New Canaan should fully disclose its use of pesticides to treat some athletic fields, establish a panel to regularly review the chemicals’ application here and seek public input on their use, according to Selectman Kathleen Corbet.
The town also should figure out how much it would cost to “[maintain] pesticide-free athletic fields by over-seeding them,” Corbet said in a draft memo to the Board of Selectmen, obtained by NewCanaanite.com through a public records request.
“Once further study and review of pesticide usage is engaged, consider public hearings, surveys, or other means by which community input is garnered,” the memo said. “In the last 12 years, new health studies, legislation, alternative products and applications have been developed and it is appropriate for the [t]own bodies and our community to be well-informed about the risks, benefits and limitations of pesticides and organic alternatives.”
The memo follows Corbet’s own questioning of why the town still uses pesticides on some playing fields serving youth while the chemicals are banned by state law on some others—namely, elementary and middle school property—and by local policy at New Canaan High School.
At Corbet’s prompting, First Selectman Kevin Moynihan indicated this month that it would review its use of pesticides.
Currently, playing fields at Waveny and Mead Parks, as well as Conner Field off of Farm Road, get a midsummer application of pesticides (Irwin Park hasn’t had fertilizer or pesticides applied since June 2019 due to budget cuts).
Parks officials have said it’s less expensive to use pesticides than to over-seed and maintain fields organically. Yet according to Corbet’s draft memo, if New Canaan wants all-natural athletic fields in the town’s parks “at an improved and consistent maintenance level of four seeding applications per year,” it would cost $83,480 gross increase and $68,457 net or a 3.9% increase in the total annual budget for the Parks Department, according to the memo.
Advocates for the use of pesticides on some athletic fields also say they’re safer for athletes because the ground is less clumpy.
“It goes without saying that the subject of pesticides generates a mix of views regarding health and safety—in many respects, it is the fine line between the condition of our children’s health and the condition of our athletic fields,” Corbet said in her memo.
It continued, “One of the first findings of this project review was that not very many people know about the use of pesticides in our [t]own and that there is a difference between the school athletic fields which are maintained pesticide-free (which is required by law) and the park athletic fields which have an application of pesticides annually in June. Indeed, to the visible eye the park athletic fields are unquestionably more attractive, greener and denser—and, some may argue, safer due to fewer uneven patches. The same school-aged children however—who are protected by the pesticide prohibition laws on school fields—are utilizing the fields in our parks, albeit with a considerably lesser amount of pesticides than had been applied over previous years.”
Though Corbet cited and referred to her draft memo during Tuesday’s selectmen meeting, the elected body did not discuss its contents. A final version was sent to the Board in the afternoon. The memo appears to seek action from New Canaan’s elected legislative body, the Town Council.
In 2009, following a state law banning the use of pesticides on elementary and middle school grounds, the Town Council resolved to form a committee to meet annually and review the status of athletic fields in New Canaan. Corbet in the memo calls for the establishment of a standing Town Council committee for an annual review of “legislation, health effects, fields status, risks/benefits of pesticide usage, logistical use of the fields by K-8 students, and a study of how other [t]owns in [Connecticut] manage pesticide usage in municipal athletic fields.”
Currently, the relevant page on New Canaan’s municipal website says only that “the Parks Department maintains all Town parks and school grounds throughout the Town. This includes athletic field maintenance, leaf pickup and snow removal.”
Corbet called for full disclosure regarding pesticides.
“At a minimum, unless a pesticide free policy is adopted for all athletic fields, public disclosure about the use of pesticides on the natural grass athletic fields is recommended,” she said.