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Surprise Pesticide Spraying Irks Neighbors
by Brianne Bowen | Aug 21, 2013 3:45 pm
Posted to: Environment, Westville
The first sign was the smell: a stench so strong it gave 14-year-old Madeleine Cahn a headache. Three days and two rainstorms later, the odor remained. Madeleine’s mom, Laura Cahn, said she too felt a headache just walking the 15 feet from the back door of her home on Cleveland Road to her car.
Pesticides, they said. The Cahns and Jeanne Dubino, a neighbor on Cleveland Road, said Yale University sprayed herbicides, fungicides, and other pesticides in violation of an agreement they claim the university formed with neighbors of its athletic fields in Westville.
The women said they reached the agreement two years ago: Yale would notify residents before spraying and would try to reduce the use of the chemicals in general. This summer, the women said, the university failed to give notice. The presence of pesticides three weeks ago came as an unwelcome surprise. Grounds crews sprayed Lot D and other fields abutting the backyards of roughly 20 homes, including those of Cahn and Dubino, an environmental activist and English professor at Appalachian State University.
“What Laura and I saw as a victory two years ago ended up not being a victory,” Dubino said. Reaching the agreement had taken more than a year of activism and fact-finding as she and Cahn reached out to nearly 20 people, from aldermen to Yale officials to legislators like state Sen. Toni Harp and U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro. After smelling the pesticides three weeks ago, Dubino said, she worried that the women’s efforts had been in vain.
University spokesman Tom Conroy declined to talk about the agreement or to inquire with more knowledgeable officials about the pesticides used or their frequency of application. He confirmed that two Yale officials met with the women last week to discuss their complaints. The university has suspended the use of pesticides on the fields near Cleveland Street until an alternative plan can be developed, Conroy said. “I think I’ve said everything I can say to you,” he said when asked for more details.
Repeated calls to the officials – Eric Uscinski, the director of facilities, and Ed Mockus, an athletic director for facilities – were not returned. The official who struck the deal two years ago has long since left Yale, the women said.
Cahn said she worries that the use of pesticides will impact the health of local families, their pets, and their yards. She said she thinks many neighbors are unaware of the potential dangers.
During an interview on her clover and crabgrass-sprinkled lawn – she does not use pesticides or water the lawn, out of concern for the environment – Cahn pointed to a man and woman walking on Lot D with their fluffy white dog. The grass on the lot was pristine and green, like that of the other athletic fields seen from neighbors’ backyards.
“See,” she said. “They just don’t know.”
Cahn and Dubino said they worry that the chemicals sprayed next to their fences with Lot D will reach their own plants, including a more than 200-year-old sugar maple tree in Cahn’s backyard. “This tree is the reason we bought this house,” she said. Dubino said she worries about her dachshunds Poppy and Pandora, who like to roll around in the grass.
Dennis Schain, director of communications for the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), said Yale is not prohibited from treating its playing fields. He said that as far as the state knows, there is “nothing in the way of violations” in Yale’s choice and application of pesticides.
A DEEP compliance specialist, Jim Kenney, recently visited Lot D and attended the meeting between residents and Yale officials. A Democratic candidate for alderman in the neighborhood, Darryl Brackeen, also attended. Kenney plans a follow-up meeting with Yale to review their records and procedures. When Kenney tested samples from Cahn’s yard for pesticides two years ago, “he didn’t find anything,” Cahn acknowledged.
“We’re counting on Yale to stop what is maybe an acceptable practice but is not OK,” Cahn said. “It’s toxic. It’s poison. It’s got to go.”
The women said Yale told them which pesticides have been used on the lot. They include the herbicide Pro-Deuce, the fungicides Pegasus, Raven, and JetPhiter, and the pesticide Millenium Ultra – the one the Cahns said created the smell. All are Environmental Protection Agency-approved. Some have been shown to contaminate groundwater or harm fish and wildlife.
Cahn said she feels that the legality of the pesticides is beside the point. “Guns are legal. Tobacco is legal. Cigarettes are legal. And it’s not OK,” she said. “If you lived here and your kids were here, you wouldn’t spray.” Yale embraces sustainability on its campus by bringing local food into dining halls, operating an organic farm, and employing prominent environmental scholars, Cahn said, and she feels the use of pesticides is at odds with this environmentalism.
The women also called on Yale to give neighbors advance notice before spraying. That would allow them to bring their edible plants inside, close their windows, and make sure children and pets are out of the way, Cahn said.
“Yale is a leader in everything,” she said, “and Yale should take the lead in the sustainability of maintaining its grounds.”
Tags: Yale, Laura Cahn, Jeanne Dubno
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Yale needs to step up a little in regards to environmental stewardship. If the accusations of these neighbors are true, then it is a disgrace that an institution with such wealth and power can’t even learn how to keep its campus looking beautiful in the 21st Century. Maybe someone in the Forestry school can help Grounds and Administration figure this thing out.
That is pretty awful. I would not be happy if that happened to me. I wouldn’t care if it was all organic citrus spray, I’d want to know.
It would have taken an afternoon to flyer the houses that border Lot D, 15 minutes to record a robocall, and maybe 5 minutes to email the Alder for 26 (and heck, throw in 25 for old times’ sake).
I would be sorry for the grazing goats having to eat grass heavily trashed by broken glass left behind after tailgate parties. Those fields also represent a high risk of injury by a simple fall playing frisbee. No wonder why they are almost always empty instead of full with children and families being physically active.
this is very disturbing. yale can do so much better. there are many resources at yale that could contribute to a more sane, healthy and green policy regarding maintenance of yale’s outdoor areas, especially those in residential neighborhoods. for starters, how about involving folks from the yale school of forestry and environmental studies, yale’s urban resources initiative, and the yale office of sustainability in decisions about pesticide use? chemical pesticides pose a serious risk to people, animals, the environment. there is absolutely no excuse for the lack of a more enlightened approach to grounds maintenance at yale!!! a challenge to peter salovey in his new role as president: improve yale’s environmental stewardship!
Thanks to Laura, Jeanne, and Madeleine for calling attention to this problem. Yale students sell organic produce at the farmer’s market in Wooster Square on Saturdays, but as a local neighbor of Yale, I can’t grow organic in my own backyard. All those pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers seep into the ground and taint the whole area. I am happy to hear that Yale has suspended their use of pesticides for the time being, but it takes about three years for the ground to become clear of the toxic substances once they are no longer used. Let’s hope Yale will implement a long-term, ecologically sustainable plan that will prove them a leader in environmental grounds keeping. That’s what we should be able to expect from a world-class educational institution.
posted by: Anstress Farwell on August 22, 2013 2:05pm
This is a very unfortunate situation for the neighbors. While not a perfect solution, one thing neighbors can do is file for pre-notification of pesticide application with the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection:
Pre-Notification of Pesticide Application to Abutting Property
Information on the CT DEEP pesticide program, and pesticide exposures can be found at: http://ehhi.org/pesticides/pr_registry06.shtml
Goatville stands with its brothers and sisters in WV.
VOTES FOR GOATS ARE VOTES THAT SAY NOPE TO IVY DOPES!
Back in the oughts one of our most successful plays was for every teammate to grab the nearest cow patty at the snap and hurl it in the oppositions face….then body slam them with our leather helmets. You could hear the skulls cracking from 50 yards.
millennium ultra isn’t a pesticide, it’s a herbicide. it’s not clear what, if any, pesticides were sprayed.