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Pool closed 2 days after herbicide application— Spraying sparks controversy

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Read more about the herbicide 2,4-D here.

Several villagers spoke passionately and heatedly about their frustrations and fears around the Wednesday, June 12, overuse of herbicides on the grass around the Gaunt Park pool at Village Council’s June 17 meeting. Most who spoke chastised the Village for using herbicides without warning the community, posting no signs that the spraying had taken place and keeping the pool open for two days before closing it last Friday, pending results of water and soil tests after it was discovered that the herbicide had been applied in a strength far greater than appropriate.

“The way this was handled was extremely irresponsible,” said Kate Hamilton. “Part of the reason we live in this town is that we think we’re all on the same page regarding the environment.”

As the head of the Green Environmental Coalition, Vickie Hennessy said she has fielded many questions and concerns about the incident.

“This is a serious thing that happened,” she said. “Why was the pool not closed for two days? When did you find out? How do we know it won’t happen again?’

Holly Hudson spoke of having used the pool, along with her young son, last Wednesday, when the smell of the chemical was overpowering, yet there were no signs telling villagers that the grass had just been sprayed.

“I don’t know what this means,” Hudson said about being exposed to the chemicals. “I don’t have symptoms now but how about three years down the road? It’s very scary.”

Council members stated that they shared villagers’ concerns.

“The staff and Council are very distressed that this occurred in the village and wish to rectify it as soon as possible,” President Judith Hempfling said. And while Council members wish they had become aware of the problem sooner, now that they are aware, they are intent on finding a solution, according to Gerry Simms.

“Rest assured that once Council found out, it’s become our number-one priority,” he said. “We’ll learn from it.”

According to Village Manager Laura Curliss, villagers do not have anything to fear.

“People shouldn’t needlessly be worried,” Curliss said, stating that she has been on the phone with various experts, including the Greene County health department, the product manufacturer, and a hazardous control expert, who all said that exposure to the herbicide, Escalade 2, should not be harmful. “We closed the pool in an overabundance of caution. There have been no reports of illness.”

Council will hold a special meeting on Thursday, June 20, at 7 p.m. to discuss the results of the water and soil testing, which will have come in by then. If the water test shows no contamination and the Greene County Combined Health District, which has jurisdiction over pools in the county, deems it to be safe, the pool will open Friday morning at 11 a.m.

Council also unanimously approved a resolution, proposed by Lori Askeland, that the Village immediately cease the spraying of herbicides and pesticides on Village-owned land.

Overall, according to Hempfling, the incident reflects poor judgement and communication on the part of Village staff.

“Nothing was done to protect the citizens at the pool,” Hempfling said. “ Extremely poor judgement was shown.” And because Council and the public were not immediately notified of either the initial spraying nor the discovery of the overuse of the herbicide, which was applied at full strength rather than diluted, “there was poor communication or no communication. People have the right to know.”

Villager Judy Woods, a regular pool user, urged the community to not jump to conclusions, and to be patient, saying that she worries that people will overreact by wanting to keep the pool closed.

“We have a safe pool,” Woods said, stating, “I’m afraid we’re becoming afraid of something that’s not that fearsome.”

What happened?

Early last Wednesday morning, members of the Village Parks and Street staff sprayed the herbicide Escalade 2 on the grass surrounding the Gaunt Park pool, over an area of about one third of an acre. The spraying was a yearly occurrence, according to Curliss, who spoke for Street Crew Leader Jason Hamby, in order to get rid of the clover in the grass that attracts bees. Curliss said she was not aware the spraying was taking place. While Hamby had been involved in similar spraying as a crew member, this was the first year that the crew had used Escalade 2. According to Jeff Blume of the Dayton Pool Management company, which is for the first time this year managing the local pool, he was not involved in discussions about spraying.

Hamby stated that he is not allowed to speak about the incident, and that Curliss is the official spokesperson.

According to Curliss, a local mother of a swim team member, whose practice Wednesday morning was canceled due to the spraying, was concerned and alerted Curliss, who immediately went to the pool to see what happened. She and Hamby were the first two people on the grass, and although the smell was strong, “it was not overwhelming.” The product label stated that the herbicide was safe for humans after it dried. The pool was opened to the public at 11 a.m., after the grass was deemed dry.

Over the next two days regular pool users became increasingly alarmed about the strong smell at the pool, and the chemical taste of the water, several villagers said. The grass appeared yellowish, according to Amy Scott, who was at the pool Wednesday with her children, so they sat on a picnic bench rather than the ground. Molly Lunde and her two small girls were making their first visit to the pool of the year, so the smell didn’t strike her as unusual. However, she did have a headache, which she said is unusual for her, for a day following her pool visit.

Council member Rick Walkey and his family are regular pool users, and Walkey and his wife, Ali Thomas, became concerned about the strong smell and chemical taste of the water. Thomas, who has worked with pesticides in the past, sent Curliss an email early Thursday morning expressing her concern over safety and asking Curliss to have the water tested. However, Curliss stated this week that between last Wednesday and Friday she was not aware that anything was wrong at the pool.

“I had no reason to think there was a problem,” she said.

Curliss did not contact Council members about the situation, although Hempfling also heard about it from pool-goers distressed over the smell. At the request of Hempfling and Walkey, Curliss met with the Parks crew Friday morning and discovered that the herbicide had been used full strength rather than diluted, with three to four gallons of the herbicide used instead of the pint that would have been the appropriate amount. Water and soil samples were sent for testing. However, Curliss did not notify Council members of the overuse of the herbicide, Hempfling later said.

On Friday Hempfling notified Walkey that the pool should be closed to the public. It was closed later that afternoon.

On Saturday afternoon, Council members were notified by Curliss about the misuse of the herbicide. At that point, Hempfling called a special meeting of Council for Sunday morning at 9 a.m. to alert the public and decide on next steps.

“I have a lot of grave concerns,” Walkey said at the meeting. Several villagers spoke against the pesticide use, including Nadia Malarkey, who warned Council of potential toxic effects of the herbicide.

At the meeting, Council requested that Village staff notify those who had come to the pool from last Wednesday to Friday to alert them to the overuse of the herbicide.

Laws broken?

At Council’s Monday meeting, several villagers expressed distress that pool-goers had no way to know that the grass would be sprayed, nor that it had been. Had they known, they said, they would have kept their children away.

According to Curliss, there was no need for signage because the label on the herbicide product indicated that the product was not harmful to humans after it dried, and when the pool opened that day at 11. a.m., the grass was dry.

However, the Village is required to follow the laws of the state regarding herbicide application, according to Jamie Haydinger of Nufarms, the Escalade 2 product manufacturer.

When Escalade 2, which is also approved for home use, is used by a public employee on public property, the Ohio Department of Agriculture requires that the user post signs notifying the public that the herbicide has been applied and cautioning residents to stay off the grass, according to ODA spokesperson Erica Hawkins in an interview on Tuesday. The signs should remain up for 24 hours.

The ODA also requires a municipal user to obtain a license to use the herbicide. According to Hawkins, the ODA was not aware whether the Village had obtained a license to apply it to public lands. In an interview this week, Curliss said that while Street Crew Head Hamby had taken a two-day environmental training, it was not clear that he had obtained a license.

Others at the Monday Council meeting stated that notifying pool-goers of the herbicide overuse did not go far enough, and that neighbors should be notified too. According to Ken Bode, who lives on Wright Street across from the pool, his young dog became very ill after being walked by the pool. Being notified of the spraying would have allowed him to give accurate information to his vet.

However, Curliss did not agree that the spraying might have contributed to the dog’s problem.

“We have to give out responsible information and not give out information on dangers that don’t exist,” she said.

Several villagers questioned why the Village had not followed an ordinance the Village passed years ago that banned the use of pesticides on public land. However, it’s not clear that there is such an ordinance, according to Lori Askeland, who said a 1992 ordinance on the issue simply requires the Village to follow state laws on notification. The ban on municipal pesticide use appears to have been a part of a Village Environmental Plan that was created in the mid-1990s by the Environmental Commission and presented to Council, according to Don Hollister, who was on Council at the time.

While Hollister said he hopes that Council takes this opportunity to pass a ban on pesticide use, he also encouraged villagers to be patient and appreciative of what’s working now that the herbicide mistake has been identified.

“It seems to me that under unfortunate circumstances our local government is doing its job,” he said.

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