Burbank Unified discontinues use of weed killer Roundup amid concerns of cancer risks

The Burbank Unified School District has banned the use of the weed killer Roundup, citing concerns from parents and residents about the chemical's cancer risks.
(Philippe Huguen / AFP/Getty Images)

Days after a judge ruled that the herbicide glyphosate could be classified by state officials as a cancer risk under Proposition 65, Burbank school officials announced they would no longer use the chemical’s brand name, Roundup, citing concerns from parents and residents.

School officials had previously relied on the Monsanto-manufactured product to spray weeds growing in between asphalt cracks, along fence lines and near shrubs, said Rick Nolette, chief facilities and information technology officer for Burbank Unified.

For the past several months — amid questions about the product’s safety, and concerns from local parents and residents — Burbank school officials began to consider other options, he said, and had started using an organic weed killer called Avenger.

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Unlike Roundup, organic products kill the leafy top portion of weeds, but are less likely to kill the roots, Nolette said.

His crews will now use a combination of “weed whacking” and spraying weeds with organic products.

“It’s going to be less effective,” he said. “My team is concerned it will appear we’re not doing our job well. It’s a fine line to walk — but safety first.”

Glendale Unified officials announced this week they would stop using Roundup.

In a letter Glendale Unified Supt. Winfred Roberson Jr. sent to employees and families on Tuesday, he said the district’s decision to no longer use products containing glyphosate was in response to residents’ concerns.

“The health and safety of GUSD students and employees is our top priority,” Roberson said. “If glyphosate is under consideration by the California EPA as being potentially hazardous, then we believe it is in our students’ and employees’ best interest to discontinue its use.”

Drew Sugars, a city of Burbank spokesman, said the city has been using Roundup for many years, and officials have decided to continue using the product until told otherwise.

“We always take the health of our residents and our employees very seriously, so we take appropriate action when we think there’s a reasonable threat to safety,” he said.

City employees who use Roundup are highly trained to use the chemical, which, if used properly, does not rise to a level of concern, Sugars said.

He added that the product is not used during windy or rainy days or if people are immediately nearby. When it is used, employees only use it in specific areas and make sure that the chemical has dried before leaving the site.

“Our employees who are out there applying it are at the forefront of contact with this pesticide,” Sugars said. “They deal with a much higher concentrated level, so we’re very clear that they understand the proper application.”

We are ... proud to be part of a community where such rapid response is given to the concerns of the community.

— Leigh Ann Kato

In Burbank, local parents began raising concerns about Roundup about a year ago, said Leigh Ann Kato, a Burbank parent.

She and others who belong to the group “Non Toxic Burbank” met with school officials to ask them to stop using the product.

They were working to collect signatures to submit a petition to Burbank Unified to halt the use of Roundup when school officials announced last Friday they would no longer use the product.

“We are, of course, thrilled at not only their agreement to discontinue the use of any glyphosate-based products, but proud to be part of a community where such rapid response is given to the concerns of the community,” Kato said in an email.

Kato said the group is currently working on a petition they’ll turn in to the Burbank Parks and Recreation Department next month, and also ask the City Council to follow suit.

In the city of Glendale, Roundup is still used but only for maintenance when needed by the city’s parks department, said city spokesman Tom Lorenz in an email.

“We only purchase and use the over-the-counter [Roundup] from local stores and nurseries like Home Depot,” Lorenz said. “Only the household-grade residents use at home, no commercial product is used.”

He added that if the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization, as well as other labs, reverse their determinations that glyphosate is “unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure,” the city would take appropriate precautions and/or stop using the product.

“From here, we will continue to follow the issue, as safety is of the utmost importance,” Lorenz said.

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