The Daily Iowan

Guest Opinion: Prioritize children’s health and environment over cosmetic lawn pesticides

The UI still uses cosmetic pesticide for 18 percent of its lawn care despite evidence that such pesticides cause harm to the environment and public health.

The+Schlee+Family+is+relaxing+in+the+Pentacrest+on+Tuesday%2C+June+27.+The+family+visited+Iowa+City+for+the+first+time+as+they+drove+to+Omaha%2C+Nebraska+from+Michigan.+%28Hieu+Nguyen%2FThe+Daily+Iowan%29
The Schlee Family is relaxing in the Pentacrest on Tuesday, June 27. The family visited Iowa City for the first time as they drove to Omaha, Nebraska from Michigan. (Hieu Nguyen/The Daily Iowan)

The Schlee Family is relaxing in the Pentacrest on Tuesday, June 27. The family visited Iowa City for the first time as they drove to Omaha, Nebraska from Michigan. (Hieu Nguyen/The Daily Iowan)

Hieu Nguyen

Hieu Nguyen

The Schlee Family is relaxing in the Pentacrest on Tuesday, June 27. The family visited Iowa City for the first time as they drove to Omaha, Nebraska from Michigan. (Hieu Nguyen/The Daily Iowan)


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Did you know that 82 percent of the turf maintained by University of Iowa Facilities Management is managed without pesticides? What if that number were 100 percent?

The UI Graduate & Professional Student Government encourages the UI to join Good Neighbor Iowa, a voluntary commitment by institutions to manage their lawns without cosmetic pesticides. Because of the priorities of a variety of campus stakeholders, the UI and UI Health Care currently use cosmetic pesticides on some of campus’ most highly trafficked lawns. And while pesticides are legal to use, they present a public and environmental health risk.

Some pesticides applied to lawns where people lounge and play are linked to birth defects, cancer, and poor mental development in children. Children living in households with pesticide use suffer elevated rates of leukemia and brain cancer.

Additionally, pesticides can wash off into waterways where they cause harm to wildlife, including negative effects on fish reproduction. Many of those waterways are also sources of drinking water. For example, last year, researchers found neonicotinoid pesticides in UI drinking water.

Despite evidence of harm, pesticides are periodically used on 18 percent of the turf maintained by UI Facilities Management Landscape Services. This includes areas commonly used for recreation, such as the Pentacrest.

Additionally, children play on lawns across campus. Being closer to the ground and with more hand-to-mouth behavior than adults, children are especially apt to ingest or breathe lawn pesticides, and their still-developing bodies are particularly at risk. The American Academy of Pediatrics states that children’s exposure to pesticides should be “limited as much as possible.” This is especially important at the Children’s Hospital, because pesticides can damage the body’s ability to fight infection.

We applaud Facilities Management’s work to decrease its pesticide use and carefully select and apply the pesticides it does use in order to minimize human and environmental harm. For example, it uses organic products in many areas and does not apply any pesticides between the Iowa River walkways and the riverbank. We encourage the entire campus community to support this move away from pesticides and to consider the tradeoffs that come with continued pesticide use on areas such as the Pentacrest, President’s Residence, Hancher, and Hubbard Park.

We should not value perfect lawn aesthetics more than human or environmental health. If we eliminated our use of cosmetic pesticides, admissions tours and campus publicity could promote this decision.

It is possible to have great lawns without cosmetic pesticides through best management practices such as regular mowing, aeration, and over-seeding. A few nongrass plants will not harm anyone, but pesticides can. The Iowa City School District, all New York K-12 schools, and all Iowa state parks have agreed with this belief and committed to managing their lawns without pesticides. In Canada, the concentration of lawn weed killers in nearby streams dropped by up to 80 percent after cosmetic pesticide use was banned.

Thus, while an occasional targeted use of pesticides for noxious weeds may be necessary, we strongly feel that the UI should continue to move away from synthetic pesticides. Good neighbors are those who ensure that Iowa can have healthy kids and healthy wildlife for many years to come. Let’s listen to the weight of evidence. Hawkeyes, let’s stop using cosmetic lawn pesticides.

Claire Muerdter

Graduate and Professional Student Government

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