Pool re-opens, controversy goes on
- Published: July 4, 2013
It was hot and humid last weekend and many villagers and area residents, as is their habit, went to cool off at the Gaunt Park pool. Things were different than usual, since Village workers had cordoned off the grassy areas with an orange plastic fence following the June 12 overuse of a herbicide on the grass, so pool-goers squeezed onto the cement around the edge. But though business was slow on Friday and Saturday, it had picked up on Sunday, according to lifeguards.
Julane Chaney had brought her grandson, who was visiting from Springfield, along with his friend. She had kept up with the controversy following the herbicide use the week before, but felt confident now that the water test showed no contaminants.
“I’m not worried,” she said. “The grass is fenced in.”
Chris and Barb Jervis of Xenia, who regularly come to the Yellow Springs pool and read about the herbicide mishap in the paper, were also satisfied that the Village was taking necessary precautions.
“It’s a good thing they’re concerned,” Chris said. “They’re being judicious.”
The pool was closed on Friday, June 14, two days after the herbicide Escalade 2 was used to combat clover in an attempt to eradicate bees. After it was discovered on June 14 that the herbicide had been used undiluted at a strength far greater than recommended, water and soil tests were sent to an area lab. When the water test came back with no contaminants detected, and the soil test with trace amounts below the level considered safe for humans, the Greene County Combined Health District pronounced the pool safe for use (see sidebar at right) and Village Council announced at a special meeting last Thursday that the pool would re-open the next day.
Village Council will decide at its July 1 meeting when to remove the fence around the grassy area where the herbicide was applied, according to President Judith Hempfling this week.
The Village should not move too quickly in removing the fence, according to Green Environmental Coalition head Vickie Hennessy this week. Because the main chemical in the herbicide has a half-life of one to 14 days depending on the type of soil, it will have decomposed in the soil within a month after application. Hennessy encourages Council to keep the fence up until that time.
“We should always err on the side of safety for residents,” she said.
However, Hennessy also emphasized that the Village needs to look critically at why the herbicide was applied and the process following application, which raised concerns for many villagers.
“This is a serious incident,” she said. “It should be a wake-up call to the Village.”
Many villagers’ concerns were raised at Council’s special meeting last Thursday, the second special meeting of the week around the herbicide issue. The meeting was standing room only. Manager Curliss was absent, as she was out of town at a family wedding.
“The overuse of herbicides is a serious issue nationally,” Nadia Malarkey, a local landscape designer. “Why would we as a village accept applying to the ground something so poisonous that the person who applies it has to wear special protective clothing?”
Malarkey also questioned where the GCCHD, which deemed the pool safe, was getting its scientific information.
Several villagers suggested re-sodding the pool “for peace of mind,” according to Jen Berman. And Eve Fleck stated, “We need to remove the poisoned soil.”
Former villager Amy Wells, who said that she had contracted a skin rash following a pool visit, emphasized the need for accountability.
“We need to know who did it,” she said.
But according to Carole Cobbs, not the Village staff but the person who oversees the staff should be held accountable.
“If anyone should be taken to task, it should be the Village manager. The buck stops there,” she said.
A neighbor of the pool, Ruth Hoff said that her family smelled a strong chemical smell a block and a half away, and her husband had severe stomach pains.
“I’m grateful for the moratorium,” she said, referring to Council’s decision to temporarily suspend all spraying of herbicides until making a policy on the issue. “I’d advocate to make it permanent.”
One who was ready for the pool to open was Deb Zendlovitz, who emphasized that swimming pools are already less than clean, and that villagers may be overreacting to the herbicide issue.
“Pools are yucky. Kids pee in them,” she said. “When am I comfortable going back into the pool? Tomorrow!”
In an introductory statement, Council Vice President Lori Askeland read a summary of Village officials’ actions since becoming aware of the herbicide overuse on June 15. On Tuesday, June 18, an Ohio Department of Agriculture inspector, along with Greene County Combined Health District Environmental Health Director Deb Leopold, Curliss and Askeland inspected plants and trees around the pool for signs of contamination, and found only a few affected plants, which were those nearest the grass line. And on Tuesday afternoon Askeland, Curliss, Solicitor Chris Conard and Leopold had a conference call with several employees of the Ohio Department of Health, including their lead toxicologist.
“Eight or nine high-level people from the ODH said they do not regard this as a serious health crisis,” Askeland said.
Overall, Askeland said, while she remained concerned about the incident, “I did feel basically reassured.”
According to Solicitor Conard, while the first part of the herbicide incident is obtaining information to address health concerns and getting that information out to the public, the second part is an internal investigation to determine what happened, and the third is to “put in place processes to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
More on process
This week, Curliss responded to some of the concerns raised about the process surrounding the herbicide overuse.
Because the Village solicitor is conducting an internal investigation into the incident, it is not appropriate for parks crew head Jason Hamby to speak to the press about how and why the spraying took place, Curliss said. However, Curliss repeated that she was unaware that the crew was planning to spray.
“I had no idea,” she said. “It was my understanding that there was a long-standing no-spray policy.”
Immediately alerted by a villager who was concerned about the strong smell after the spraying, Curliss went to the pool on Wednesday morning before it opened to the public. The smell was strong, she said, but not unusually so. The Escalade 2 label indicated that the product was safe for humans once it had dried, and she and the parks crew made sure the grass was dry before the pool opened to the public.
Over the next two days, at least three people knowledgeable about the pool alerted Curliss to their concerns, including Council member Rick Walkey, who spoke to Curliss on Wednesday evening after the herbicide was sprayed.
“The concerns I heard were that it smelled bad and you could taste something in the water,” she said. However, she received no reports of health problems, and knew that the chemical 2,4-D did have a strong odor to begin with. “You can smell it in the aisle at Lowes,” Curliss said.
“I didn’t have any facts that there was a health hazard,” she said. “You don’t close a pool over smells.”
On Friday morning, Curliss was asked to close the pool due to Council members’ concerns.
At this point, Curliss met with the parks crew and discovered that the herbicide had been applied undiluted, at a strength far above that recommended.
Curliss spent the rest of that day gathering information about the possible health hazards associated with the herbicide misuse, pulling in Police Chief Tony Pettiford to help make calls. The two contacted the Miami Township Fire Rescue squad, a Dayton area hazardous materials expert, the product manufacturer, the Greene County health district and attempted to make contact with the Ohio Department of Agriculture, Curliss said, in order to learn possible health effects. She also asked Water Superintendent Joe Bates to take water and soil samples to Belmont Labs in Englewood for testing.
Overall, she said, the experts consulted indicated that even with the herbicide overuse, there should be no health problems.
“The answers we were getting were favorable.”
At about 4 p.m. Friday, the Village sent a press release closing the pool, which Curliss wrote. Police and pool staff alerted those at the pool that they needed to leave, and posted the Village press statement prominently. According to Dayton Pool Management head Jeff Blume this week, his workers relayed the information on the press statement to swimmers and those who came to the pool.
However, while the statement said the pool was closing due to herbicide use, it did not mention the substantial overuse that had been discovered earlier that day. She didn’t notify the community of the herbicide overuse because she did not yet have all the information, Curliss said.
“At that point we didn’t know what it meant,” she said. “Providing information without saying what it means is not responsible.”
While Curliss also did not notify Council members that day about the herbicide overuse, she did notify the Village solicitor later in the day and assumed he was notifying Council members. The solicitor notified Council members about the situation early the next morning, on Saturday, June 15. Hempfling was working and did not receive her email until later that afternoon. When she did, she contacted the solicitor and called the special meeting that Council held the following morning, Sunday, June 16.