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Disagreement over whether contractor followed specifications after herbicide spraying in Northampton

Opponents of the use of Roundup on the new recreation fields in Florence believe contractors positioned a tractor’s spray bar too high above the ground, did not stop spraying when the wind picked up and may not have stopped in enough time for the chemical to take effect before an unexpected rainstorm blanketed the area.

The contractor, David W. White & Son, of Bow, N.H., assured Mayor David J. Narkewicz that the spray bar was set as close to the ground as possible, that wind was not a factor, and that the chemicals had enough time to be absorbed before the rain hit.

Narkewicz said the contractor decided to spray Tuesday because it was a hot, dry day with little wind. The spraying began at 5:30 p.m., lasted about two hours and will not have to be reapplied because of the rain, based on a contractor report to the mayor.

“I am confident the application was applied in accordance with industry standard practice and manufacturer’s label,” Brian McKenzie, a site supervisor with White & Son, said in a statement Wednesday.

Grow Food Northampton Executive Director Lilly Lombard, whose organization has been the loudest voice against the use of Roundup on the fields, questioned the spraying process. In a message posted on the group’s website and Facebook page, Lombard and another member said they watched contractors spray the chemical on the fields for about 35 minutes with the spray bar positioned about 4 feet above the ground. That’s considerably higher than the inches specified by Narkewicz last week when he authorized a one-time use of the herbicide on the fields. Lombard said the contractor lowered the bar when asked about the mayor’s conditions.

McKenzie said Wednesday that the bar had to be positioned at least 6 inches above the tops of the plants to avoid clogging the nozzles. Because the weeds were between 8 and 10 inches tall, he said the height of the equipment during application was about 18 inches. There may have been times when the bar was considerably higher off the ground, but that was when the tractor moved from one part of the field to another and spraying did not happen at these times, Narkewicz said.

Lombard also said contractors did not stop spraying when the wind picked up in “noticeable gusts” in advance of a rainstorm. McKenzie countered that wind was not gusting while the chemical was being applied. “The wind wasn’t a factor, the leaves on the trees and flags on the stakes weren’t moving,” he said.

Recreation Director Ann-Marie Moggio visited the fields five times during the spraying process, and the mayor stopped by the fields shortly after 6 p.m. to watch the spraying and take some pictures.

“The material applied was going right down on the ground,” Narkewicz said. “I couldn’t smell it. There was no residual effects, no drifting.”

Grow Food Northampton operates a 121-acre organic community garden and farm next to where the Florence Fields are being built. The organization launched a petition drive last week calling on the mayor to adopt the use of organic methods at the recreation complex. That petition had about 1,200 supporters as of Wednesday afternoon.

Lombard met with Narkewicz Wednesday morning and is assured that they share a “common vision” moving forward. Grow Food supports the city’s exploration for organic applications once the fields are in use sometime next year. “I trust his good intentions,” Lombard said.

Legacy Comments4

Lots of questions and not enough discussion. There are regional and national organic "think tanks" involved in organic turf management (i.e Cornell Univ.). Why aren't they a part of this? On a common sense note, i own and mow 4 acres weekly. This is "whatever comes up" turf. We play all sports on this turf.When it is adequately watered, it's beautiful to play on. Why is the rec department trying to recreate Fenway? They are spending more money then they have to (not to mention going with an out of area contractor). Are they intending to create a "professional" field and then bill our teams accordingly to play on it? Lets keep the information flowing.

I am a gardener at the Florence Organic Community Garden. Below is a link to a photo site that contains both a still and a video of the spraying. Please take a look decide for yourself how high the sprayer was. It was taken at 5:30 PM on on 8/27/13. Please view the video in HD and full screen in order to see it as clearly as possible. http://www.flickr.com/groups/f-o-g/ Both the photo and the video clearly show that the height of the bar is a lot higher than the 18 inches or less testified to by the mayor and the contractor. There are also discrepancies between the mayor's and contractor's reports on weather conditions and roundup application best practices. Please view the video and do your part to hold the mayor, the contractor and any other city officials involved accountable.

Why would the Mayor promise in his 8/22 press release that "the contractor will use special machinery that applies the treatment inches from the ground" when that's clearly not what happened on site the day of the application? Did the Mayor not consult with the contractor before he made the promise? Why would you make a promise you couldn't keep and that could so obviously be proved wrong?

In my experience, the best indicator of good intentions is one's actions. Meaning well is good; doing well is better. If you research this issue, Mr. Mayor, you will quickly learn that one's sense of smell is not a conclusive indicator of pesticide drift, and independent research has shown that Roundup is far more persistent in water and produce than Monsanto would like you to think.

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