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St. Louis Poisons Its Parks & Public Spaces with Toxic Sprays

on Tue, 08/16/2022 - 10:08am

In July 2020, the St. Louis No Spray Coalition submitted  a Sunshine Law request to the City of St. Louis for records of invoices that showed pesticides/herbicides purchased, the amounts paid, any other records disclosing the amount and type of pesticides/herbicides used in St. Louis City Parks and public spaces and where and when the pesticides were used.  After nearly two years of wrangling with the city, they released the requested documents. In those records, we found seven pesticide products used by the City of St. Louis that are “possible carcinogens” or “probable carcinogens” and are known to cause other human health problems and environmental damage. The city is using large amounts of these toxic chemicals on our parks and public spaces, usually without warning or notifying the public. For example, from 2016-2021 the city sprayed approximately 520 gallons of glyphosate products—aka “Roundup”. This powerful herbicide, which is sold to industrial/commercial users such as the St. Louis Department of Parks in highly concentrated form, has to be diluted up to 200x before it is sprayed.

Our 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:

In July of 2018, a California jury awarded Dewayne “Lee” Johnson $278 million in a lawsuit he filed against Monsanto, ruling in favor of that Johnson's allegation that his non-Hodgkin lymphoma was caused by the corporation's glyphosate-containing herbicide, Roundup. Johnson is an African-American man who used Roundup many times as part of his long time landscaping work. Since then, approximately 130,000+ people have sued Monsanto  (now owned by Bayer), alleging that non-Hodgkin lymphoma they contracted was caused by their use of Roundup.  Bayer has reached settlements with nearly 100,000 plaintiffs, agreeing to pay out $11 billion+ settlement, which in effect is admitting their guilt. There are still approximately 30,000 similar lawsuits still pending against Monsanto-Bayer.

-The 2018 publication of  “Whitewash: The Story of a Weedkiller, Cancer and the Corruption of Science,” written by investigative journalist Carey Gillam takes a closer look into Monsanto's unethical history. Using internal Monsanto documents and emails released during Johnson's trial, 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 how the corporation used their vast financial resources to influence science and certain scientists, who falsely claimed that Roundup poses no threat to human health.

-A report from The Black Institute, a New York City based think-tank, entitled Poison Parks published in January 2020 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 [MI, 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.”

This as more and more evidence shows how dangerous chemical pesticides are and how inadequately these poisons are tested by regulatory agencies. The norm is for the corporation marketing the pesticide to conduct its own tests! (1) These tests are usually done only on the active ingredient in the pesticide, which is inadequate because the carcinogenicity of chemicals is often caused or enhanced by the synergistic effect of the combination of chemicals. For example, when glyphosate (Roundup's active ingredient) is combined with POEA (polyethoxylated tallow amine, the surfactant in the herbicide) the carcinogen danger is greatly increased. Testing of these pesticides needs to happen in real world conditions, i.e., testing the whole pesticide as it is applied, not just the active ingredient.

Park employees and the public have been told that these pesticides are not harmful but the list/glossary below shows otherwise. Park employees have been observed spraying these chemicals without proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and many of them are not licensed applicators. Also, spraying occurs while park users are present and no warnings are given in advance.

Over 130 cities in the USA have banned pesticides in their parks and public spaces (2), using non-toxic and organic weed control such as hand weeding and mulching. Wellesley, Massachusetts has been using  these methods successfully since the early 2000s. [3]  Using these methods in St. Louis Parks would protect the public from exposure to harmful chemicals, protect the environment of our parks and public spaces and could create summer jobs and save the city money.




For a description of pesticides used in St Louis City Parks please read the Announcement, "Pesticide Use in St Louis City Parks" .