HARLEM, NY — Parks in Harlem were sprayed with the dangerous pesticide Roundup, which contains the potentially carcinogenic chemical glyphosate, much more often than parks in other Manhattan neighborhoods, according to a study released Wednesday.
Of the 50 Manhattan parks and playgrounds sprayed with the Monsanto-produced pesticide in 2018 only eight were located outside the Harlem neighborhood, according to records acquired by The Black Institute. The group released its study titled "Poison Parks" on Wednesday in support of a City Council bill to ban the use of toxic pesticides and herbicides in city parks.
"Millions of New Yorkers rely on our public parks. Children, seniors, working people, immigrants, and their pets use them every day, but most don't know the weed killer Roundup used in our parks is literally poisoning them. As our report shows, the neighborhoods affected are black and brown communities," Bertha Lewis, President of The Black Institute, said in a statement.
City Parks Department officials disputed the data used in The Black Institute's report, saying that the department's use of glyphosate has been declining since 2014. The parks department said that out of the 33 parks sprayed in Manhattan in 2018 only 11 were located in Harlem. Out of the 63 Manhattan parks sprayed in 2017, only 18 were in Harlem, parks officials said.
"We are committed to the health and safety of our workers and all New Yorkers. Since 2014, we have decreased use of this pesticide by nearly 70 percent and do not apply pesticides inside playgrounds or dog runs, or when the public is nearby. We continue to explore innovative options for pest control," a city Parks Department spokesperson said in a statement.
At the heart of The Black Institute's report is the concept of environmental racism — that communities of color are forced to "bear the brunt of poor environmental policy" and endure the harmful effects of toxic chemicals such as glyphosate at a much higher rate than white communities.
The New York City parks that were sprayed most often with glyphosate are located in black and brown communities, according to the study. Records obtained by the Black Institute showed that the normal glyphosate concentrations in city parks for 2017 and 2018 ranged between .5% and 3%, but parks used most often by people of color such as Queens' Idlewild Park had a concentration as high as 50%. Parks officials said that the department does not spray glyphosate at a higher concentration than 5%.
The Black Institute's report calls on New York City to immediately cease the use of toxic pesticides, to institute regulations to only use products registered with the federal Environmental Protection Agency with ingredients approved by the National Organics Standards Board and to create an official pest control measure that is subject to public monitoring and record-keeping.
City Councilmembers Ben Kallos and Carlina Rivera, who sponsor the bill seeking to ban the use of toxic pesticides in city parks, held a rally Thursday in support of the legislation. Despite the known dangers of glyphosate, city agencies sprayed the pesticide on 1,365 occasions in 2013, which accounted for half of the city's pesticide usage that year, according to city Department of Health studies.
The legislation would force city agencies to switch from synthetic pesticides to biological pesticides made from naturally occurring chemicals. These natural pesticides are generally accepted as less toxic and break down more rapidly, the bill's sponsors said. In addition to banning pesticides in city parks, the bill would also prohibit spraying pesticides within 75 feet of a body of water.