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Pesticide Opponents Speak Out at Listening Session

About a dozen Whitefish Bay residents spoke during a 'listening session' with the Village Board Monday evening, citing various health concerns in their plea to stop using pesticides in public areas.

One by one, concerned Whitefish Bay residents came forward to address the Village Board as part of a "listening session" Monday night, during which they pleaded against using pesticides in Whitefish Bay parks.

This special meeting of the board was a forum for those pleas, following a when the chamber was flooded with over 100 residents. This meeting drew about 40 residents, about a dozen of whom spoke to the board.

The use of pesticides in public parks has been discussed at Village Hall for the past five years, culminating in 2010 with village residents protesting the use of pesticides in the parks before the Village Board. As a pilot program, the board agreed not to spray pesticides on  and  parks in 2010, and last year, the village  that included pesticide-free turf care practices in most green spaces.

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At Monday's meeting, all attendees were asked to sign in and indicate whether they are in favor of pesticide use. Village President Julie Siegel said both sides were represented in the audience, but only those against pesticide use spoke directly to the board.

"I don't believe we can really wait any longer to seriously address the issue of pesticide exposure and the negative health effects within our own village," Karlene Fox said. Fox pointed out that Whitefish Bay's "neighbors to the south" have done just that.

"If Shorewood can do it, so can Whitefish Bay," she said.

Fox, along with most of the evening's speakers, cited numerous scientific studies on the harmful nature of pesticides to humans. Among them was Dr. Scott Maul, a physician, who pointed out that pesticides have been found to cause mutagenesis, causing cancer directly, and endocrine disruption, which can also lead to cancer.

Maul said he found pesticides associated with the following cancers:

  • lymphoma
  • leukemia
  • brain cancer
  • breast cancer
  • kidney cancer
  • pancreatic cancer
  • prostate cancer
  • stomach cancer
  • childhood cancers from exposure through parents working in chemical industries

"With that question of 'Why is it that the North Shore has so much cancer?" which is asked to me on a regular basis, this is an important meeting," Maul said. "We're not going to answer that question ... but we can help protect our children in the future."

Sandy Helman, who formerly worked for the EPA, said she was rather disturbed by the first pesticide spraying after she moved here with her family from Chicago in 2003.

"The half-lives of these chemicals range from five days to many weeks, even months," she said. "The chemicals don't magically disappear after they've dried."

She also mentioned some alternative solutions, such as white vinegar.

Nancy Sturino, who survived two cancers, railed against the , calling for a single set of standards. She compared this issue to the debate over banning indoor smoking in public places.

"They just didn't know how we would survive without having smoking in restaurants," Sturino said. "There's a cutting-edge notion that you cannot live without pesticides, but I think in the long run ... you have the opportunity to spearhead a movement in which you are promoting better health practices for the village."

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Siegel did not say what the next step in the discussion would be, but she expressed appreciation for the tone of the evening's forum.

"I'm not sure what the next steps are, but thank you for coming tonight, and thank you for your comments," she said.

Laura Nankin July 18, 2012 at 02:24 PM
they once made the same argument about cigarette smoking. "Experts" also once said man could not fly and we would never make it to the moon. Science advances and new data is documented. It cannot be ignored
Laura Nankin July 18, 2012 at 02:30 PM
General B, There are considerably higher rates of cancer in the North shore, not just WFB, than any place else in the metro area. This information was give to me by both my breast surgeon at Froedert when I had breast cancer, and by my oncologist. There is no definitive reason for it yet, but the numbers are documented
Jennifer Dawson July 18, 2012 at 04:59 PM
An increase in cancer could be due to a number of things, including the relative wealth and health care coverage of North Shore residents--in other words, if there is more cancer documented here, it could be because more people are able to seek treatment. Or maybe it's because we eat richer diets or because we get more sun exposure or drink more or so on. The Village is struggling with a very costly antidote to this issue and have done so reasonably. I can see why the option of using pesticide-free practices is not working for them--quadrupling the cost of any governmental function in these times seems foolish especially for something as unessential as weed or insect control. The question that hasn't been answered is why we need pesticides. What is being controlled or killed? As Nate Roth asks, what is the concern specifically? The assumption is that we have to have something. What if we saved ourselves $3500 and just didn't do anything? Could people live with weeds on the park lawns? Could we deal with dandelions growing as long as the public spots are mowed and otherwise kept groomed? What if they just didn't do anything?
StaynConnected July 18, 2012 at 05:20 PM
I believe there have been several studies that have followed the employees that apply lawn chemicals - pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, etc. I don't believe a cancer link has been established with this population, which seems to debunk the possibility that such chemicals are major contributors to cancer rates. Once such study's abstract is cited below: Mortality study of pesticide applicators and other employees of a lawn care service company. Zahm SH. Source Occupational Epidemiology Branch, National Cancer Institute, Rockville, Md. 20892-7364, USA. Abstract In response to reports linking non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL) and the herbicide 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid, a retrospective cohort mortality study of 32,600 employees of a lawn care company was conducted. The cohort was generally young with short-duration employment and follow-up. In comparison to the US population, the cohort had significantly decreased mortality from all causes of death combined (307 deaths), arteriosclerotic heart disease, and accidents. There were 45 cancer deaths (59.6 expected, standardized mortality ratio [SMR] = 0.76, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.55, 1.01). Although based on very small numbers and perhaps due to chance, the NHL excess is consistent with several earlier studies.
Angela July 19, 2012 at 04:58 PM
Jennifer, you hit the nail on the head. I have yet to read or hear the Village explain why the pesticides are necessary. If it is for aesthetic reasons alone, it is appalling that aesthetics would trump known health risks.

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