Evanston city officials say that despite claims that a popular weed killer may cause cancer in humans they support its continued limited use in city parks.

In a memo to aldermen, Public Works Agency Director Dave Stoneback and Environmental Services Bureau Chief Paul D’Agostino say the city has reduced its use of pesticides by over 50 percent since the City Council adopted an integrated pest management resolution in 2010.

They say the city earlier this year stopped using any pesticides at lakefront parks.

But they say the city uses a product containing glyphosate, best known under the Monsanto brand name Roundup, twice a year to spot-treat hard to maintain areas not typically frequented by park users β€” including sidewalk cracks, fence lines, shrub beds and the bases of sign posts.

They say use of the herbicide saves “an enormous amount of time for the maintenance crews so thay can perform other maintenance work rather than hand pulling or cutting weeds during the summer months.”

Dr. Toni Bark.

During pubic comment at last week’s City Council meeting, a local physician, Dr. Toni Bark, called for a ban on the use of Roundup by the city.

Bark, known for her skepticism about vaccinations and marketing of nutritional supplements, said the public’s being sold a bill of goods about pesticides.

Glyphosate, she said, “doesn’t directly poison mammals but poisons everything else that’s living.” It’s an antibiotic and is creating resistant strains of bacteria, she added.

She says people she’s talked to would “much rather see weeds on city greenery than have to keep pets and children away.”

Concern about the use of Roundup has grown since a World Health Organization agency listed it in March 2015 as likely having the potential to cause cancer in humans.

But its manufacturer, Monsanto, has vigorously defended the product, saying decades of studies have deemed Roundup safe. The company also sued the State of California earlier this year to block a state agency from adding it to a list of cancer-causing chemicals.

The chemical is widely used in city parks across the country β€” from New York City to Malabu, California.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Sidewalk Cracks and Weeds
    Would it be possible for the city to use a salt water solution in sidewalk cracks to deter weeds? I have GREAT success with this solution and it is much better than using Glyphosate. Plants do not grow in any of the cracks where I use it. Every little bit of chemicals we stop using will help our with runoff issues and can only make for a more health environment.

  2. Weeds and Pesticides Revisted
    A little history: Between 1993-99, I served on the city’s Environment Board, two of those years as chair. Of the major 10 issues addressed over the six years, Integrated Pest Management (IPM) was at the top of our agenda. Because the Board could not recommend a prohibition of synthetic pesticides on private land because we did not have home rule on private pesticide use, we focused on reduction of pesticide use on city land.

    Starting in 1993, we sponsored two public events to build community support for IPM. The (named at the time) Parks and Forestry (P&F) Department was cooperative and interested; by 1996, the Board developed with the department an IPM policy to reduce pesticide use to a minimum and increase mowing over spraying (the Rose Garden was exempted from this). The Board sponsored educational sessions for parks and forestry workers and produced fliers on Healthy Lawns for Evanston-wide distribution to educate citizens about IPM. Finally, by 2010, city council officially resolved to reduce pesticide use.

    Now, two decades later, along comes one Toni Barker: β€œ She says people she’s talked to would “much rather see weeds on city greenery than have to keep pets and children away.”

    Sorry, but in 1996 when the Board and the city agreed to cease applying pesticides to dandelions on city parks and parkways, the city and the Board were inundated with complaints, magnitudes beyond the number of citizens who were ever interested in pesticide reduction. Nope, Evanstonians would NOT rather see weeds on city greenery.

    Spot treatment twice a year in what amounts to niches and corners should not inconvenience or harm pets and children. Better we focus on the public health value of vaccinations and evidence-based, scientific health treatments.

    1. Pesticides in parks

      It was my good fortune to be married to a wonderful man for nearly 45 years.  My husband Dennis played baseball every weekend with his friends in a weedless Northfield park and coached Pony League in James Park for 8 years.  Four years ago he started bleeding in the lining of his lungs; three years ago he died of CUP–cancer of an undiagnosed primary.  I'm fairly convinced that decades of playing and coaching baseball on chemically manicured park fields contributed to my late husband's undiagnosable cancer.  Wise gardeners avoid pesticides like the plague that they are, as should our parks workers who are themselves vulnerable to toxic pesticides.

      1. Roundup
        Of course Monsanto is going to defend its own product…DUH…..of course the city is going to defend its use of it….of course nobody ever does anything wrong! lol

  3. Lazy city employees.Β  Let’s

    Lazy city employees.  Let's hope hope they have their personal and city-paid liability policies.   Roundup is a disaster.  It's found 4-6 feet down in farming areas.  What's wrong with the non-toxic weed killer described by Consumer's Report.  It works on my weeds!!

  4. Some factual information to consider
    The science on the safety of glyphosate can be a bit confusing. However, most current scientific (based on evidence, not rumor and emotion) indicates that the link to cancer doesn’t actually exist. The main article references an older report of concern, but more recently this has been called into question, ( Now, there is some recent controversy because the recent report by the UN/WHO says glyphosate propably doesn’t cause cancer, while the IARC (also of the WHO) concluded that it “probably does.” Wired did an excellent write up (…). What you need to understand, though, is the context of these statements. The IARC report (the one that says it causes cancer) placed glyphosate in group 2A (for point of reference, shift work is in that same category). Quoting the report itself “This category is used when there is limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals. Limited evidence means that a positive association has been observed between exposure to the agent and cancer but that other explanations for the observations (called chance, bias, or confounding) could not be ruled out.”
    I don’t want to rewrite what the Wired article did such a good job of explaining, so I urge readers to read that, if nothing else. I do want to comment on some of Bark’s statements (which, given she is employed as a physician, are extremely troubling). First, glyphosate is not an antibiotic in the sense most people use that term. Yes, it was patented as such (which is a common tactic by all chemical companies – protect your IP even if the compound really isn’t great at killing bacteria/microorganisms). Antibiotic resistance is a huge issue, but as it relates to infection of people/animals. It would be one thing is glyphosate was used to treat human infections, but it isn’t. So, even if bacteria show resistance to glyphosate, that really won’t impact human/animal health because that resistance isn’t the same as Vancomycin- or methicillin-resistance. Generally, statements like that are intended to sway an argument with emotions and fear, rather than facts and logic. I’m not sure if that was what Bark was intending, but it would certainly appear so. Given her position on vaccinations, one can only assume facts are of little importance in her arguments. Hence, I hope Evanston Now readers will look at the appropriate published information to make informed decisions.
    As a side note, I do acknowledge that Monsanto does have a financial interest in selling their product. However, much of the data comes from sources outside of the company and with no financial incentive to produce favorable results. In other words, occasionally the facts support the conclusion that the big money-hungry corporation is actually right about the science.

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