Pesticides and the hidden dangers in the food we eat are issues the Select Committee for Sustainability would like Westonites to know more about.
To that end, Deirdre Doran, chairman of the Sustainabilty Committee, and committee member Ellen McCormick, recently attended a forum at Yale University’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies titled Beyond Pesticides. They said the forum provided excellent information for them to share with the public.
At the forum there were workshops on organic gardening, pesticides, and genetic engineering.
“Our committee’s top priority is fostering a discussion of organic lawn care and pesticides,” said Ms. Doran. The committee is concerned about the pesticides and herbicides Westonites and the schools are using on their homes and lawns.
Because a good number of households employ lawn services, many people don’t know what chemicals are being spread and whether they are harmful to children or pets. “One thing we would like to get a handle on is the pesticides and chemicals being used in town,” Ms. Doran said. She said the committee is considering conducting a survey to find out.
She is also concerned about the chemicals poured onto the road by the state in the winter. “Weston is rocky, we have rivers and our homes have wells. What comes off the roads goes right into our aquifers,” she said.
One of the speakers at the forum was Dr. Jerome Silbert, a physician and executive director of the Watershed Partnership, Inc.
In a handout from Dr. Silbert, he discussed the harmful effects of pesticides on school playing fields. “Pesticides are toxic,” he wrote. He said studies show there are links with pesticides to some types of cancer, birth defects, reproductive defects and abnormal brain development.
Contrary to popular belief, he said, pesticides are not needed to maintain school lawns and playable athletic fields and numerous schools have successfully transitioned to pesticide-free field maintenance.
Ms. Doran said pesticide-free, organic lawn care has advantages, which she would like Weston to consider. In Branford, she said, an organic ballfield that was damaged in Tropical Storm Irene recovered quickly because it had a deep root system. “That wouldn’t have happened if it was a typical fertilized field,” she said.
Ms. McCormick noted that pesticides can be toxic to children and pets, and have also been linked to an abundance of nitrogen from storm water runoff into Long Island Sound. With too much nitrogen in the water, green algae blooms and fish can’t thrive.
Food we eat
Another speaker at the forum was Bill Duesing, executive director of the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) who discussed the dangers of GMOs in food. GMOs are “genetically modified organisms” that are made by forcing genes from one species into the DNA of a food crop or animal in order to introduce a new trait.
According to the American Academy of Environmental Medicine, the problem with food and meat that has been genetically altered is there can be serious health risks for people who eat it, including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, faulty insulin regulation and changes in organs and the gastrointestinal system.
The six major GMO crops on the market are soy, corn, canola, cotton, sugar beets and alfalfa. To avoid GMOs, consumers are advised to buy certified organic products.
Mr. Duesing, a member of Right to Know CT, advocated for the labeling of products that containing GMOs. This year, Connecticut could have been the first state to require that labeling but House Bill 5117 that would have mandated it was struck down before it could be passed.
Opponents of GMOs claimed that Connecticut and other states feared a lawsuit from corporate giant Monsanto, the world’s second largest producer of genetically engineered seed.
GMOs are banned or restricted in all 15 nations in the European Union as well as Japan, Australia, Brazil, Russia and China.
To raise awareness of these environmental issues, the committee held screenings at the Weston Public Library of notable films: Food, Inc., a look at the corporate controlled food industry; Dirt! The Movie, a substantial look at the ground and earth; Vanishing of the Bees, about colony collapse disorder and why honeybees are mysteriously disappearing; and The World According to Monsanto, an investigation into the corporation’s environmental practices.
The committee has also hosted several guest speakers, including sustainable food advocate Anna Lappé; Tom Wessels, a terrestrial ecologist and professor at Antioch University New England; a panel of local farmers, Annie Farrell, John Holbrook and Dina Brewster, who discussed their farming practices and ways to grow and raise food; and Mr. Duesing.
Ms. Doran said the committee plans to hold more discussions for the public. The films screened by the committee are available at the library.
One of the positive things being done to the environment in Weston, Ms. Doran said, is the recent planting of an organic community garden at Hurlbutt Elementary School. “The committee applauds the garden,” she said.
For more information about the Weston Sustainabilty Committee and links to articles on many topics such as agriculture, chemicals, clean water, food and farming, visit sustainableweston.org.