Charlotte County commissioners ordered a review of all pesticides used by the county after hearing a middle school teacher describe stopping a maintenance person from spraying weed killer outside her classroom.
Murdock Middle School teacher Samantha Gentrup told commissioners how she saw the worker and went outside to ask what he was spraying.
“Weeds,” he told her. He was not wearing protective equipment, she said.
She clarified and asked what chemical he was spraying. Glyphosate, he told her. That is the primary ingredient of Roundup. He agreed to take his work elsewhere on the campus.
Gentrup spoke in the public comment section of a commission meeting.
County staff had invited University of Florida’s agricultural extension Director Ralph Mitchell. He reiterated the EPA’s approval of the product and handed out reports to the board.
Glyphosate deactivates when it touches soil, Mitchell said, so it does not migrate off site.
Commissioner Christopher Constance ordered a commission workshop in the future on the topic.
Public Works Director John Elias said the county uses glyphosate in such places as sidewalk joints where weeds can trip up pedestrians. Weeds can also block water flow, leading to mosquito problems, he said.
Gentrup told the board she wants the schools to use natural products such as vinegar.
Mitchell said the extension service does not recommend home remedies that are not well studied.
What commissioners said:
“We are all focused on water quality. We need to be focused on human health as well, especially our children,” Commissioner Bill Truex said.
“Let’s look at everything,” Commissioner Christopher Constance said. “What are we using for herbicides? What are we doing for pest control? What are we doing for mosquito control?”
What the School Board said:
“I reviewed our policy. It appears we are very solid on environmental safety,” said School Board Chairman Bob Segur. “I would have to investigate further, but it appears to me that we’re in compliance with our policy.”
What county and state staff said:
“Weeds not only affect the aesthetic nature of the landscape,” said Ralph Mitchell, director of the University of Florida’s agricultural extension service in Charlotte County. “They also compete with the landscape claims for water, nutrients and space.”
“We’re constantly looking at alternative products,” said Charlotte County Public Works Director John Elias. “We’re constantly ensuring that we’re following labels.”
What the school teacher said:
“My concern is glyphosate,” said Murdock Middle School Teacher Samantha Gentrup, “and the fact that it’s being sprayed in places in our county where children play and spend time. My goal is to get it stopped.”
“It took decades of of public letters and speeches and urging to get our government to listen, at that time. Let’s not make that mistake this time around.”
Background on Roundup:
In May, a California jury awarded $2.08 billion to an elderly married couple as damages against the creator of Roundup, Monsanto, according to an article in Law360.com. The couple had used Roundup for years without protection, and both developed the same cancer of immune cells. This was just the latest and largest of many verdicts against Monsanto for this common weedkiller that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has deemed safe.
The most recent legal argument used in the Roundup trial is that the combination of chemicals in Roundup may be the problem, and is a possible explanation for why studies have found the main ingredient, gylphosate, to be safe. It’s called the Roundup cocktail.
What the public said on Facebook:
Dawn Piner: “Commissioners...great idea, please educate yourselves on these chemicals and BE the change that our community, our children, our environment needs! Herbicides add to the nutrient overload that promotes Cyanobacteria growth. Our lakes and ponds are testing positive, and people and pets are sick!”
Helen Ronco: “Thank you, Samantha Gentrup!”