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New Yorkers who visit their local parks have likely been exposed to glyphosate, the controversial, cancer-linked main ingredient in Monsanto's popular herbicide Roundup. But the data about herbicide and pesticide spraying projects across the city isn’t adding up.
In May 2015, in response to the concerns of community activists and public health advocates, the city government released a report, Pesticide Use by New York City Agencies in 2014, detailing the use of pesticides by city agencies in 2014. According to that report, the city applied glyphosate 2,748 times.
New York isn't the only major U.S. city that sprays glyphosate. San Francisco, Oakland, Portland, Seattle and Philadelphia also use the controversial herbicide. Photo credit: ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock
However, according to data procured by a Freedom of Information Law request, the city has revealed only 2,000 locations of glyphosate use in 2014. Pesticide information related to Central Park and other areas that are managed not by the city government, but by nonprofit conservancies has not been made public.
Several environmental and community activist groups, including Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir, Stop the Spray and members of the Coalition Against Poison Parks, are pursuing legal action to “force the City to reveal all locations where it has been used."
According to the parks report, the city applied pesticides 162,584 times in 2014. Various city agencies used nearly 8,000 gallons and more than 100,000 pounds of pesticides. Compared to 2013 levels, there was a 21 percent increase in insecticides by volume in 2014. What is of particular concern is the fact that, as the report states, "there was a 16 percent increase in herbicide use by volume, reversing a declining trend. Much of the change was due to a 9 percent increase in glyphosate products used.”
In March 2015, the World Health Organization, the UN's public health agency, said glyphosate, which is widely used on genetically modified crops such as corn and soybeans, likely causes cancer. In its report, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, WHO’s cancer arm, classified glyphosate as "probably carcinogenic to humans." The International Agency for Research on Cancer scientists found that the chemical "induced DNA and chromosomal damage in mammals and in human and animal cells in vitro."
They concluded that there was "sufficient evidence" that the herbicide causes cancer in non-human animals and "limited evidence" that it also causes non-Hodgkin lymphoma in humans. They said that the primary exposure to glyphosate comes through diet, home use—Roundup is a popular consumer gardening spray for people who are not informed about effective nontoxic methods—and living near sprayed areas.
A study published in February in the journal Environmental Health found that glyphosate persists in soil and water longer than previously thought and that human exposure to the chemical is rising. The chemical also has harmful effects on birds, fish and other wildlife.
While there was an increase in glyphosate use in New York City in 2014 as compared to 2013, the amount is much lower than it was in 2009, when, according to the Parks Department, it was used "to control invasive species in remote, often wooded, parkland.” The increase in glyphosate spraying in 2014 may have been due to “forest restoration work [which] was again done by Parks and their contractors, accounting for a substantial proportion of the city’s glyphosate use."
To help residents steer clear of the toxic areas, Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir, a performance-based activist group based in New York City, created a map charting the parks and public areas across the city that have been sprayed with glyphosate. The map was created using data provided by the New York City Parks Department.
New York isn't the only major U.S. city that sprays glyphosate. San Francisco, Oakland, Portland, Seattle and Philadelphia also use the controversial herbicide. Some big cities, like Chicago and Boulder, as well as smaller cities like Richmond, California and Takoma Park, Maryland, have instituted glyphosate bans.
The NYC Parks Department notes in its report that the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene “encourages the pursuit of alternative weed control methods that would reduce the need for these herbicides.” The city should follow its own advice and protect its citizens from this cancer-linked chemical.
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Colorado River Has Lost 1.5 Billion Tons of Water to the Climate Crisis, 'Severe Water Shortages' May Follow
California is headed toward drought conditions as February, typically the state's wettest month, passes without a drop of rain. The lack of rainfall could lead to early fire conditions. With no rain predicted for the next week, it looks as if this month will be only the second time in 170 years that San Francisco has not had a drop of rain in February, according to The Weather Channel.
The last time San Francisco did not record a drop of rain in February was in 1864 as the Civil War raged.
"This hasn't happened in 150 years or more," said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability to The Guardian. "There have even been a couple [of] wildfires – which is definitely not something you typically hear about in the middle of winter."
While the Pacific Northwest has flooded from heavy rains, the southern part of the West Coast has seen one storm after another pass by. Last week, the U.S. Drought Monitor said more Californians are in drought conditions than at any time during 2019, as The Weather Channel reported.
The dry winter has included areas that have seen devastating fires recently, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. If the dry conditions continue, those areas will once again have dangerously high fire conditions, according to The Mercury News.
"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.
Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.
Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.
"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.
NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.
As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.
"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.
The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.
"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."
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A warm day in winter used to be a rare and uplifting relief.
Now such days are routine reminders of climate change – all the more foreboding when they coincide with news stories about unprecedented wildfires, record-breaking "rain bombs," or the accelerated melting of polar ice sheets.
Where, then, can one turn for hope in these dark months of the year?