Get our newsletters
Guest Opinion

We must temper pesticide use in our parks


Like dozens of other dog owners who walk their pets there, in addition to the scores of parents who bring their children to play soccer on the sports fields at the recently expanded Holicong Park, I have found it to be an ideal place for all the above, as well as to enjoy trees, open fields and fresh air.

The expanded sports courts and wonderfully spread-out feel of the multi-field park is as inviting as it is a major asset to all of us who live in the neighborhood.

I was distressed, therefore, to arrive at the park on a Friday morning in September to be greeted by the sight and unmistakable harsh chemical odor of an herbicide and fertilizer spray in mid-application, presumably to fortify the 80-odd acres of grass fields before winter.

I quickly beat a retreat, given the risk those chemicals present to dogs, children and those of us who attend to them while in the park. The chemicals in these spray treatments have been created to kill pests, both plant and animal.

For the most part they do not narrowly target specific pests, thereby leaving the rest of us safe from their effects. On the contrary, most are so-called “broad spectrum” biocides.

They are poisonous to a wide variety of living organisms, not excluding garden plants, wildlife such as the bluebirds and swifts that live at the park, insect pollinators like butterflies, and amphibians that are being attracted to the pond at one end — in addition to our children and pets.

Of the 30 commonly used lawn pesticides, 19 are linked with cancer, 13 to birth defects, 26 to liver and kidney damage, 15 with neuro-toxicity and 11 with disruption of the hormonal system. Twenty-three of them can leach into acquifers. Sixteen of them are toxic to birds.

Half of the 2 million estimated annual poisonings from lawn chemicals involve children younger than 6 years of age.

The EPA makes no claims to prevent exposure to harmful pesticides. The U.S. Congress has stated that 90% of pesticides in current use lack health and safety tests, yet they continue to be sold and used.

In short, Americans’ love affair with green turf — a garden crop meant for the maritime cool and dampness of England — has led us to these lengths, where we pursue an aesthetic not well suited to our climate nor the times in which we live.

There is a reason those of us who garden seriously try to limit lawns to mowed paths between flower plantings and pollinator “pocket” meadows. While that may not be feasible for people in HOAs, can we at least temper the use of these chemicals in our parks?

To this end, I would refer the reader to the Washington Crossing lower park, alongside the Delaware River, where huge swaths of formerly close-cropped sterile lawn have been converted to perennial meadows. Bird life has exploded to levels not seen in decades. Spring flowers increasingly cover and color the fields in March, April and May. The mowed paths are a delight to one and all who walk that park.

Holicong has to maintain its soccer fields, of course. But surely the ancillary meadow areas along the borders can expand around the walking paths. Surely Buckingham Township can come up with an alternative to poisons that destroy wildlife and imperil children and pets.

We owe that much to those who we care most about, and who have the least chance of protecting themselves, absent our vigilance and care.

Joe Falconi lives in Buckingham.