September 2019

By Tina Richards
Angela Hicks of Santiago Hills used to take her daughter to the local park every day. Kimberly DeLehman and her toddler were also daily visitors, as was Jessica Barber and her 18-month-old son.

About two years ago, Hicks noticed her daughter Lily was not developing at the same rate as her peers. Her doctor recommended lab work, and the results were alarming. Lily tested in the 95th percentile for glyphosate, the active ingredient in Ranger Pro, the herbicide sprayed in Orange parks. She didn’t make the connection until she compared notes with other Santiago Hills mothers. DeLehman’s son tested in the 85th percentile. A normal reading is zero.

Hicks did some research and learned that children and pets can be at risk from prolonged exposure to glyphosate. She went to the city and asked that it stop spraying chemicals in its parks. “I tried to do it quietly,” she says. “I didn’t want to be a troublemaker; I just wanted the city to stop spraying.”

All spray, no play
Told the city would “look into it,” she waited. Meanwhile, she stopped taking Lily to Santiago Hills Park and connected with Non Toxic Neighborhoods, a national organization that is encouraging municipalities to use organic pesticides and herbicides instead of chemicals.  

That’s when she learned about 2 4-D, another commonly used herbicide. While glyphosates have other uses, 2 4-D is used only to kill weeds. Orange uses it. Lily’s lab work showed the level of 2 4-D in her system was off the chart. 

Jessica Barber’s child began having minor health problems. She stopped taking him to Santiago Hills Park. Six months later, he’s fine. “I’m not saying there’s a connection,” she advises, “I’m just saying he was getting sick, and now he isn’t.”

“We’ve reviewed our pest management program,” Orange Community Services Director Bonnie Hagan said. “It’s compliant with county, state and federal regulations. The ingredients and products we use are approved by the EPA. We asked for recommendations from the county and are permitted to use these products through OC Agriculture.”

Tell a friend
Frustrated by the city’s inaction, Hicks founded Non Toxic Orange and, along with Barber and DeLehman, began spreading the word citywide. Mothers of toddlers who frequented Grijalva, Shaffer, Handy and Hart Parks joined the group. They started a petition to stop chemical spraying in Orange and have garnered 2,100 signatures, to date.   

Kim Konte of Non Toxic Neighborhoods shared research about synthetic pesticides versus organics, conducted by cell biologists, pediatricians, universities and medical institutions.

“The dangers, documented by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization,” Konte reports, “are low-dose, long term, accumulative, synergistic and repeated exposure. Studies done in 2015 and 2019 conclude that glyphosate is ‘probably’ a human carcinogen.”  The American Academy of Pediatrics has written that there is no safe level of pesticides and herbicides exposure for children. 

Tried and true
But it’s the “probably” that’s causing the hold up. “We’re not scientists,” Hagan says. “We’re continually researching to be sure we’re doing the right thing. But we rely on our partner agencies, we depend on regulatory agencies. It’s not as simple as swapping the product. Organic products are still considered toxic, and they are ineffective. This is all new; there are unknowns.”

Konte points out that seven Orange County cities have switched to organic controls to manage landscaping pests, including Tustin, Irvine and Costa Mesa. Cities, counties and school districts nationwide have also stopped using glyphosate and other synthetics. “We have manufacturers of organic products that are willing to donate them to cities that want to try them,” Konte says. “We offered this to Orange city staff, and they turned it down.”

Hagan stresses that Orange wants to accommodate its residents. “We spray because residents want it. There are landscaping standards that people want met. They don’t want bugs and weeds. We spoke to Tustin and were told residents complained about the smell of the organic solutions. If we change, will there be unintended consequences? Will we have bees and clumps of clover on our sports fields?”

Test case
The city has, however, agreed to introduce a pilot program in Santiago Hills Park. Commencing Sept. 1, there will be no spraying of any kind for one year. “We’re working with our contractor,” Hagan says. “We want the results well documented.”

“No spraying is not a pilot program,” DeLehman says. “It’s a recipe for failure. If the city does nothing, the weeds will take over and residents will complain. Then, the city can say, ‘oh, it didn’t work.’”

“We didn’t ask Orange to stop spraying,” Hicks stresses. “We asked the city to stop using chemicals in areas where our children play. They ignored me for a year, hoping I’d go away. They’re doing this ‘pilot’ program, hoping I’ll go away. I’m not going away.”

Residents ask city to stop spraying chemicals in Orange parks