City of Oakland Pesticide "Ban" Is A Sham:



Please send signed petitions to: Don't Spray California, 2399 E.14th Street #24, San Leandro, CA 94577

In 1997 the Oakland City Council unanimously voted in Resolution 73968 C.M.S., "adopting Integrated Pest Management Policies". This self-described "ban on pesticides", recognizes that pesticide use presents a hazard to people and the environment. However, the many exemptions to the ordinance renders the pesticide ban a meaningless sham, and endangers residents, workers, visitors, and the environment of the City of Oakland and surrounding areas.

1997 IPM Ordinance - Oakland's Pesticide "Ban"

While recognizing the health hazards of pesticides, one of the ordinance exemptions irrationally exempts pesticide use that is "required to preserve and/or protect human health and safety", according to "guidelines established by the Alameda County Health Agency". It is unclear what pesticide use could be "required", but both city and county health agencies are frequently involved in "fogging" of neighborhoods with insecticides for mosquitoes, for example, and routinely promote toxic chemical use on children to repel ticks, fleas, and mosquitoes.

The exemptions cover vast categories of pesticides, including pesticidal soaps, insect growth regulators, microbials, botanicals, synthetic pyrethroids, horticultural oils, insecticidal bait stations, the category 1 pesticide aluminum phosphide on sports fields, as well as swimming pool chemicals, disinfectants, and antimicrobials, and other undisclosed pesticides, including for "weed control", in other words herbicides, in various locations.

The exemptions also cover vast areas of the city, including "weed control" during construction of any new landscaping and ball fields, and around "selected" fire hydrants, as well as undisclosed pesticides at the Oakland Museum, municipal golf courses, putting and lawn bowling greens, sports fields, swimming pools, public streets and rights-of-way, and the Morcom Rose Garden (though herbicides are specifically not exempted at the latter). Many of the locations of pesticide use are unavoidable, and all present obstacles for equal access especially for many disabled people.

One of the most extensive of the exemptions to Oakland's pesticide ban allows the city's Public Works Agency (PWA) to conduct widespread pesticide applications throughout the city. According to a 2007 phone conversation with James Ryugo, 
Building Services Manager at the PWA, to whom neighbors are being referred when inquiring about the pesticide applications, the agency does not post schedules for when they spray because of weather unpredictability, but to get an idea of some of the areas under the agency's jurisdiction, these three documents outline some limited sort of "schedule" of "Hubs for Maintenance of Parks, Medians and Streetscapes" on the PWA website:

East Oakland Hubs for Maintenance of Parks, Medians and Streetscapes
North Oakland Hubs for Maintenance of Parks, Medians and Streetscapes

West Oakland Hubs for Maintenance of Parks, Medians and Streetscape

While limited warning signs are required before pesticide applications, in order to read them one is often already exposed to the pesticides. According to Mr. Ryugo, red signs are posted a day or two before application, smaller white signes are posted for a couple of days after, and blue/green dye is added to the chemical mix.
 Ryugo claimed that they don't spray when rain is in the forecast, but neighbors have reported seeing the dye wash into the storm drains during rain. He also vaguely specified that pesticide applications on city medians are being made between late Fall to early Spring, during rainy season.

PWA red notice near San Pablo and Alcatraz PWA red notice
Red notices before applications near San Pablo and Alcatraz
PWA white notice PWA white notice rain drenched PWA white notice Broadway and 27th
White notices after applications at Broadway and 27th

As witnessed on signs announcing such applications in our neighborhoods, two pesticides the PWA uses on medians, including those across from especially vulnerable sites such as Children's Hospital and the Sojourner Truth Manor senior home on Martin Luther King Jr. Way, are Roundup and Surflan, the dangers of which have been known since at least the 1990's.

Children's Hospital toxic median Sojourner Truth Manor toxic median
PWA's toxic medians endangering sick children and elders

Glyphosate, the active ingredient of Roundup, has been linked to cancers, reproductive harm, genetic damage, thyroid disorders, respiratory illnesses, and other ailments. Glyphosate contains POEA, a surfactant contaminated during manufacture by 1,4 dioxane. Metabolites and breakdown products of glyphosate include formaldehyde. Both 1,4 dioxane and formaldehyde are recognized as carcinogens under Proposition 65. In spite of manufacturer's claims to the contrary, glyphosate is mobile in soil, measurable up to 3 years after application, and spread by rain water runoff. It has been found in watersheds, groundwater, and even drinking water. Its manufacturer Monsanto has been sued and fined repeatedly for false claims about this and other products' safety, most notoriously Agent Orange.

Mr. Ryugo, when challenged by Oakland neighbors about the use of Roundup, included the following Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) in his correspondence to defend the agency's use of it. MSDS's are produced by the manufacturers of products, and predictably downplay the dangers of their products, including by lack of disclosure of so-called "inert" ingredients, which are protected by trade secret laws, but are frequently more toxic than the so-called "active" ingredient, and are specifically designed to act synergistically to increase the toxicity of the product.

Monsanto's MSDS for Roundup Pro sent to neighbors by Ryugo in August 2008

In March 2010 neighbors spotted a notification that the median on Telegraph and MacArthur will be sprayed by April 15. The notice specified that the product to be used is Ranger Pro, with blue dye. Perhaps in an effort to confuse those who expressed concern about the use of Roundup, including City Council member Jane Brunner, PWA switched products, though Ranger, like Roundup, continues to be a glyphosate product made by Monsanto.

MSDS for Ranger Pro

Label for Ranger Pro

For thorough toxicological profiles and more details about Roundup and other glyphosate products, produced by independent sources, not by the manufacturer of the poison, see:

What's Wrong With Roundup? Everything!

The other pesticide used by the PWA, oryzalin, the active ingredient of Surflan, is linked to reproductive harm, central nervous system depression, is a possible human carcinogen according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and is contaminated during manufacture by N nitrosodipropylamine (NDPA), a confirmed human carcinogen under Proposition 65. It is mobile in soil and has contaminated rivers, streams, and wells. Its manufacturer, Dow, another manufacturer of Agent Orange, has also been fined for false safety claims.

Surflan Toxicological Profile

Volunteers for the Public Works Agency's Keep Oakland Beautiful and Adopt-A-Spot program commit countless hours of labor to maintain public spaces in their neighborhoods, often to prevent use of chemicals. Instead volunteers are being exposed to toxic pesticide applications by the PWA on their adopted spots, putting them at grave risk of serious health problems, and volunteers have in fact already been injured.

In 2005 one volunteer found the city still supportive of his efforts, when he explained his approach to drought tolerant planting in this video:

"Frank Snapp - Plant Fascist"
(Don't worry, Frank is not really a fascist...)

In the Trenches with a Guerilla Gardener Article about Frank's work in Oakland Magazine April 2007

Guerilla Gardening as Alternative to Spraying of Urban Sites
by Frank, about how to do it yourself

Adopted median 40th and Shafter 40th and Shafter planting Frank at 40th and Shafter

In March 2007, however, Frank was injured when he discovered that his adopted median had been sprayed with Roundup. Waivers of liability, which volunteers have to sign to participate in the Adopt-A-Spot program, protect the city from being held accountable for poisoning volunteers:

Frank's Exposure Symptoms March 2007

Frank's Pesticide Alert to Local Listserves 2007

Meanwhile in another part of town, along the edge of Lake Merritt at Grand and Harrison, a neighbor also publicized concerns over the PWA pesticide applications endangering people and pets:

2007 Craig's List Post about Pesticide Applications at Lake Merritt

In June 2009 about 60 volunteers planted medians along 40th Street and Market, in a great show of force of how public spaces could and should be maintained:

Longfellow median greening 1 Longfellow median greening 2
Longfellow median greening 3 Longfellow median greening 4 Longfellow median greening 5

In November 2009, apparently uninspired by the recent example of volunteers greening the nearby median, the PWA continued its toxic actions and the 51st Street median got sprayed again, in spite of repeated requests from neighbors not to be exposed to pesticides on this median outside their homes. After
Ryugo's expressed "willingness" last year to discuss not spraying there, neighbors did not even receive a courtesy email to alert them that such "discussions" had apparently been fruitless.

PWA in action on 51st
PWA in action, spraying a median on 51st Street against the repeatedly expressed will of neighbors

Our Letter to Oakland City Council, Mayor Ron Dellums, City Attorney John Russo 2009
in response to continued spraying on 51st Street, includes toxicological profiles and previous communications from Oakland residents with Jim Ryugo and other city officials

In 2008 the City of Oakland Auditor launched a performance audit of the Public Works Agency. East Bay Pesticide Alert/Don't Spray California took the opportunity to protest the use of poisons by the PWA:

Our Letter to City Auditor Courtney Ruby 2008, urging that the Public Works exemption to the pesticide ban be revoked, includes previous correspondence with Jim Ryugo and toxicological profiles.

Instead of taking seriously our concerns and those of Oakland neighbors, as well as those implied in the original intent of the city's pesticide ordinance, about the dangers of pesticides, the office of the city auditor, together with the Matrix Consulting Group, released their audit report in April 2009, recommending increased pesticide use and eliminating people's jobs (see particularly recommendations 167 and 257).

Public Works Agency Performance Audit

The report also recommends that the city "pilot" test organic herbicides and mulches on vacant lots (see recommendation 258), but does not specify what precisely is meant with "organic". While this may sound promising, as we have found with many pesticides that are legally labeled "organic", they often include undisclosed synthetic "inerts", and whether of biological or laboratory origin, all ingredients may do damage to unintended targets (see for example Btk use in Ojai). Pesticides by definition are aimed to kill, and it is illegal to claim that any pesticide is safe.

Nontoxic alternatives exist for all pesticide use. The former pesticide applicator Steve Tvedten counsels individuals, businesses, and municipalities around the globe extensively in nontoxic alternatives to pesticides, and makes his book on the subject available at his website for free:

The Best Control 2, or what the poison "industry" does not want you to know - An Intelligent Pest Management Manual by Stephen Tvedten

"Weed control" can be easily accomplished by a combination of sheet mulching with layers of cardboard and wood chips, and diverse plantings, which nurtures, rather than destroys, the soil and organisms that keep it healthy. So-called "weeds" serve a purpose in nature. They volunteer where damaged soil cannot support any life except the hardiest. They signal a first step towards a return to healthy soil. Pesticides suppress natural processes, which are not being given their proper time to work. Other nontoxic options for more conventional "weeding", include hand-pulling, using a weed wrench, steam, or radiant heat weeder.

Radiant Heat Weeder wand Radiant Heat Weeder tip
Radiant heat weeder, wand and detail of heating plate

Radiant heat weeders are used in a similar fashion as the spray wands used by the PWA now. They do not require more labor, more strength, a license to use, nor doctor visits due to poisoning.

If the City of Oakland has funds for expensive chemicals and licensed pesticide applicators, it can certainly afford manual labor and volunteer coordinators.

Revoke all exemptions of City of Oakland Resolution 73968 C.M.S.!

Follow the examples of other California municipalities, such as Arcata and Fairfax, and institute a real pesticide ban!

Even the City of Berkeley's imperfect pesticide ordinance more closely resembles a ban, and it shows:

On Martin Luther King Jr. Way in Oakland, dead soil everywhere the eye can see...
...until the Berkeley border - like a line drawn in the sand between dead toxic dirt and lush green life

There is no safe use of pesticides.

People, pets, wildlife and biodiversity is threatened with exposure to pesticides which continues after any application has been completed. Pesticides translocate by vaporization, drift, movement into soil and water tables, getting washed down storm drains into the bay, getting tracked into homes and schools where kids and pets play on the floor or outdoors where pesticides have been applied on lawns or trees, drifting onto play equipment, and can cause poisoning via inhalation, ingestion, absorption.

Watch out for notification signs in your neighborhood, alert your neighbors of the danger, take back your streets by adopting medians, guerilla garden, organize resistance, protest, prevent applications.
It not only is our right, but our human duty to use our nonviolent strength to stop such poisoning.

How will you stop the poisonings of your family and neighborhood whether by city, state, or federal agencies, your landlords, or the neighbors you like?

Sign and distribute the petition to revoke the exemptions to Oakland's pesticide ban. But don't stop there.

Get creative. It’s time for action!

Page last updated 3/25/10