Parents halt use of pesticide at Fox Chapel Area school

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The Fox Chapel Area School District, spurred by parents' concerns, yesterday postponed the planned spraying of a potentially dangerous herbicide this weekend.

The spraying by Fox Chapel-based landscaper Eichenlaub Inc. was to be done to control weeds at O'Hara Elementary School and involved an herbicide that some studies have linked to higher cancer rates.

"This herbicide is 2,4-D, which has a long and ugly history," said Nancy Gift, who teaches environmental studies at Chatham University. "Long-term studies of children who live on sprayed lawns -- and 2,4-D is the most commonly used product for weed-control in lawns -- have higher rates of cancer."

Ms. Gift, who has two young daughters attending O'Hara, became aware of the intended spraying because she is on a list of parents and teachers who received an e-mail from the school notifying them of the plan.

"I don't want to misstate the risks," she said. "But however small these risks are, they are present and possible. And an herbicide isn't like a person. A person is innocent until proven guilty. But an herbicide, in my mind, is guilty until proven innocent.

"I was a certified pesticide applicator in the state of New York before we moved here eight years ago, and I know the pesticides, and this is one I don't feel comfortable with."

Bonnie Berzonski, spokeswoman for the Fox Chapel Area School District, which covers 4,400 youngsters in six schools, said the herbicide has been used for at least four years to control weeds on school grounds and the district has been assured the product is safe. But after receiving calls from concerned parents this week, she said, Superintendent Anne Stephens stopped the spraying.

"We are going to look into the concerns and possibly look for alternate ways for weed control," Ms. Berzonski said. "We have to control the weeds because many of our students have allergies. If there is a better way to control the weeds in the play areas, we will consider alternate solutions. We want to be responsive to our parents."

Representatives of Eichenlaub declined to comment.

Upon learning that the spraying was being stopped, Ms. Gift said, "I am very relieved and encouraged by the power and voice of fellow moms to help make a safe schoolyard for our kids."

Ms. Gift said she isn't opposed to the herbicide being used in places where children don't play.

"I don't really agree with the aesthetic, but if they really want the school to look perfect, fine," she said. "But what I want is that they don't use this on the hills where the kids roll down, in their clothes, with their bare hands, bare faces, sometimes bare feet, even though they're not supposed to -- that those hillsides and grassy areas be free of pesticides. And that seems like a pretty small thing to ask."


Dan Majors can be reached at dmajors@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1456.


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