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Huntington Beach to test organic pesticides in Central Park

Organic pesticides will be used on a portion of Huntington Beach’s Central Park as part of an experiment to test the possibility of eliminating potentially harmful synthetic chemicals in the city.

The City Council unanimously approved the move at its meeting Monday after several members of the public took the podium to support the idea.

The year-long pilot program submitted by Councilman Billy O’Connell calls for the city to use organic pesticides in the western section of Central Park.

Officials did not lay out a timetable for the program, and the cost wasn’t determined.

Pesticides are substances intended to control pests or weeds. City staff members said they planned to start the program with an organic herbicide called Avenger Weed Killer, but Councilwoman Jill Hardy asked that they consult with the city of Irvine before choosing a product.

Irvine and San Juan Capistrano are the only other cities in Orange County that have organic-first pesticide policies.

The Huntington Beach program is intended to investigate the use of organic pesticides and gauge the consequences.

The council also requested that staff conduct a three-month investigation into the possibility of expanding the program.

“I believe this is very important for our children,” O’Connell said.

Andi Kowal, head of Non-Toxic Huntington Beach, said children are particularly vulnerable to pesticides. The pilot program is a good start, she said, but the city can do better.

“We need to lighten our toxic load,” she said.

Kowal said she didn’t have local data on health effects of synthetic pesticides, but some people who attended Monday’s meeting said such chemicals may affect their children’s asthma or allergies.

All council members favored the proposal, though some wanted clarification of the details.

Councilman Patrick Brenden said he likes the idea of an organic program but was hoping for a more detailed analysis of the costs.

Kowal’s husband, Tim Kowal, a board member for community group Huntington Beach Tomorrow, said Huntington Beach can use Irvine as a model.

He said the costs of going organic should be considered but that council members can’t forget the potential health costs of toxic chemicals.

Several mothers showed up with their children to express gratitude for the program and their hope that the city will be free of toxic synthetic chemicals in the future.

Rachel Harris said her family regularly enjoys city parks but when her husband and boys play in the grass, they come in contact with toxic chemicals.

Whitney Wicke held her child in her arms as she told the council, “Please help protect our kids; you’re our voice.”

Gina Clayton-Tarvin, president of the Ocean View School District board of trustees, also voiced support for the pilot program, though she feels it doesn’t go far enough.

She said she hopes the city will go as far as Ocean View has in eliminating potentially harmful chemicals. The district recently stopped using the weed killer Roundup on school sites.

A judge ruled this year that California can require Roundup’s manufacturer, Monsanto, to label the product a possible cancer threat, though the company maintains that it poses no risk to people.

California regulators have said they relied on a finding by the France-based International Agency for Research on Cancer, which raised issues with Roundup's main ingredient, glyphosate, which has no color or smell.

The chemical is not restricted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which says it has “low toxicity.”

benjamin.brazil@latimes.com

Twitter:@benbrazilpilot

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