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Round Up used to kill weeds at schools & parks

Original post made by theopaul, Barron Park, on Mar 7, 2007

The recent palo alto weekly has a brief article about the use of round up week killer
(an herbicide) at one of our local schools and or parks. The school district seems to believe that the use of chemicals like round up is a cost effective way to deal with weeds, due to the fact that removing weeds (a fire hazard) in other ways is simply to labor intensive, and not cost effective. It is argued by an assistant principal at the school that the threat of a fire is prevalent, and thus we should remove this threat with the high powered chemicals in order to protect the surrounding community. Another resident is upset over this shortsighted policy, as he laments the wildlife that once thrived in this particular region, and how the district is sending the wrong message to the children by encacting such measures. As a member of this "community" I would have to say that the school district is making a big mistake, and that the use of herbicides in and around our town is totally unacceptable. Poisoning the environment to save the "environment" is nuts. How long shall we continue to let these measures continue? Is anybody else concerned? Or, shall I simply let this one ride, and enjoy living with pesticides?

Comments (20)

Posted by Kirk
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 7, 2007 at 11:55 am

Roundup is an approved herbicide. It is not toxic to animals, when used as directed. It is very effective at controlling weeds. It greatly reduces the cost of hand weeding (and is more effective). We should be demanding that our schools and parks use Roundup to control weeds - it saves money. We need to save money.

Posted by Tim
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 7, 2007 at 12:45 pm

When use right, Roundup is great for controling weeds around my house.

Posted by ten18
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 7, 2007 at 3:01 pm

Why don't you read the label on a container of Roundup before you assume that the school district is using chemicals that are "poisoning the environment." Yeesh, this stuff is like a religion to some people. Not all chemicals are poisons. Some are very beneficial. Roundup is non-toxic, and very benign.

Posted by T
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 7, 2007 at 3:40 pm

To the original poster of this thread:

Read more about how your food is grown, you will find roundup to be a reasonable herbicide to use.

You sound very alarmed. Relax.

Posted by No Ostrich
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 7, 2007 at 5:09 pm

So, what about this 2-year-old research study by University of Pittsburgh Medical Center?
Web Link
Doesn't sound that benign to me.

The truth is, we put toxic stuff out in the environment over and over again with very little idea of how dangerous it is. When someone says something is safe, there really aren't comprehensive and definitive steps taken to prove it really, truly, beyond a doubt is safe. We are all after-market guinea pigs. Children are especially vulnerable to the effects of poison. For poisons that have alternatives which we can say are absolutely safe, it just seems we should learn the lessons of the past and act conservatively where we can. I thought the City of Palo Alto had a policy of doing so.

In India, they are facing an ecological disaster because something like 90-98% of the vultures have died in just the past decade. Turns out it's because of an anti-inflammatory medication that's become popular to give to livestock -- which is apparently harmless to humans and the livestock, but is lethal to the vultures when they do their job cleaning up the livestock carcasses India really relies on the vultures in many crucial cultural and ecological ways. (For a more complete story, see the recent issue of Smithsonian Magazine covering this problem.) What individuals have gained by using these medications has nowhere near offset the cost to the national economy because of the loss of these vultures. For one, wild dog populations have surged where vultures have declined, leading to something like 20-30,000 human rabies deaths across the country annually.

When I was in college, I remember walking in on the poison guy dusting the communal kitchen for roaches. He had on protective gear; no warning was given for anyone else to cover up. All the dishes and surfaces were being coated with the poison. I asked about the poison -- he said it wasn't toxic to humans, but that we should wash everything before using it if we wanted to. But since there was no official warning, when everyone came home from classes, they used the dishes and pots without rewashing, figuring I must have been overly worried. That product, dursban, has been taken off the market after 20 years because of its toxicity.

Relax indeed.

Posted by A.J.
a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 7, 2007 at 5:12 pm

I can't find the article. Can someone please post the link?

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 7, 2007 at 8:44 pm

They are not spraying ponds. If you drop a sack of Roundup on a squirrel it will kill him, too. used as directed where directed there is no significant risk.

Posted by ten18
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 7, 2007 at 10:42 pm

Yeah, well DDT was allegedly harmful to wildlife and removed from the market more than 30 years ago, leading to countless millions of malaria deaths in developing countries. There are risks to everything, and I won't disagree that many substances, thought to be non-toxic at the time, were later found to be harmful. And I certainly wouldn't advocate the unnecessary use of herbicides. But in this case, how else are you going to kill the weeds? Knowledge and awareness are powerful allies. However, I personally won't be losing sleep over the school district's use of Roundup.

Posted by ten18
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 7, 2007 at 10:45 pm

And I think the key point noted by other posters is the idea that these chemicals are "used as directed." Roundup has specific application instructions, and dilution ratios. You need to keep pets away until it dries, etc.

Posted by No Ostrich
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 7, 2007 at 11:12 pm

Studies show that Roundup does have risks, and your sack of analogy is grossly exaggerated and inappropriate. You've also forgotten "runoff" and airborne dust, which put a lot of compounds in our water without spraying ponds. The quantities used in the recent amphibian study were realistic and actually quite small.

The Wikipedia entry on Roundup is well-referenced and worth a read if you are expressing an opinion out of thin air. If you have any opposing references they missed, that's what Wiki is all about:
Web Link

The entry has a long list of references on the toxic effects of both the poison in Roundup and the surfactant used to disperse it, including the US Environmental Protection Agency's stance that Roundup is toxic. Roundup isn't benign, it's just less toxic than herbicidal alternatives. Fortunately, the city has many less toxic alternatives to herbicides; I thought it had a policy to use them.

Also, the component of Roundup that kills frogs is not the poison, the relevant chemical is the surfactant that disperses the Roundup, and I don't think there's evidence that iit degrades in a reasonable time relative to how fast it kills amphibians (or at all). In fact, it very likely does not degrade over short periods of time. Surfactants are readily absorbed and retained by biological tissues, so measuring levels in the water over time is not an adequate means of testing breakdown.

You're not supporting your contention that there is no significant risk based on facts, you're expressing a gut belief from the perspective of your worldview. When it comes to something like poison, we deserve facts, caution, and diligence.

Posted by Martha
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 8, 2007 at 8:23 am

Those of you who think this is no big deal should come to Barron Park and take a look at the meadow that has been killed. It's by no means a small patch. It's two acres of open space that spans the area between Gunn's emerald green soccer fields and the equally emerald green treasure of Bol Park. Right now, it looks like a Superfund site. Spraying an area this big with Roundup is a pennywise, pound-foolish approach that fails to factor in the benefits of wildlife habitat and public enjoyment. What's next? Spraying Roundup on the hills? Cutting down street trees because they shed leaves that create dust? As a Barron Park resident, I am willing to chip in to help pay for the once-a-year mowing required after the grasses brown. Until the use of Roundup ends, I will swallow a grain of salt whenever I hear the school district talk about trying to be more "green."

Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 8, 2007 at 8:41 am

My freshman son as part of his biology class at Paly, taught by a very ecology friendly teacher, had to stay for a minimum of an hour yesterday to pull weeds at a certain part of the campus as part of his class requirements. This has been going on every Wednesday since the beginning of the year and each week different students are busy pulling weeds. I think that this is a very interesting way to kill two birds with one stone, the students learn how to care for the environment and the school gets work done with cheap labor (no cost).

Now maybe the enterprising Gunn vp can get his students to do the work as part of their classes and then everyone can be happy. Come to think of it, maybe we can come up with ways of getting the students to do all sorts of work after school as part of their studies and no cost labor!!!!

Posted by Lamb And Sheep
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 8, 2007 at 8:58 am

Goats do a good job of getting rid of weeds.
Maybe one could hire/rent/breed goats to take care of this kind of weed growth.

Posted by Simon Firth
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 8, 2007 at 10:22 am

Doesn't a sheep and goat-owning resident live just yards from this area? Wasn't he told there was nowhere for him to graze his animals? Sounds like this 2 acre plot would be perfect.

I agree that this sounds like a penny wise, pound foolish way to get rid of vegetation.

Although Roundup is less harmful than other herbicides, killing large swathes of vegetation outright is poor land management, destroying all sorts of useful plants and shelter for beneficial animals. Don't we have a bee crisis right now, for example? How does this help provide habitat for useful pollinators? Surely we should be looking to take every acre of grassland we have and managing it for maximum diversity (which can be done without making it a fire hazard).

Spraying may be cheaper if you only account for PAUSD’s bottom line. But we need to understand the costs to the area and to its nearby residents (human and non-human) that come with managing land this way – costs that rebalance the differential between mowing and spraying.

We need the PAUSD to see that their dollar saving is a poor deal for the rest of us, and even for themselves. Here are some costs they are not accounting for and that we are all paying instead:

- costs to the environment, in terms of 2 acres of lost habitat, lost diversity, lost pollinators and other beneficial insects, and loss of useful vegetation from spray extending beyond the target area
- costs to people’s health, in terms of additional risks (however small) from spraying, added summer dust from lack of ground cover for 2 acres of dirt
- costs to the health of pets (like domestic cats) and other wildlife (birds, mammals, amphibians etc.) which run into the area before the three day quarantine period is over
- costs to the school district, in terms of lost esteem and an opportunity forgone to be a leader in open space management
- costs to Gunn students, in terms of a lost on-site opportunity for learning about responsible environmental management
- costs to neighbors, in terms of lost pleasure in their surroundings – the ‘rural’ feel is one reason a lot of people choose to live in Barron Park – call it aesthetic blight and it has a real (although hard to quantify) impact on lives

Isn’t that kind of real-world accounting a key part of environmental education? Indeed, isn’t there a wonderful opportunity here instead to use this land for lessons in Earth-stewardship to Gunn's students?

People on this board are always calling for innovation and creative thinking in our town. Here's a chance for Gunn and the School District to get creative. I hope they solicit community and student input and come up with a management plan that reflects a more environmentally positive approach to their land.

It ought to be possible to find an alternative -- such as grazing, less intense mowing, or funding for mowing from a community environmental group that in return gets to see the space used for maximum community, environmental and educational benefit -- that costs less than the five day mowing job that it takes right now but which benefits, rather penalizes, than the community into the bargin.

Posted by ten18
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 8, 2007 at 1:42 pm

Yeah, Wikipedia - now there's a reliable source of independent, fully vetted information!

And if we can get Paly kids to pull weeds after school, I'm all for it! Good luck!! I think that's where the "environmental stewardship" talk ends, and the kids walk! :)

Posted by A.J.
a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 8, 2007 at 5:23 pm

"Wikipedia survives research test

The free online resource Wikipedia is about as accurate on science as the Encyclopedia Britannica, a study shows.

The British journal Nature examine a range of scientific entries on both works of reference and found few differences in accuracy."

From a report by the BBC Web Link

Posted by Interesting
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Mar 12, 2007 at 8:42 am

Interesting how some of the posts on this thread have just disappeared--is this the new form of censorship by the moderators? Usually they will delete a post and say it was deleted, now they are just completely removing posts and dishonestly saying that the last post was on Mar 8th, when there were really posts after that date.
Surprising that a newspaper would do that--can we then trust anything they print?

Posted by Bill Johnson
publisher of the Palo Alto Weekly
on Mar 12, 2007 at 9:10 am

Bill Johnson is a registered user.

We generally note deletions when doing so is either helpful in understanding the flow of the thread or if the person whose comment was deleted had been participating earlier in the thread.

We will simply delete the entire post when it is either mindless, contributes nothing but sarcasm or is completely off-point. We are not interested in a series of inane comments, and don't think our readers are either. If you find that bothersome, there are lots of forums available that have no standards or policies.

Posted by Interesting
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Mar 12, 2007 at 12:31 pm

It is your toy, Bill, you can do whatever you want with it and have and/or lack whatever standards you want. What I find troublesome, IMHO, is your apparent lack of honesty with regard to postings--noting deletions is much more forth rite than removing posts and acting as if they did not exist.
Since you also run a newspaper, one has to wonder if this same attitude spills over to stories/articles that appear in your paper.

Posted by William
a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 21, 2007 at 4:15 pm

This subject has been discussed before on this site.

Web Link

It is a back-and-forth argument about the toxicity/lack of toxicity of Roundup, as well as the cost of hiring laborers to accomplish the task using mechanical methods.

Winter, clearly, has spent some time in a tree house. Roundup only kills growing plants. It is, literally, less toxic to humans than table salt. It's surfactant is more of a problem, but only when used in water. What is the difference between that and mechinical mowing? Either way, the plants are they are when the ground goes dry, and the sun kills them. The difference between the natural apporach and mechanical/herbicide approach is that the natural approach leaves a fire hazard.

If you bother to read the above link, you will see that some posters recommended goats to do the job. I wonder if Winter agrees with this approach? Goats are starved ahead of time in order to make sure they are desperate enough to eat weeds.

One spray of Roundup, or several mechanical mowings...or goats...or imaginary volunteers with hoes (prescreend, of course, for being in the presence of children, and covered for liability). Take your choice.

Two years in a treehouse?

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