Silent Spring in Benicia? City and school officials respond, activists call for ban

“Silent Spring in Benicia” – Progressive Dems of Benicia Forum on local glyphosate use and disuse

By Pat Toth-Smith, June 13, 2019

(Repost from ProgressiveDemocratsOfBenicia.com)

“As we move away from herbicides things are going to look shabby at first until we figure it out,” stated Alfredo Romero, Benicia Unified School District (BUSD) Maintenance Director.  He also added, we’ve stopped using Roundup and we’re moving towards more natural approaches.”  He cited goats as an example.

Stopping herbicide use was a common theme voiced by many of the speakers at the Tuesday night “Silent Spring” forum in Benicia held at the library, and sponsored by the Progressive Democrats of Benicia.

Romero worked with Lee Johnson, the former BUSD employee who won a historic lawsuit against Monsanto, when a jury agreed that his exposure to Roundup on the job was the cause of his lethal, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.  Romero said, “I remember when Lee was starting to get ill and didn’t want to spray the weed killer.  We supported him in not doing it anymore….  I don’t ever want what happened to Lee to happen again,” He said at the end of his talk, “It will take a community effort to stop using chemicals, because using the herbicides are cheaper, and we need to have an increased tolerance for weeds.”

Theron Jones, Benicia Parks Supervisor, reported that Roundup is not being used by the city Parks staff and that they are moving towards an integrated pest management approach.  He said, “We never apply herbicides to playgrounds. The only places we apply herbicides to control weeds are in tree wells, planter beds and along fence lines.”  Asked about what herbicides are used, he continued,” We use the emergent weed killers sparingly, and what is applied includes Gallery S.C., Dimension Ultra, Finale, and Vastlan.”

One of the featured speakers at the forum was Kat Furey, a Client Advocate for the law firm which provided legal support for the Roundup non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma clients.  She spoke about the dangers of “glyphosate,“ the main ingredient in Roundup.  She cited the World Health Organizations’ International Agency for Research on Cancer’s declaration that glyphosate is a probable carcinogen, and noted that at this time three California courts have agreed, and awarded billions of dollars in damages to plaintiffs.  She continued, “Besides the cancer connection, glyphosate is also an endocrine disrupter, a neurotoxin, and a genotoxin, and there is no safe level of glyphosate.”  She said that it should have a warning label.   She encouraged eating organic foods as the main way to avoid glyphosates.  GMO foods have the Roundup ready gene in it to prevent the GMO plant from dying when sprayed.  Roughly 85% of our food supply contains some level of glyphosates in them as a result.

The final speaker was Makenzie Feldman, founder of Herbicide-Free UC.  She said she became an activist when groundskeepers at UC Berkeley beach volley ball courts were spraying herbicides to kill weeds in the vicinity of where her team practiced.  She and her teammates were worried about the dangers of Roundup, and so struck a deal to pull the weeds out by hand themselves. She educated herself about glyphosates and wrote an op-ed piece for the newspaper, which attracted like-minded students.  Eventually a temporary ban by the U.C. Regents on Roundup at UC Berkeley was achieved.  Ms. Feldman now is working to make the ban permanent, and has partnered with the group, “Beyond Pesticides,” to train the U.C. groundskeepers in organic methods of pest control.  These include methods to return microbial life to the soil, which naturally helps control weeds.  She also organized student volunteers to pull weeds and mulch soils to help control weeks, but added, “People need to learn to accept some weeds.”

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