Forum on pesticide alternatives Saturday

Speakers will discuss the harm posed by pesticides and the changing practices around their use.

Garden Green, an island organization devoted to promoting education about using nontoxic alternatives to pesticides, is hosting a forum at 10 a.m. on Saturday at Chautauqua Elementary.

“This is incredibly important to me,” said organizer and speaker Diane Emerson. She said the event will focus on three areas: why pesticides are harmful, how dangerous they are, and which safer alternatives there are to use.

According to Emerson, the word pesticide is a general umbrella term — it means the eradication of all kinds of pests, ranging from insecticide for bugs, and herbicides for invasive plants, to rodenticides, fungicides and others. For common Roundup, a glyphosate-based herbicide which was pulled from many store shelves on Vashon last year, Emerson said its toxicity is especially sinister.

“For many years, people thought that it was quite safe because people didn’t really get sick from exposure in a short time,” she said. “But the problem is that it has different impacts on our bodies and it kills [important] microorganisms in our bodies.”

Emerson said Roundup is believed by researchers to kill beneficial bacteria in the human body — she said exposure to glyphosate-based pesticides is linked to serious health problems.

Speakers at the forum will include Lianne Sheppard, Professor in the UW departments of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences and Biostatistics; Shannon Britton, the Grounds and Landscaping Manager at Seattle University; Rob Peterson of Vashon’s Plum Forest Farm; John Yates, co-owner of Vashon Ace Hardware; and Tanner Yelken, the Garden Center Manager at Island Home Center and Lumber. Emerson’s husband, Michael Laurie, has been working on the issue of toxic pesticides in Puget Sound for 15 years with various members of the Vashon community and will also speak.

Emerson said the forum is an opportunity for those in attendance to make changes that will positively affect their own wellness, as well as the ecological health of the island.

“I’m hoping … they come away with the resolve to use alternative methods and … [feel] confident that these alternative methods will work for them with hope and comfort in knowing that they are readily available on the island,” she said.

Greg Rabourn, who is responsible for safeguarding habitat on Vashon and Maury Islands as the watershed steward for King County, said there is no data about the level of pesticide contamination in the waterways of Vashon.

“We do know that pesticides that are toxic to salmon have been detected in Puget Sound streams. Some pesticides also reduce food availability for salmon by killing the insects salmon eat,” he said.

Rabourn commended Garden Green for helping landowners solve gardening and pest problems without harming endangered salmon. He said the risks posed by knowingly using toxic products are too high to ignore.

“They recognize the importance of preventing pollution from reaching the island’s streams and groundwater,” he said. “If pesticides do pollute our island’s groundwater, they would be difficult, if not impossible to remove.”

Those planning to attend are encouraged to bring their questions for a discussion. For more information about the event, see Facebook and visit Garden Green online.

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