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Students call for ban on toxic pesticides in city parks

PS 290 students advocated for a City Council

PS 290 students advocated for a City Council bill that would ban the use of toxic pesticides in city parks and public spaces on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017. Photo Credit: Alison Fox

Dozens of young students learned a real-life civics lesson Tuesday, performing a skit in front of the City Council’s Committee on Health and advocating for a bill that would ban more pesticides from being used in city parks and public spaces.

The children, from PS 290 on the Upper East Side, got to see firsthand how grassroots legislation can come to be — the bill, Intro 0800, started in 2014 when they were learning about pesticides in school and were visited by a local City Council member.

“To me, this is the essence of education,” Paula Rogovin, a kindergarten teacher at PS 290, said. “This started with a study about tomatoes and watermelon in our school ... the only thing we can do is to get them to be proactive, to get them to do something about it.

“And hopefully they’ll become lifelong activists to make this a better and safer world,” she added.

Councilman Ben Kallos, whose district includes the Upper East Side, said the students told him how concerned they were with pesticides.

“I don’t know many fourth graders who have introduced legislation and gotten it heard in their local City Council,” he said.

The bill, which Kallos said he hopes will be voted on before the end of the year, would require that the city uses biological pesticides derived from natural materials, generally bucking synthetic options. The bill allows for synthetic pesticides to be used in certain circumstances when deemed necessary.

It was first introduced in May 2015 and would expand the list of pesticides already banned on city property by Local Law 37, enacted in 2005.

In particular, the legislation would limit Roundup, a weed and grass killer that Kallos said is toxic.

The kids, who are in kindergarten through fourth grade, performed a skit on the floor of the council’s chambers — a significantly cuter departure from typical business there. They sang “This Land Is Your Land” and talked about how toxic substances and herbicides are “not good for you and it’s not good for us.”

Grace Osei, 33, brought her 4-year-old son, Patrick, to the council on Tuesday, grateful for the experience.

“I think he’s going to go the rest of his life understanding that he made some kind of difference,” said Osei, who lives on the Upper East Side. “It’s very powerful for him and for me as a mom.”


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