By Ben Meyerson
The Park District of Oak Park has begun using chemical weed-killers again after a decades-long moratorium. For the first time since the late 1980s, the park district began using herbicides in September to kill weeds on baseball infields in the park district.
The park district's greening advisory committee, which is made up of citizens appointed by the park board, recommended allowing chemical pesticides to be used in limited conditions. The park board approved the decision to use the chemicals in April 2010.
"It will be a change for the district," said Executive Director Gary Balling. "In the past, we haven't used herbicides, but we're now using an integrated pest management system where you try other methods until you're sure it's the only thing that's going to get rid of a weed."
Mike Grandy, the park district's superintendent of building and grounds, said that so far, the park district has only approved using a chemical called glyphosate, better known as Roundup.
It's an effective solution for weeds like the hardy ones that come up between pavement cracks and which can overrun baseball infields.
"It's a systemic herbicide. When it kills a plant, it kills it all the way to the roots," Grandy said. "You put glyphosate on things, and they're done."
Barbara Mullarkey, a longtime environmental activist in Oak Park who was instrumental in the original ban on pesticides, which took effect roughly 20 years ago, was incredulous when she found out about the change.
"I thought we were trying to be a green community. How can we be a green community if we're going backwards?" Mullarkey said. "Have the Oak Park parks fallen between the cracks right now? This is turning back the time. It's bizarre to me that we have to fight a battle that we fought a long time ago."
Grandy said the park district is only using Roundup on hard areas like the infields, on tennis courts or around bricks for now, though they might consider using some other chemicals to treat weeds in the parks' fields.
Part of the new master plan for Lindberg Park includes the proposal to provide spot treatment to patches of weeds in the parks' fields.
"Given the type of areas we're looking at up at Lindberg, it's a necessary tool," Grandy said. "When the soil becomes very compacted, it becomes an environment that is very conducive for growing broad-leaf plants."
The park district would have to approve a new chemical to treat weeds in grassy areas, as Roundup will kill any plant in its path — it's not specific.
Regardless, the park district isn't planning on using pesticides near tot lots among other places, Grandy said, but they feel Roundup is safe to use on hard surfaces.
"With our high-clay soils, shortly after being used, it becomes inert," Grandy said. "We've used it specifically on our baseball infields to kill back the weeds."
Mullarkey disputes that.
"I just want to reiterate, pesticides are poison," she said. "What about the wild animals? What about the squirrels? What about the butterflies? What about the little children who are close to the ground? This is not a good sign for green Oak Park."