ALBANY — It’s Roundup time again on the old Gill Tract and Albany parents are riding herd on UC Berkeley.
Tuesday morning, with 24-hours notice to the community, the university sprayed the herbicide Roundup (otherwise known by its chemical name, glyphosate) on the Gill Tract, the 15 acres or so on which UC Berkeley’s College of Natural Resources grows experimental crops. The tract is at Buchanan and Jackson streets in southwest Albany. Just across Jackson is Oceanview Elementary School. Albany Village, family housing for university students, is nearby.
“They sprayed when the children were on the playground,” said Dorothea Dorenz, mother of a child who attends the K-5 grade school.
Parents, who banned together under the name Albany Coalition for Environmental Health, have tried for two years to get the university to stop spraying. They have even offered to hand weed.
Dorenz points out that “Albany schools and parks do not use Roundup.” And the city of Berkeley and its schools have a similar policy.
Experts appear to disagree on the toxicity of the product, which is sold in local hardware stores.
“Although glyphosate is not in the highest toxicity category for acute poisoning, it is a toxic formulation containing a mixture of other ingredients that can increase its potential toxicity,” said Dr. Marion Moses. director of the San Francisco-based Pesticide Education Center wrote last year.
“Since children are more susceptible to toxic exposures than adults because of their larger skin surface for their size, a more rapid respiratory rate, and less mature immune and detoxification systems, we know they require greater protections,” she added.
Quoting from the fall, 1998 Journal of Pesticide Reform, Albany Coalition for Environmental Health member Ellen Toomey wrote the university: “ Roundup is the third largest cause of pesticide-related illness in California, the most common cause of illness among landscape workers, and adds to air, soil and water pollution.”
University experts sharply disagree, said Irene Hegarty, UC Berkeley director of community relations. “It’s not an extremely harmful substance. It dissipates in the soil,” she said. The College of Natural Resources believes that there is no danger to the children, she said.
“Studies by the Extension Toxicology Network, a coalition of universities in five states that conducts independent research on pesticides and herbicides have found that Roundup has few if any toxic effects unless exceedingly large quantities are consumed,” says a statement from Hegarty’s office.
Hegarty said the reason that the cities and schools don’t use Roundup resulted, not from scientific study, but from public concern.
She agreed with the parents in a couple of areas, however: “We need to tighten up our noticing procedures,” she said. Parents had been promised a 48-hour notice of spraying. Hegarty noted that she had not received notice of the spraying. “The college is going to be in communication with the school district and the site,” she said.
Also, Hegarty said she plans to talk to the university about spraying early in the morning or late in the day when children are not at school.
That won’t be enough to satisfy Dorenz and other members of her organization. They point to a petition sent to the university last year signed by 350 people: “We demand that the University of California at Berkeley discontinue use immediately and refrain from using pesticides and herbicides from now on...” the petition said in part.
The university has responded by minimizing its use of the chemical and spraying it close to the ground on windless days. It uses black plastic and other means to reduce the growth of weeds, Hegarty said.
Still, despite condemnation of the spraying by Congresswoman Barbara Lee, the Albany PTA Council, the Sierra Club, Pesticide Education Center, Californians for Pesticide Reform, Pesticide Watch, and Architects Designers Planners for Social Responsibility, the university continues its spray program.