Do-Over in Durango: Western Town Goes Organic After All

By Joseph Boardman for SafeLawns

Tricia Gourley is a lead member of the group of Durango, Colorado, citizens who advocated for organic lawn care protocols on city property.

DURANGO, CO. — Completely reversing its course of action in a span of two weeks, the city council of this western community voted unanimously Wednesday night to adopt organic lawn care principles on all of its parks.

After voting 5-0 in late August against an ordinance that would have banned all synthetic pesticides on all publicly owned property, the city council opted not to gamble on bringing the issue to a public vote in the upcoming November election. Instead, the council took the advice of SafeLawns founder Paul Tukey, who advocated for a compromise during his testimony on Aug. 21.

Wednesday night’s passage of “A Resolution Establishing an Organically Managed Lands Program” came after almost daily negotiation between the somewhat reluctant city councilors and group of impassioned residents in favor of organics. The resolution calls for an initial allocation of $36,000 to hire an organic land management consultant to create, monitor and evaluate a phased-in program in the next few years.

“This $36,000 is a more effective way to spend money than on an election that would be very divisive,” said City Councilor Christina Rinderle.

The contentious nature of the issue was evident when several professional landscapers — who advocate for synthetic chemical methods of lawn care — angrily left the council meeting without commenting to local media.

“This isn’t over,” said a caller in a message to the SafeLawns office. “Stay the hell out of our business if you know what’s good for you.”

Asked about the sternly worded message, SafeLawns founder Tukey said it was indicative of the rhetoric and tactics of the synthetic chemical lawn care industry, which continues to run fear and smear campaigns against organic lawn care advocates.

“I’m delighted that both sides rose above the fray and compromised in Durango,” said Tukey during a phone call from the site of the SafeLawns research project at Glenstone in Potomac, Md. “The organic advocates agreed to take the issue off the ballot, where they almost certainly would have prevailed, and agree to work with the city officials. The city, in turn, is taking the proper steps to get educated by the nation’s leading experts so that the program will be successful.”

Tukey provided the names of several of the nation’s organic lawn care specialists, who can now provide bids to implement Durango’s new program.

“The goal of the City of Durango Organically Managed Lands Program
is to extend organic management practices to all City lands and to minimize the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides on such lands, while maintaining City facilities at a quality consistent with City standards and the expectations of the public users of such facilities,” reads the new agreement.

A three-person committee has been formed to recruit and evaluate bidders, a process estimated to take three weeks.

“We are supposed to start the review ASAP and we will keep you posted,” said committee member Tricia Gourley in an email to Tukey. “Thanks for all your help in making this happen here!”

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Scientists Call for Global Ban on Bee-Killing Pesticides


Despite continued support from the United States government for the manufacturers, scientists across the globe are calling for an international ban on the synthetic pesticides responsible for colony collapse disorder in bees.

The author of the latest study out of Harvard University bluntly stated that the time is now.

“The data, both ours and others, right now merits a global ban,” said Chensheng Li, lead scientist in the Harvard University study that confirmed neonicotinoid pesticides as a primary cause of CCD. “Our study clearly demonstrated that imidacloprid is responsible for causing CCD, and the survival of the control hives that we set up side-by-side to the pesticide-treated hives augments this conclusion.”

Ever since 2006, when SafeLawns first reported the connection between the pesticides used to kill grubs on lawns, as well as numerous other insects, the manufacturer, Bayer, has denied the connection. Since then numerous scientific studies have built to a unanimous conclusion that the substances — imadacloprid, clothianidin and others — are the cause of the disorder that has claimed more than a third of American beehives each year for the past six.

The pesticides make it impossible for the bees to navigate their way back to hives; the disoriented insects also forget to eat and, ultimately, perish.

In March, commercial beekeepers and environmental organizations filed a petition asking federal regulators to ban the clothianidin, the fastest acting of the many synthetic nicotines on the market. Prior to that a government document was revealed that proved that substance was approved based on false data.

More than 1.25 million people also submitted comments in partnership with the organizations, calling on the EPA to take action — yet nothing has been done.

In one positive move, that also amounts to an admission of guilt by Bayer, the company removed almonds from the pesticide label for imidacloprid in California, thereby eliminating the use of the product in that state’s numerous almond orchards. Some estimates claim that up to a third of the nation’s commercial beehives are sent to California each year to pollinate almonds.

Learn more:

To sign a petition:

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National Poison Prevention Week: 8 Tips to Stay Safe on the Lawn

Avoidance of pesticides is the surest way to keep children safe.

In recognition of National Poison Prevention Week beginning Sunday, March 18, the SafeLawns Foundation is joining the Environmental Protection Agency and numerous other agencies in urging parents to take extra steps around their homes to reduce the more than 150,000 calls to poison centers involving pesticides and disinfectants.

In just the past year, America’s 57 poison control centers fielded approximately four million calls, treating 2.4 million human poison exposures. Pesticides — weed and insect killers and fungicides — cause a significant number of the worst cases. More than half of pesticide exposures involved children age 5 or younger.

To reduce this exposure to the most vulnerable population, here are eight steps to follow:

1) Avoid using synthetic pesticides and fertilizers on lawns and gardens. Numerous safer, natural alternatives exist that work well and are more cost competitive than ever before.

2) Even with natural or organic products, always completely read the label and follow all safety instructions with regard to application and storage.

3) Never leave open and/or unused products unattended with children around.

4) Even if the label does not indicate doing so, consider locking away unused products in child-safe containers or at least far out of reach.

5) Prior to a pesticide application, be sure to move all toys, picnic tables and other objects that children might be drawn toward.

6) Understand that some organic, natural products may be toxic to children and pets.

7) Avoid using soda bottles, pails, cups or spray bottles when applying pesticide products; these can easily be mistaken by children as safe to drink from or touch.

8 ) Keep the Poison Control Centers’ national helpline number, 1-800-222-1222, near your phone. Program the number into your phone’s “address book” or redial feature.

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Why Ban Lawn Pesticides? The List of Reasons Keeps Growing

With several states and additional Canadian municipalities considering bans on synthetic pesticides used to maintain landscapes, we’re often asked to summarize all the reasons why we advocate for legislation that makes certain products illegal.

Here’s the primer:


The industry that manufactures and applies synthetic chemical pesticides (weed-killers, insecticides and fungicides) hides behind EPA blessing of its products, suggesting that such approval by the Environmental Protection Agency is proof that their pesticides are safe when used as directed. The reality is that EPA approval is NOT a finding of safety, but rather it is a risk-benefit analysis of health and environmental risks weighed against economic benefits. In most cases, those risks and benefits are borne by differing members of society. In other words, the chemical companies and applicators get the money and the homeowners, ponds, lakes, rivers, oceans etc. bear the risks. The EPA approves some incredibly dangerous products, most of which have never been fully tested for safety — and only real testing is done by the manufacturers themselves. The EPA needs to receive loads of complaints about a product before it engages in its own testing.


Seventeen of 32 (53 percent) of the most commonly registered and utilized lawn pesticide products in the United States include ingredients that are likely carcinogens, as defined by the EPA and the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
Thirteen of 32 (41 percent) of the approved lawn pesticide products include ingredients that are banned or restricted in other countries due to their health and environmental impacts.

According to the Material Safety Data Sheets of the most commonly used lawn pesticides, the products can cause irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat; burning, stinging, itches, rashes, and blistering of the skin; nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea; and coughing, wheezing, headache, and general malaise. Because these symptoms are similar or identical to those caused by other illnesses, acute pesticide poisoning is often misdiagnosed.

Pesticide exposure occurs through numerous pathways, including the skin, eyes, ears, nose and mouth — all areas where children are particularly sensitive.

The National Academy of Sciences estimates that one in 7 adults suffers acute symptoms of pesticide poisoning (such as those symptoms listed above) — most of which are not diagnosed.

Exposure to pesticides is also linked with chronic illness, such as cancer, behavioral impairment, reproductive dysfunction, endocrine disruption, developmental disabilities, ADHD, Autism, Parkinson’s Syndrome, learning disabilities, skin conditions, and respiratory diseases such as asthma.

A National Cancer Institute study states that, “although research is underway to characterize the risks of childhood cancer associated with pesticides and identify the specific pesticides responsible, it is prudent to reduce or, where possible, eliminate pesticide exposure to children, given their increased vulnerability and susceptibility. In particular, efforts should be focused to reduce exposure to pesticides used in homes and gardens and on lawns and public lands, which are major sources of exposure for most children.

A number of studies have linked lawn pesticides to childhood illnesses:

a) A University of Southern California study showed that children whose parents used garden pesticides were 6.5 times more likely to develop leukemia.

b) According to EPA’s Guidelines for Carcinogen Risk Assessment, children receive 50 percent of their lifetime cancer risks in the first two years of life.

c) Children with brain cancer are more likely to have been exposed to insecticides in the home.

d) Children in families that use professional pest control services are at higher risk of developing leukemia than children in families that don’t use pesticides.

e) A 1990 study by the US Congress Office of Technology Assessment concluded that “in general, [human health] research demonstrates that pesticide poisoning can lead to poor performance on tests including intellectual functioning, academic skills, abstraction, flexibility of thought, and motor skills; memory disturbances and inability to focus attention; deficits in intelligence, reaction time, and manual dexterity; and reduced perceptual speed. Increased anxiety and emotional problems have also been reported.”

A US EPA study found that residues from outdoor pesticides are tracked in by pets and people’s shoes, and can increase the pesticide loads in carpet dust as much as 400-fold. These pesticides, intended for outdoor use, will persist for years indoors because they are sheltered from sun, rain and other forces that can degrade them.

Another study, published in November 2003 by the Silent Spring Institute, which was funded by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, showed that residents may be continuously exposed to dangerous levels of pesticides in their home decades after application.

Recently, an “inert” ingredient in the most common lawn pesticide product known as Roundup was found to kill human cells. The French government sued the manufacturer of Roundup for making improper safety claims about Roundup.


Canada has announced it will ban weed ’n feed nationwide by the end of 2012. This ban was seen as a compromise between Health Canada and the pesticide industry, which agreed that weed ’n feed products put excess amounts of pesticides in the environment.

More than 80 percent of the Canadian population has banned “cosmetic” herbicides used to kill dandelions, clover etc. on lawns. Most major Canadian retailers including Home Depot have stopped selling herbicides and have committed to selling alternatives.

The states of New York and Connecticut banned the applications of lawn pesticides around schools and daycare centers.

More than 35 municipalities in New Jersey have enacted bans of synthetic lawn pesticides on public property.

In its 9-0 landmark decision, the Supreme Court of Canada invoked “The Precautionary Principle” with regard to pesticides. The Precautionary Principles means that, even in situations where there is not absolute proof of harm in all cases, precaution should be taken to protect the environment and human health.

The National Gardening Association data shows that 10 percent of consumers are currently utilizing exclusively organic products; that total is expected to grow to 50 percent of the marketplace by 2014.

The efficacy and understanding of organic products has increased dramatically in the past five years; several new organic products have entered the market in just the past three years, including a natural “selective” herbicide that can replace the most toxic chemicals.

Canadian landscapes that have been grown without pesticides for years are still beautiful. Mayors and town managers have reported a reduction in costs for mowing, watering, fertilizing and pesticide applications.


All 32 of the most common lawn pesticide products include ingredients that pose threats to the environment, including: threats to water supplies, birds, fish, other aquatic organisms, and non-targeted insects.

The National Academy of Sciences estimates that homeowners utilize 10 times the amount of fertilizer and pesticides per acre of lawn and landscape than do farmers.

In 2001, the Environmental Protection Agency completed a nationwide survey of pesticides in wells that provide drinking water. It showed that more than half of the 94,000 community water system wells and rural wells tested contained nitrates from fertilizer. Nearly 15 percent of residential wells contained lawn pesticides.

A Cornell University study led by Dr. David Pimentel concluded that 99.5 percent of pesticides do not hit the target pest when applied. The bulk of the pesticide hits or drifts to non-targeted plants, animals, water and soil.

The chemical mostly commonly used for grub control in lawns, known as imidacloprid, has been blamed for Colony Collapse Disorder in bees in France, Germany, Israel and many other nations. Many scientists and beekeepers in the U.S. have now reached the same conclusion.


For years, the biggest limiting factor in lawn care was price; organics was typically 20 to 100 percent more expensive on action. These days, with the rising price of synthetic products tied to the fuel index, as well as the lowering cost of many organic products, the playing field has tipped in favor of organics — especially over time.


The New York Board of Pesticide Control estimates that 8 of 10 homeowners do NOT fully read the label on pesticide containers.

Dozens of health care organizations, including the Canadian Cancer Society, the Ontario College of Family Physicans and the Canadian Association of Physcians for the Environment, all endorse the Canadian bans on lawn pesticides.

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Bee Evidence Builds . . . The Government Sleeps . . . And YOU Need to Take Action

Will you help?

It’s been five years since SafeLawns blew the whistle on the fact that a group of pesticides was responsible for the sudden die-off of bees known as colony collapse disorder. We were threatened with lawsuits and endured a smear campaign, but ultimately our bee story has been picked up by thousands of other media outlets.

It’s been a year since America’s top bee scientist finally agreed with us and all the other organizations that had reached the conclusion that these pesticides — synthetic nicotines known as imidacloprid and clothianidin — were killing bees. This was the “smoking gun” research that SHOULD have compelled our government to finally take action to protect the bees once and for all.

But nothing. Several films have been produced to draw attention to the matter. Bee keepers have visited Washington, D.C., to beg the Environmental Protection Agency and the United States Department of Agriculture to take action. But still nothing.

Most recently on Jan. 3 a new study out of Purdue University signed, sealed and delivered the bee science. In lay terms, the scientists found that bees get poisoned: 1) when the synthetic pesticides are applied to fields and lawns; 2) when the pesticides wind up in the pollen of dandelions and other flowers in and around the fields and lawns; and 3) when bees drink water contaminated by pesticides. In other words, if the pesticides are applied, the bees will find them.

The national pesticide group Beyond Pesticides is trying to get the word out about this new study. Mother Jones and its excellent environmental writer, Tom Philpott, is also staying on top of the case: Meanwhile, as Philpott reports, the manufacturer of these pesticides, Bayer, continues to accumulate record sales.

This comes down to the health of our food system and planet vs. the health of Bayer’s bottom line. Five years ago our first headline asked: “Is Bayer Killing the Bees?” The answer has proven to be yes.

The government is still sitting idly by . . . but we can’t let it.

In this, a campaign year, ask all your elected officials if they understand colony collapse disorder and the fact that bees are necessary for at least a third of the meals we consume. Take a few minutes of your own time to send a comment to this link:!submitComment;D=EPA-HQ-OPP-2011-0865-0001.

Better still, contact EPA’s Jim Jones at or call him at 1-202-564-2902 to demand that the agency bans synthetic nicotine pesticides — just like they did years ago in France, Germany and several other countries. If enough of you call or email, you will get noticed.

You can make a difference.

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