The Wellesley Townsman - February 1, 2021
Calls for Pesticide Reduction by Sara Frost Azzam and Viola Morse
The Wellesley Cancer Prevention Project (WCPP) was founded three years ago to raise awareness in the community about possible links between cancer and environmental toxins. On March 30, the WCPP sponsored a town- wide forum, entitled "In Our Own Backyard: Cancer and the Environment, What We Can Do," to raise awareness of critical environmental issues. The forum was enthusiastically received with over 500 persons in attendance from Wellesley and nearby communities. At that forum, possible links between cancer rates and environmental toxins were outlined, including the abundant use of pesticides in the community as well as other toxic elements (i.e., dry cleaning fluids) to which we may have unwittingly exposed ourselves in our daily lives. This article is the first in a series providing information to Wellesley residents about environmental and health issues. In doing so, the WCPP continues its mission to educate the community and to encourage individuals to reduce and/or eliminate the use of local environmental toxins.
When attendees at the March 30 forum were asked to stand if they had been affected either directly by cancer or through an illness of a family member, nearly everyone in the audience was on their feet. Attendees learned that, while there are no direct links, at this point in time, between cancer and various toxins, there is ample data available showing evidence of harm to human health from many everyday products. The Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition, in collaboration with other scientific and environmental groups, has developed the "Precautionary Principle" that states, "When an activity raises the threat of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not established scientifically."
So what can the average citizen here in Wellesley do? We are not powerless to make a difference. We do have information that we can use to make substantial headway towards reducing and/or eliminating possible toxins from our environment.
For example, we have learned that pesticides pose a significant health hazard. Pesticide and solvent vapors can persist in indoor air for weeks or even years. Pesticide residues can contaminate indoor surfaces, and can remain in carpets and dust for months or even years. Pesticides can also persist outdoors in soil for weeks or years. Pesticides in some weed-killers commonly used at schools can last from one to five years in the soil.
Children are particularly vulnerable and can be exposed to pesticides in many ways, including by breathing vapors or dusts, absorbing residues through their skin, or ingesting residues by hand to mouth contact. Recently, the Children's and Families' Protection Act was passed into law in Massachusetts. This bill was endorsed by many groups, including the Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition, the Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, and the Massachusetts Parent Teacher Association. This legislation will eliminate the use of the most dangerous pesticides in schools and day care centers, will strengthen notice and reporting requirements to parents, and will promote safer alternatives to pesticides.
Here in Wellesley, through the joint efforts of the Board of Health, the Natural Resources Commission and the WCPP, a new position of Pesticide Awareness Coordinator is being funded, as of July 1, 2000. The purpose of this position is to create a resource center for information on the hazards and toxicity of pesticides, and to help residents, schools, businesses, and other town departments find alternative methods of lawn care and pest control. The coordinator will help the schools address the new legislation.
The Town has also set up a web page of useful links at: www.ci.wellesley.ma.us/nrc/pesticide. We recognize that to "Just Say No" to the use of pesticides, is not always easy, or even practical. What the WCPP, in conjunction with the Board of Health and the NRC, is attempting to do is to help provide alternatives that are reasonable and cost effective. Citizens, however, need to be pro-active, and ask questions. They need to ask their lawn care providers just what is being used on their lawns and in their gardens. They also need to ask what is being used on their golf courses, school yards, public parks, playing fields, etc. Make sure that the lawn care providers offer an organic treatment for your yard with convincing documentation on its safety.
In support of the Town's pesticide awareness campaign, the Needham Garden Center is offering Wellesley residents 10% off any of its organic lawn care products. The WCPP encourages Wellesley residents to request similar organic products of all local vendors, so that they too will become aware of citizen demand and will be able to meet that demand locally. It is worth noting that the Environmental Protection Agency recently announced its decision to curtail the use of the pesticide "Dursban", a carcinogenic compound found in many home and garden products.
In 1997, Newton became the first town in Massachusetts to adopt a comprehensive city-wide Integrated Pest Management Policy designed to reduce the use of pesticides in all public buildings and grounds. It is one of only a few cities in the country to have an IPM Advisory Committee to guide IPM implementation. Newton has reduced and stopped the use of pesticides on its playing fields through a focus on prevention activities and alternative controls and is working to bring the benefits of IPM to city schools and other public buildings. It is possible that Wellesley can do as much for its citizens.
The WCPP continues to focus on the issues raised by community members concerned about possible toxins in the Wellesley area. Years ago, people were unaware of the dangers of lead paint, cigarette smoking, asbestos and DDT; indeed, the idea that these things could be dangerous was often ridiculed. Today, these products are all known carcinogens. What will be the things we look at tomorrow and wish we had investigated more fully before using them? The WCPP does not seek to complicate already complex lives, but simply to ask people not to compromise personal safety - and the future of Wellesley - for convenience or beauty. Our lawns may look pristine, but at what risk to our children? From "known" to "probable" to "possible", the WCPP encourages the members of the Wellesley community to reduce and reconsider their use of potential carcinogens.
In our next article, more information about local cleaners who provide a safe "wet-cleaning" alternative to the chemical "dry" cleaning process.