption of Science, Gillam, Carey, 2018. Press, New York