Herbicide moratorium unlikely

The debate over whether weed killers should be used on school fields sprouted anew this week when a Talent mother claimed her daughter developed a rash and her dog became sick after they played on a newly sprayed field at Talent Elementary.

She and other parents intend to ask the Phoenix-Talent district to stop using herbicides to treat weeds at its schools.

Here's an early prediction of where that discussion will go: nowhere.

To keep weeds from taking over in fields, most districts — most governments of any sort with grass to maintain, for that matter — use some chemicals. Why? Having someone pluck weeds by hand is expensive. Leaving weeds alone is unsightly. There's a reasonable case to be made that some chemicals are benign when used correctly.

That's not to say the district's job here is done. To the contrary: Phoenix-Talent, and any other district that sprays on land people and pets use, ought to take pains to make sure the public knows when it happens.

In Medford and most other districts, school grounds are considered public parks when school's not in session. They often amount to a neighborhood's best space for kids, pets or sports teams to romp.

Districts ought to avoid spraying when children are certain to be around, something most already accommodate (the Talent field was sprayed on a Saturday).

They also ought to do a better job of telling the public when they spray than Talent did in this case. Tanya Casey missed the single sign that said the district had sprayed with three herbicides the day before she took her 3-year-old and Lab to the field to play.

The solution doesn't have to be a complicated or expensive one. Better signs — brightly colored warnings on stakes placed at several points on the field, for example — probably would do the trick.

School officials might point out that they already choose some of the gentler preparations available for spraying. But any chemical can cause harm in the right situation.

Parents should be able to expect that kids can play on school fields without exposure to herbicide chemicals — or at least without exposure to chemicals sprayed without their knowledge.

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