President’s Message 12/11

My tenure as board president has coincided with a horrible, terrifying, fascinating exploration of lawn and garden chemicals.  One of the first interactions I had as president was with a MG who’d spent weeks trying to get our chemical use policy changed–a change with which I whole-heartedly agree, for the record.

At the recognition dinner this fall we heard from Catherine Daniels, the person at WSU who sets and enforces the pesticide policy for the MGs around WA state.  In the intervening year and a half, I’ve done a bit of reading about environmental causes of cancer, seen some documentaries on the chemical industry, and witnessed friends and acquaintances on their own cancer journeys, all with mysterious origin, some ending in death.  The issues are complex to say the least, and challenge who we are as gardeners in King County.  The implications are always worth reconsidering.


In conversations I’ve had about MG pesticide policy, I’ve always said our best asset in public outreach is our broad training on multiple topics.  Although we all have personal beliefs about the use of household chemicals, the policy we signed as MGs in training demands that we talk to people at whatever level they come to us.  Naturally, we try to steer the public to the least harmful method for control of whatever problem they bring.  I feel lucky to have worked these years at the Washington Park Arboretum clinic, since we seldom field chemical questions.  Only once have I been asked directly about the use of Roundup, to which I replied what I believe to be the WSU position.  I admit I did go on to explain how chemical safety is determined, or not, and encouraged the questioner to do his own research not only on glyphosate, the active component in Roundup, but also on the other ingredients in the bottle he would actually purchase.  Since the public is unable to buy straight glyphosate, it’s always seemed a bit dishonest to base our recommendations on tests that isolate it, especially when research is continuing to show that the other ingredients in a bottle of Roundup are highly mobile in soil, detrimental to marine environments, possible endocrine disruptors, breed pesticide resistant weeds, ruin soil through mineral chelation, and, like many or most lawn chemicals, don’t degrade once they’re tracked into our houses on our shoes and, so, remain in our carpets indefinitely.  For me, the risks don’t outweigh the benefits of a weed free lawn, but I’ve argued before with MGs who hold differing opinions and I’m sure I will again.


I was deeply moved at the recognition dinner by the seriousness with which so many of us take these issues.  Many of us were horrified to learn that WSU doesn’t run toxicology studies on pesticides, there is no toxicologist on staff, so the possible links between lawn and garden pesticides and cancer aren’t considered when setting policy.  This is reflective of our national regulatory process and counter to many other countries’ positions that are drawn using the precautionary principle.  Time and our bodies will show the results of our choices.  For now, I believe that the choices I make matter:  whether I contribute pesticides to our common water supply does actually have an effect beyond my yard.  The garden I’m tending now will be the same earth in which one of my children will, perhaps, one day grow food.  The obligation to consider what we’re doing and how we’re approaching our work as MGs is real.  Let’s keep learning so we can continue the conversation.

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