Thursday, October 8, 2009

Safe schools

I often joke about being the crazy weed lady, but in the last 24 hours I have really felt like one, a peel-me-off-the-ceiling nutcase, angry and frustrated and inarticulate. 2,4-D will be applied at my daughters' school this weekend.

This weekend is fall break, and apparently the timing (kids out of school for an extra 24 hours) and the urgent necessity of destroying clover have driven the groundskeeper to what, supposedly, has been an once-annual lawn herbicide application. Bees, evil hymenopterans, may indeed enjoy clover - but has anyone ever proved that kids playing on fields with clover were more likely to get stung?

And why should my head be spinning out of control? I can't even articulate the possibilities succinctly, but Beyond Pesticides offers a good start.

Without website links, I'd love to be articulate enough so that every parent who called the grounds department today wouldn't have felt so lost, when the very reasonable-sounding manager answered their questions. I'd love to be able to say in a single sentence why it is that the National Pesticide Database doesn't - and can't - "prove" the safety of any herbicide, especially this one. I believe science can be understood by anyone, and I teach my classes with that belief firmly in mind, but I can't do it in a day, or a few emails.

No matter how persuasive I think I am, no matter how calm I can try to make my strained voice, no matter how many wonderful parents tried today to express their concerns to the district, in this country I am left with this one reality: 2,4-D, legally, is innocent until proven guilty.

This is a great principle for humans. Our justice system fails most dramatically when it breaches this ideal for individuals, whose actions and innocence must be assumed even while the grand jury gathers evidence. I'm even willing to grant this principle to herbicide company employees, golf course managers, and the landscapers who will apply herbicides this weekend, because each human, at the most basic level, is a creature of nature, made by God or Goddess or conception or whatever we believe.

But this principle can't apply to the works of our hands. Over a year ago now, I built a chicken coop. I should have assumed it was flawed, until I tested it and determined it safe - I didn't do that, and the chickens were killed by a fox who simply gnawed the edge of the door off its hook. Product testers and crash test dummies are proof of the wisdom assuming human inventions to have weaknesses, until we prove otherwise. Herbicides, thanks to Rachel Carson and - oddly enough - Richard Nixon, *are* tested, but the paltry and short-term testing we do is such a poor substitute for proof that even the herbicide company scientists know that the correct language, at best, is "no health effects were detected."

But herbicides are still merely human products, and the law about innocence isn't designed to protect them. The interests of industry, Adam Smith wrote, are not in alignment with the interests of the people. Our children, my fellow parents wrote today, like to roll in the grass, and we want them to be safe. A bee, a clover, a dandelion, all are natural risks of sorts, fellow beings which might also be fairly enough determined innocent until shown to be otherwise. But the herbicide is not a natural risk, and it is therefore not a risk I have any interest in taking.

No comments: