You can still legally use toxic chemicals to keep your lawns green — but now the city officially would rather that you not.
Such was one of the decisions of the Board of Alders on Tuesday night, when it voted unanimously during a regular meeting at City Hall to approve a resolution in support of the voluntary non-use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers on lawns and gardens in New Haven.
The nonbinding resolution recommends that residents first consider the health and environmental consequences of such actions with the hope that more people will choose safer lawn care alternatives instead.
The resolution, which was drafted by the city’s Environmental Advisory Council and championed by Morris Cove Alder and City Services and Environmental Policy (CSEP) Committee Chair Sal DeCola, is not compulsory and does not include any threat of fines. It does offer an impassioned and detailed argument, now formally endorsed by the city, for why residents should recognize and act on just how dangerous chemical lawn treatments can be.
“When activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken,” the resolution reads.
It goes on to assert that lawn pesticides are known to contaminate soil, plant life, groundwater, rivers, and wells; that pesticides kill beneficial insects that limit unwanted pests; and that increasing amounts of Nitrogen from Nitrogen-based fertilizers kill off fish and plant life in the Long Island Sound, and also contribute to the greenhouse effect which results in global warming.
“While we realize that human activities may involve hazards,” the resolution reads, “people must proceed more carefully than has been the case in recent history.”
During his endorsement of the resolution before the board, DeCola drew attention to a new educational pamphlet that he and the advisory council put together to help spread the word about the dangers of pesticide poisoning and the availability of safe pesticide alternatives.
The pamphlet, entitled “Green Haven: How To Achieve Green Lawns With Green Products,” consolidates a variety of information about pesticides gathered from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP).
It offers lists of common side-effects from short-term and long-term exposure to pesticides, ranging from headaches, dizziness, and nausea to birth defects, learning disabilities, and cancer.
The pamphlet also provides recommendations as to safe, natural pesticide alternatives, including growing plants like nasturtium, tansy, chive, rosemary, and petunias that organically repel insects, not overwatering plants, watering them only in the morning to avoid fungus, and hand pulling weeds or using spot sprays with natural lawn products.
“In the end, it [not using pesticides] is a little thing that makes a huge difference,” DeCola told his fellow alders. “I hope that we can all make a few small steps towards a green haven.”
After the meeting, Environmental Advisory Council Chair Laura Cahn celebrated the passage of the resolution.
“It sends a message that we should be responsible citizens,” she said. “And that we should avoid putting poisons into our green spaces.”
She flipped through a manila folder she had brought that contained dozens of pages of reports filed by Yale University with DEEP over the past few decades. Each document identified a different time that the university had lawfully used a commercial pesticide in the maintenance of its lawns, gardens, and athletic fields.
As a neighbor of Yale’s Westville athletic complexes, Cahn said that she and her family have had firsthand experience dealing with the smells and noxious side effects of pesticides.
“I monitor the rampant use of lawn chemicals in our city and hope the passage of this resolution will help put a stop to it,” Cahn told the Independent via email after the meeting. “I hope Yale will take a leadership role in educating everyone about how toxic these chemicals are and practice and teach organic methods for maintaining beautiful lawns, gardens, and athletic fields.”
All but one of the actionable items of the Board of Alders meeting agenda for the night were voted on and approved with little debate. The only item on the agenda that was not voted on was a resolution certifying that no amendment to the Yale Central/Science Campus Overall Parking Plan would be required for Yale University to begin development at 320 York St.
Yale is looking to convert the current Hall of Graduate Studies from a residential building to an instructional building without changing the building’s parking impact.
Alders Al Paolillo and Tyisha Walker said that the board would vote on the resolution at their next monthly meeting. When asked why, the alders stated ... that the board would vote on the resolution at the board’s next monthly meeting. No other explanation was offered.