The issue of whether to use pesticides on Verona’s athletic fields has not yet been resolved.
So the council has agreed to try an experiment – use pesticides on one field, use only organic treatment on another, and leave a third field as the control to measure against the others.
Over the course of the year they will measure the results, said Township Manager Joseph Martin. The council will also look into hiring a third-party expert to assess the results of each of the three fields.
The decision, which was made on Tuesday night, is the latest on the issue of using pesticides on local athletic fields, an issue the township has been grappling with for months.
Local parents and children have to urge the council to make the switch to all-organic turf fields, citing the harmful chemicals pesticides effect on athlete’s skin and lungs.
Martin said on Tuesday he has in other counties treated organically and found the results “greatly disappointing.” He said the township will rely on the scientific results of the experiment – not anecdotal information – to make its decision.
“I have been dealing with public policy issues for 40 years and have come to learn that if you make policy decisions based only on anecdotal evidence it usually is not the best decision,” Martin said. “Analysis and data are the preferred approach.”
Parents have said they worry about their children playing sports on pesticide-treated fields and ingesting or getting potentially harmful chemicals on their skin. Residents told the council they did not want their children to be used as “guinea pigs.”
“I'd rather my children run through a field of weeds than a field full of chemicals,” said resident Jean Caggiano. “Children roll in it, it goes into their skin, they rub their eyes. I think locking the fields or putting signs up won't matter. After 72 hours the chemicals are still there, they don't dissipate. They are in there every day, every month, all year.”
Parents also said they want better notification when the township chemically treats the fields and Councilman Kevin Ryan agreed, after seeing residents go onto the track at H.B. Whitehorn Middle School, though a warning sign was posted.
“There was a sign about the size of an 8 by 11 piece of paper advising that these chemicals were placed on the field and that people should stay off of them,” said Ryan. “These were rather potent chemicals that were placed on the field and the signage was a joke.”
“If you bent down and get a magnifying glass, you can read the different chemicals that were put on there,” he said
Martin said the Verona Board of Education website reported when the fields were to be treated and Verona Director of Community Services, Jim Cunningham sent out emails informing sports groups a week in advance before the pesticides were applied.
However, many parents said they were unaware of the pesticide treatments that were done over Labor Day weekend.
At minimum Ryan would like to see larger notifications when pesticides are applied. He also suggested sending out pesticide treatment alerts on the NIXLE system, an alert system that sends police, weather and traffic advisories directly to the smartphone of any subscriber.
The pesticide treatments have been completed until December, said Martin.
“The paramount issue is the safety of our residents, particularly our youngsters,” said Deputy Mayor Bob Manley. “We are on top of it, we are concerned and we will do our absolute best to see that right is done throughout.”