Environmental group says cancer-causing pesticides lurking in soil at Philly parks

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- An environmental group announced a pilot program in hopes of ending the use of pesticides in Philadelphia parks.

On Tuesday, the group says children and pets are being put at risk and exposed to cancer-causing chemicals.

City parks are a haven for children, a place to swing and play, but the environmental group, "Non-Toxic Neighborhoods," says cancer-causing pesticides are lurking in the soil.

"When we found out Philadelphia doesn't even have a pesticide policy, we were really concerned," said national organizer, Kim Konte.

She's now working with the city to begin a movement to use organic pesticides.

Most parents don't even think of pesticides when they use city parks.

Bernard Mease of Southwest Philadelphia tells Action News, "I didn't even think about it...I wasn't aware of it."

Ashlee Morgan of West Philadelphia is concerned.

"I don't want anything to affect my child's health or me," she says.
On Tuesday, Konte and Councilwoman Cindy Bass and other sponsors announced a $35,000 pilot program to use organic pesticides on two city parks, Fernhill and Vernon in Germantown.

The councilwoman intends to propose legislation to end dangerous pesticides in city parks within three years.

"I believe it's a cost thing. I believe it's a cultural thing. I think that, you know, like one of the problems I have with the City of Philadelphia is we do what we do because that's what we've always done. "

The city currently uses Roundup and Speedzone weed killers among other applications.

The two are alleged to cause cancer, but how often the products are applied to city parks and how much, no one can say.

"There are 104 cities across the country that are currently severely restricting or banning toxic pesticides," said Sadie Francis with Toxic Free Philly.

Bass says currently those more toxic applications are cheaper than organics, but Konte says that's not true. Neither Bass, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation or Konte could provide dollar figures for the city. But they agree.
"Whatever the numbers are, they cannot compensate for the loss of life from cancer, or from some other disease that would be directly linked to the use of these chemicals," said Bass.

No one from Parks and Recreation attended Tuesday's announcement and that didn't sit well with Bass.

"The priorities for the people who live in this community are not the priorities for Parks and Recreation," she said.

A Parks and Recreation spokeswoman released a statement to Action News defending its use of certain pesticides:

"Philadelphia Parks & Recreation uses a wide array of methods to effectively and safely manage the landscapes entrusted to our care, including recent field tests using 5% undiluted vinegar as an organic herbicide to manage vegetation. All of our methods follow the standards of best practice for professional landscape management, and we prioritize safety and effectiveness in all cases.

Although we are not in a position to make independent claims of safety, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's approval of specific herbicides provides us with safe and cost-effective means to control weeds in the landscape.

Philadelphia Parks & Recreation staff and landscape contractors who perform herbicide applications are required to maintain Certified Pesticide Applicator Licenses issued by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The strict guidelines of this license ensure proper use of herbicides. Selective herbicide application is one method Parks & Recreation uses to control invasive plants, an important part of the department's ongoing effort to restore the long term health and biodiversity of our urban forest.

We appreciate the continued advocacy of residents on this issue. We look forward to assessing the results of the organic herbicide field testing."
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