Schools and parks are places every parent hopes are safe for children.

However, pesticide use on playing fields in the city of Charlottesville has raised concerns among some families and environmental health advocates, including the Piedmont Group of the Sierra Club, which is advocating for pesticide-free parks and school grounds.

“We understand it will be a challenge that costs more, but I say it’s well worth it for our children’s health,” said John Cruickshank, chairman of the local Sierra Club chapter.

Albemarle County and Charlottesville both have adopted integrated pest management programs for the interiors of their school buildings. Integrated pest management encourages natural pest control practices and using pesticides only as a last resort.

“Synthetic chemical pesticides should not be used unless all other options fail,” Cruickshank said.

Jackie Lombardo, a member of the National Sierra Club Toxins Committee and the local Sierra Club, said the county schools used to spray roach killer along the walls in the cafeteria and classrooms once a month regardless of whether there was a roach seen.

“The new way of thinking is that doesn’t work because the roaches develop a resistance to the products used,” Lombardo said. “Secondly, they are already in the building when you are dealing with it, so why not deal with it before that?”

Albemarle County adopted an integrated pest management program and safer chemical policy for all county-owned parks and school grounds in 2008.

The city does not have such a policy in place.

“Our campaign is focused on city parks, school grounds and any other property maintained by the city,” Cruickshank said. “That could include the traffic islands, roadsides and the flower pots on the [Downtown] Mall.”

Exposing children to dangerous chemicals when their developing brains and bodies are especially vulnerable is the Sierra Club’s main concern with pesticide use.

Lombardo lobbied the Albemarle School Board and Board of Supervisors to implement “greener” chemical policies. “… research shows that if you are exposed to neurotoxic chemicals, you can have neurotoxic brain impairments,” she said.

The Sierra Club’s proposal to end pesticide use was first brought to the city last July. The club started with a petition that has now been signed by almost 1,000 people.

“We have been to at least five or six City Council meetings,” Lombardo said. “Their response was positive, but nothing is concrete yet.”

The Charlottesville Parks and Recreation Department is responsible for maintaining the parks and schools grounds.

Though there is no formal policy in place, John Mann, the city’s landscape manager, said the city has been utilizing integrated pest management practices for 10 years.

“We want to move toward a program that uses more organic [products],” Mann said. “We would need additional funding to reach that goal, though.”

He said an extra trained staff member would be required to spray organic pesticides, which are more expensive than traditional formulas.

Mann said the city uses reasonable amounts of pesticides and has been diligent about not using toxic products on school grounds and parks unless necessary.

The city’s first option in pest control is to use non-chemical means, such as pulling weeds and mulching.

If those means don’t solve the problem, city staff would then utilize minimum-risk pesticides, which are organic in nature, as defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

If that doesn’t work, or a health emergency exists, staff would then utilize non-organic pesticides, following all applicable laws.

The Sierra Club agrees that such practices are beneficial, but a written policy is the only way to ensure the practices are always followed.

“We call ourselves a ‘green city,’ so we really need to add the actions along with that,” Lombardo said. “There are practices, and there are policies. Unless there is a written policy, the practices don’t really follow through with what you want to happen.”

Barbara Cruickshank, of the local Sierra Club chapter, said the group hopes to curtail the citywide pesticide spray that happens in the spring.

“It’s all about protecting the children,” she said. “You can’t put a price on protecting them.”

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