GreenTown Los Altos

What? Pesticides in my Kid’s Cereal?

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Nov 2018

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by Samantha Enos

What’s in your cereal?

In the past few months, many news articles have exposed the presence of weed killers in popular children’s cereals. Non-profit organizations such as the Environmental Working Group (EWG) conducted research on the topic, with alarming results. What may not be as well known is that these same products — shown to lower IQ, cause cancer, and damage developing reproductive organs — are widely used in public and private lands throughout Los Altos.

Glyphosate, the most widely used herbicide in the world, is classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as “probably carcinogenic” to people. The IARC has steadfastly defended that decision, despite ongoing attacks by Monsanto, which patented the glyphosate molecule more than 40 years ago and marketed it as Roundup. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has taken a less conservative approach, stating that glyphosate is ‘not likely to be carcinogenic to humans’ in its last study, released in Dec 2017.  Still, Monsanto faces 8,000 lawsuits on glyphosate and recently lost a suit in San Francisco, in which the company was ordered to pay $289M to a school groundskeeper who developed terminal cancer.

Roundup, a widely used glyphosate herbicide. Source: Flickr

In March 2017, the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) added glyphosate to its list of chemicals known to cause cancer under Proposition 65. Despite these warnings, RoundUp is still sprayed in places where our children play sports, such as soccer and baseball, roll in the grass, and do all the other things kids like to do.

No Safe Levels of Pesticide Exposure

The American Academy of Pediatrics says that there is no safe level of pesticide exposure for children, where the term “pesticides” is a collective term for chemicals intended to kill unwanted insects, plants, molds, and rodents. Pesticides are toxic chemicals – poisons created to kill. They are dangerous for all living things, including adults and pregnant women, and are particularly dangerous for a child’s developing organ systems.

Why are our children being subjected to these risks? For cosmetic landscaping purposes — to kill weeds. Dandelions do not pose a risk to children, but pesticides do. Take 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid or 2,4-D. It is one of the key ingredients in Agent Orange, an herbicide used tactically by the U.S. to defoliate trees and other plants during Vietnam War, and another of many pesticides used widely in cosmetic landscaping. The chemical is applied on sports fields, parks, and common areas where children play. “By allowing children to be exposed to toxins or chemicals of unknown toxicity, we are unwittingly using our children in a massive experiment”, according Dr. Bruce Lanphear, MPH, MD, Clinician Scientist at the Child & Family Research Institute, BC Children’s Hospital, and Professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia. 

Source: MVLA Soccer Club

This issue affects every person and pet in Los Altos. You and your family can still be affected if chemicals are not sprayed on your street. Pesticides have been shown to drift for miles and persist in indoor carpet fibers for a year after they are tracked inside. The U.S. Geological Survey found that, “After they are applied, many pesticides volatilize into the lower atmosphere, a process that can continue for days, weeks, or months after the application, depending on the compound. In addition, pesticides can become airborne attached to wind-blown dust.” And in clay soils like ours, the half-life of glyphosate can be as long as 22 years. Further, the interactions between the many chemicals being sprayed near our homes and in our parks are unknown. According to David Bellinger, professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School, “Impacts from multiple chemicals may simply add up, amplify one another’s effects.”

Alternatives Exist

Harvard University successfully switched to a non-toxic landscaping alternative, and cities across the U.S. are banning the use of toxic pesticides, including Novato, Santa Rosa, and Benicia in Northern California, and Irvine and countless other cities in Southern California. For example, in February 2016, the City of Irvine successfully banned the use of RoundUp in public parks and schools, adopting instead organic practices.  To implement these, the non-profit organization Non Toxic Irvine set up an organic-landscaping training with Beyond Pesticides, whose mission is to help transition away from using conventional landscaping methods by adopting organic, more eco-friendly landscaping practices. Their success has inspired many other cities to take steps to reduce our kids’ exposure to pesticides.

A change of this nature can be done, and has been done by switching to proven organic methods that are cost comparable and require 30 percent less water.  Let’s bring this up to the attention of our local leaders, and add Los Altos to the increasing list of cities working to protect our children and environment from the unnecessary and dangerous exposure to pesticides.

For more information or to get involved in advocating for safer landscaping, email info@greentownlosaltos.org.

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