Use of chemicals by city parks workers raises concern among some Colorado Springs residents
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- Officials with the parks and recreation department met with around a dozen citizens Monday who are concerned about the use of herbicides on landscaping, in parks and medians, and on other city property.
Residents were contacted by the department last week who said that the meeting was scheduled to provide information and answer questions about the matter.
According to involved residents, the concerns relate to whether the city's use of Roundup, or similar herbicides; Roundup is the brand name of glyphosate -- a chemical widely used for weed control in agriculture, home gardening, and lawn and landscaping maintenance.
Although many health and regulatory agencies are divided on whether the chemical causes cancer in humans, the chemical's manufacturers have paid out billions of dollars in settlements from lawsuits filed by more than 42,000 people who said that it caused their cancer or that the manufacturers failed to adequately warn the public of potential health risks.
Eric Becker, a parks and recreation administrator with the city, said that Roundup is a general-use herbicide -- meaning that it is sold over the counter -- and is also authorized for use by the Colorado Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Some of the citizens in the hourlong meeting believe that the isn't taking possible health risks seriously enough, but Becker disagrees.
"We try to stay abreast of those types of potential issues that may arise, and we use various resources, whether it be university research or partners around the city that we talk to," he said.
Meeting attendees said that they've tried for six years to get the city to stop using Roundup, with no success.
Becker said that his department has cut its use of the chemical in half, in recent years, and is gradually transitioning to other, newer herbicides that don't work as well as Roundup but are more environmentally friendly.
"In a city this size and with all the parkland we have to maintain, it isn't feasibly to just drop Roundup all at once," he explained. "It's a daunting task that we have, and challenging financially and some other things. But we're up to it and we're going to continue to move towards what we consider to be economical and environmentally sensitive solutions."
The situation flared up last week when one of the city contractors sprayed Roundup around a playground at the Westside Community Center.
"It was sprayed right up to the fence," said neighbor Richard Mee. "That's too close. There weren't enough signs to alert people that there was spraying going on. The workers weren't wearing protective gear."
Attendees want the city to do what communities such as Manitou Springs have -- transition to procedures that don't rely on toxic chemicals and manually removes most weeds.
Becker said that the degree of weed control depends on the time of year, soil conditions and whether grasses and other vegetation are fertile enough to out-compete weeds.
"Mowing is important, too," he said. "There are some weeds that die when they don't reach a certain height because we mow them. We also have to reclaim some areas where weeds are establish and remove them. Once we do that, they're much easier to control."
To that end, some citizens suggested that the city rely on volunteers to pull weeds.
"Volunteering efforts kind of come and go," Becker said. "It's not something we can depend on."
City Council President Tom Strand attended the meeting and said he'll try to get the department more resources to stop using Roundup sooner.
"Your department has been short on manpower and resources since the 2008 recession," he said. "We're starting this budget process. We'll finish it the first week of December, but we're starting it tomorrow. And I'm going to be looking very hard at Parks & Rec, and what we want to do in the areas we talked about today."