Roundup weedkiller debate: local schools, city go pesticide-free over safety concerns

19 Investigates: is glyphosate safe? We found conflicting information for consumers.

Debate over the use of Round Up intensifies

CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Some local parents are pushing for change, asking schools to ban pesticides as the debate over the safety of Roundup weedkiller intensifies.

Roundup is the world's most commonly used weedkiller.

A jury just ordered Bayer to pay more than $2 billion in damages to a California couple that claimed they got cancer from using the weedkiller for years.

19 News found some local schools and communities aren’t taking their chances.

Pesticides and schools

“I wouldn't use it at home, I wouldn't want my school to use it,” said Lauren Gribble-O'Hara.

Her son is a kindergarten student at Montessori Children’s School in Westlake.

“People who normally wouldn't be concerned about that are asking questions now, and I do think this is a great time for people to start making changes, especially towns that are using it and people that might want to consider alternatives,” Gribble-O’Hara said.

Teacher Gabby Johnson says they don't use any chemicals on plants outside, or in their greenhouse.

“To get the message out is really, really important. For us as a school it's a perfect opportunity and a perfect place to do so,” Johnson said.

Montessori Children's School in Westlake does not use pesticides.
Montessori Children's School in Westlake does not use pesticides. (Source: WOIO)

Lauren Egger is with the blog Healthy Mom Project.

She started a petition to get schools to stop spraying pesticides.

“We all just need to stop using it and use natural, safe products,” Egger said.

Egger also went to her local school district in Avon with other concerned parents, asking them to consider stopping using pesticides.

19 News confirmed this year, Avon Public Schools decided to stop using Roundup weedkiller.

A spokesperson says they are looking into organic alternatives.

“I just think there’s a lack of awareness, that’s the bottom line. I think when we bring it to mom’s attention, school district’s attention, I think over time they will listen,” Egger said.

Egger is focusing on children for a reason.

“Kids, pound for pound, they breathe in more air, drink more water, eat more food in proportion to their body weight. So they just are more susceptible to toxins,” she said.

19 News found other local schools stopped using pesticides following national headlines raising the alarm about possible health risks.

We reached out to schools districts across Northeast Ohio asking what weedkillers they use.

We learned some schools use a combination of organic and pesticide products, and others used a variety of pesticide brands.

Only one school said they use Roundup.

Most schools say they spray pesticides on school breaks, nights or weekends.

19 News found Ohio requires school districts to send prior notification of pesticide spraying to anyone who requests it, including parents and staff.

To find out what products some schools use, you can read this article.

Does glyphosate cause cancer?

The debate continues over whether glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup and other weedkillers, causes cancer.

19 News asked for an interview with the EPA, but we’re turned down.

Health Canada, the European Food Safety Authority and other regulatory agencies in several other countries reached the same conclusion.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, called glyphosate "probably carcinogenic” and California listed it as a carcinogen under Proposition 65.

This year, the University of Washington found exposure to glyphosate raises the risk of some cancers by as much as 41 percent.

More than 13,000 lawsuits have been filed against Monsanto, the maker of Roundup, alleging it causes cancer.

It's now owned by Bayer.

Bayer has now lost three trials in a row and the company says they’ll appeal.

You may find more dandelions in areas where pesticides are not sprayed.
You may find more dandelions in areas where pesticides are not sprayed. (Source: WOIO)

Pesticides and public land

Your family can be exposed to pesticides at parks, playgrounds and ball fields.

Companies who apply lawn pesticides in public areas must post at least one sign on the ground for at least 24 hours.

“You can tell where pesticides have been sprayed because you won't see a lot of dandelions, they'll all be dead and brown and wilt a little bit. It's not something you want kids around,” said Jordan Kibler.

We found Kibler at a park in South Euclid on a sunny day.

He works for a local daycare and was watching over children playing on the playground.

“They absolutely love the grass, they love the dandelions,” he said.

South Euclid banned pesticides like Roundup on city-owned land two years ago.

“Pesticides are on our food sources and stuff like that too. Ingesting those chemicals through your food can cause health issues down the road as well, so I really do feel like they should be banned to keep everyone healthy,” Kibler said.

South Euclid banned pesticides on public land.
South Euclid banned pesticides on public land. (Source: WOIO)

Cleveland Heights was the first city in the country to ban pesticides on public land in 1995.

19 News found Cuyahoga County has a local ordinance that prohibits the use of pesticides on county-owned land. They also have an Integrated Pest Management program.

“Pesticides are on our food sources and stuff like that too. Ingesting those chemicals through your food can cause health issues down the road as well, so I really do feel like they should be banned to keep everyone healthy,” said Georgine Welo, the mayor of South Euclid.

Welo worries about pesticides in our drinking water supply.

“When you think of the runoff that goes into these tributaries, and think in South Euclid we have four, and they go into Lake Erie, that’s not okay for me and I don’t think that’s okay for Northeast Ohio,” she said.

She hopes more cities will stop using pesticides, even if they cost a little more.

“There's no better bottom line than our health and welfare. And sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and you have to do the right thing. And that's what we're doing here in South Euclid, we're doing the right thing,” Welo said.

Keith Benjamin also works for the city.

He applied for a grant to help educate people in South Euclid about living pesticide free.

“I think it's better to be safe than sorry, and until we have complete scientific data from the other side saying that it is safe, we should promote sustainable, pesticide-free living as much as we can,” Benjamin said.

“There's nothing to lose, we have nothing to lose except a few weeds,” he said.

Pesticides explainer

We have received many questions from viewers since our story aired about herbicides and pesticides.

Pesticide active ingredients are described by the types of pests they control or how they work. People often use the term “pesticide” to refer only to insecticides, but it actually applies to all the substances used to control pests.

Well known pesticides (terms defined below) include:

insecticides,

herbicides,

rodenticides, and

fungicides.

Bayer’s response

Bayer disputes the studies that say Roundup causes cancer.

The company addresses its stance on the safety of glyphosate on its website.

19News spoke to a representative from Bayer over the phone.

He sent us three statements, saying in part:

“Bayer firmly believes that the science supports the safety of glyphosate-based herbicides, which are some of the most thoroughly studied products of their kind, and is pleased that the regulators tasked with assessing this extensive body of science continue to reach favorable conclusions.”

You can read Bayer’s statements below.

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