Groundskeepers concerned about pesticide licensing - One of the UW's lead gardeners, Jerry Harstad, shows a pesticide-free fern that he's transferred from an area near the Fisheries Building to his new garden project on West campus. Photo by Sang Cho
The UW is a leader in sustainability practices.
The university recently received a Salmon-Safe certification from the Network for Business Innovation and Sustainability and is being used as an example of eco-friendly Integrated Pest Management (IPM). Despite this, groundskeepers re-signing contracts this year may be required to be certified for pesticide use. The UW is currently looking at adding this license requirement to the contract.
Jerry Harstad, gardener lead for UW Grounds Management said the new requirements are counter-intuitive to the core values of the UW’s sustainability efforts. Harstad said he’s concerned the contract requirement will increase pesticide use throughout campus.
Currently, only a few grounds employees are certified in pesticide use. Harstad believes making this a universal requirement could increase its usage. This, he said, could be harmful for the general public.
In recent years, pesticides have been sprayed on campus as little as possible. According to Grounds Management, the use of pesticides on campus has decreased dramatically since the 1990s. Harstad and other grounds workers use a combination of organic solutions, such as mulches and barks, as alternatives to pesticides.
However, Hillary Burgess, IPM and sustainability coordinator for grounds management, said the licensing won’t necessarily increase pesticides on campus. She said that much of the training is about how not to use pesticides and how to use them properly if the need arises. She also doesn’t think that the licenses would increase the use of pesticides on campus.
“Anything that continues training and education will only serve to make us a safer and more scientifically informed campus,” Burgess said. “I support it because it is an impetus for further education. The training emphasizes a whole suite of different approaches.”
Burgess says that the Salmon-Safe program underscores the UW’s commitment to sustainable practices. Salmon-Safe is a peer-reviewed certification that looks at how corporations, universities, and other land management groups impact the local streams and wetlands — with a focus on pesticide reduction.
Harstad is still concerned, however. If the amount of pesticides increased, so would their exposure to the public, he said. A UW study in the 1980s showed there are strong correlations between birth defects and pesticide exposure. Additionally, Harstad said he was diagnosed with cancer after repeated contact with the chemicals.
Some areas, such as the hospital and childcare spaces, currently do not get treated with pesticides. The grounds management also doesn’t spray in areas people frequently inhabit.
“If we had the choice, we’d rather not be exposed to chemicals,” Harstad said. “But you have no choice when you come across green flags.”
In order to know if pesticides have been sprayed nearby, look for little green flags stating that the landscape has been treated by UW Grounds Management. There are also phone numbers citizens can call to get information about the products that were used.
Sarah Reichard, director of UW Botanic Gardens, researches alternative pest control methods, such as testing invasive species before they overtake the surrounding environment. Reichard said she isn’t opposed to the required training.
“Being aware and informed is not a dangerous thing,” Reichard said.
Reach reporter Deanna Isaacs at email@example.com. Twitter: @DeeLiteraryOne
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