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Human error caused pool herbicide scare

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Click here to view a PDF of the full investigation report into the herbicide misapplication, taken from the Village Council information packet.

Misinformation, a lack of communication and poor judgement all contributed to the gross overuse of a herbicide at the Gaunt Park pool in June, according to an investigation report presented to Village Council at Monday night’s meeting.

“It’s safe to say, it was human error,” said Village Solicitor Chris Conard, who presented the report. Council members accepted it with little comment, but in upcoming months the newly-elected Council will address how the Village wants to proceed with herbicide use on public land. Following the June incident, Council passed a temporary ban on herbicide use by the Village.

The report also concludes that, even though Village employees lacked the proper licensing to do so, they did occasionally apply herbicides on public land over the past six years, although “generally not in public areas,” Conard said. At the time, Village employees were not aware that such licensing was required, but since the June incident, Streets and Parks and Recreation Superintendent Jason Hamby has received training and been licensed.

The June herbicide scare, which caused controversy and distress among many villagers, began on the morning of June 12 when two Village employees sprayed four gallons of Escalade 2, a common herbicide, onto the grassy area around the Gaunt Park pool. Because the herbicide was sprayed at full strength rather than diluted with water as intended, a strong smell lingered after the spraying. Over the next two days the Village received complaints about the smell and chemical taste of the water, but the pool remained open, as Hamby and then-Village Manager Laura Curliss believed the herbicide had been sprayed properly and that it was not harmful after drying. On June 14, when the overuse of the herbicide was discovered by Curliss and Hamby, the pool was closed and water and soil samples were taken for testing. The pool was reopened only after tests came back showing “no danger to public health,” according to the report.

The investigation was conducted by Conard, who interviewed six Village employees regarding the incident, and regarding the Village’s use of herbicide on public land. The investigation did not cover whether Curliss should have closed the pool earlier, a decision that was “a judgement call,” according to the report.

The misinformation contributing to the June incident took place in 2007, when then-Manager Eric Swansen told Hamby that the application of herbicides purchased over the counter do not require a license, according to the report. However, the report stated, “This is an erroneous statement of the law,” which does require licensed operators to apply chemicals in public areas.

When on June 10 the Village received a request from Jeff Bloom of Dayton Pool Management, the contractor hired this year to run the pool, to do something about the bees in the clover around the pool, Hamby contacted the Green Velvet Company to ask the best way to get rid of the clover, according to the report. He was told to apply an herbicide such as Escalade 2, and asked a crew member, Tanner Bussey, to purchase the pesticide and apply it to the pool.

However, according to the report, Hamby did not clearly communicate to Bussey that he needed to follow the directions on the product. According to the report, Hamby “understood that Mr. Bussey had prior experience spraying at his prior job and assumed that he would read the instructions and follow the instructions appropriately.”

However, according to Bussey, he read the product directions only to find out if he should wear protective clothing when applying the pesticide. Because “the rest of the material was extensive and in fine print” he did not read the rest of the directions. A second employee who assisted with the application, Troy Harding, also did not read the instructions on the product. According to the report, he wondered at the time “whether it was okay to do the spraying but he just did what he was told to do.”

After the overapplication was discovered, Curliss, acting at the request of Council members Judith Hempfling and Rick Walkey, closed the pool to the public. Water and soil test samples showed no potential danger to human health, the report states, and at the time Curliss emphasized that the Village received no reports of illness.

Ohio law, while requiring that those applying chemicals to public land be licensed, does not ban pesticide use. And while many villagers believed that the Village had a ban on pesticides on public land, there was no ordinance showing one. Several Village employees said they had never been told of a ban on pesticide use, and had used chemicals on occasion. However, that practice has stopped since Council’s temporary ban on herbicide/pesticide use on public land.

“How the Village moves forward will be dictated by how Council and the Village manager determine they want to deal with situations like this in the future,” Conard said.

In other Nov. 4 Council business:
• Council heard a presentation from a group of Wright State University students who are advocating that the Village make a language change in its laws relating to animals. Specifically, the group encouraged Council to add “guardian” to the current “owner” of an animal, so that the person would be a “guardian/owner,” or that it replace the term “owner” altogether, a semantics change that the young people believe could result in more humane treatment of animals. Twenty-three municipalities in the country and one in Ohio have already done so, the group said.

Council members were favorable to the presentation, with Lori Askeland stating that “there’s quite a bit of evidence that what you call something matters. It can make a difference in how people act.”

Council requested that staff bring legislation on the language change to its next meeting.

• Council approved the annual holiday resolution to distribute flour and sugar to village widows and widowers, as per the bequest of Wheeling Gaunt.

• Council approved a resolution that renews the Village’s dental insurance plan.

• Council approved a resolution that continues the Village practice of removing police officers’ pension contributions from their pay before tax is computed, giving the officers a slightly higher take home pay.

• Council approved a resolution renewing membership in the Ohio Muncipal League.

• Council approved the first reading of a 2014 temporary budget. The action was a housekeeping item required by the state, according to Interim Manager Kent Bristol, who stated the Village is required to submit a budget before the end of the year showing how funds will be provided to operate the Village in the first quarter of 2014. Council, which will take up next year’s budget after the newly elected Council is seated, must approve the official 2014 budget before the end of March 2014.

• Council’s next regular meeting is on Monday, Nov. 18, at 7 p.m. at Council chambers.


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