Iowa Public Health Association 

Managing Urban Grounds for Healthy Children

13 Sep 2018 4:51 PM | Anonymous member

By: Audrey Tran Lam, MPH and Kamyar Enshayan, PhD 

Center for Energy & Environmental Education, University of Northern Iowa

Public health triumphs often challenge the status quo. From John Snow and his pump handle, to banning leaded gasoline, to creating policies for smoke-free public spaces, important change improving the health of the public has often occurred in the face of what was considered normal.  

Urban pesticide application is no different.  An observational survey of residential areas in Cedar Falls, plus actual application data from parks and schools, revealed that at least 2,300 pounds of active ingredients of three weed killers (2,4-D, dicamba, and MCPP) were applied to this urban watershed in 2016. The results of the survey showed that there were entire neighborhoods near local streams where 100% of home lawns were treated.

The evidence of harm for early childhood exposure to pesticides is well documented. How is the public health community going to triumph over this entirely preventable, troublesome pattern of cosmetic pesticide use in schools, parks, and even higher education campuses?  None of the previous public health victories were accomplished based on science and evidence alone; it took citizen organizing, local leadership, and community action.

We have organized Good Neighbor Iowa and are in the second year of working with many Iowa communities, school grounds staff, park managers, child care facilities, and other large lawn managers. Lawns should be managed with child development in mind; it is possible and practical to manage lawns without weed killers. Local champions across the state are leading the transition away from cosmetic pesticide use across Iowa: 

  • City of Dubuque, Iowa City, Cedar Falls, and many other Iowa communities have pledged to manage 180 of parks using ecological approaches.
  • So far, 5,500 acres of mowed turf managed by churches, schools, parks, child care centers, and businesses have been pledged to be pesticide-free.
  • 3 Iowa school districts have committed to significant reduction in turf pesticide use and over 50 child care centers across Iowa have also pledged. As a result, over 19,500 children are not exposed to turf pesticides while at these institutions.  We are working with early childhood community across Iowa to improve environmental health in all early childhood settings.
  • Black Hawk and Linn county boards of health have officially endorsed Good Neighbor Iowa, advising against cosmetic use of pesticides.

Generations before us brought us lead-free paint, smoke-free work places, and removed DDT from our environment.  Adopting pesticide-free practices for lawns to protect child health is a picnic by comparison; the entire state of New York’s schools and multiple Canadian provinces have already done so by restricted cosmetic pesticide use.

We need your help to connect with community leaders across Iowa so that we can work with many more school districts, parks, and childcare centers. Together, we can begin to change our cultural attitude towards lawns--the same way we changed our attitude towards smoking.

For more information about Good Neighbor Iowa, or 319-273-7150

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