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Contractor’s error raises concerns on use of chemicals on parks grass

The issue of whether it is necessary to spray weed-killing and insecticide chemicals on the turf in parks is being raised again by those who want to see the Homewood-Flossmoor Park District reduce or eliminate such chemical usage.

A contractor’s error has brought the issue back to the forefront after Irwin Park in Homewood was sprayed in July. The park district’s day camp program uses the park. The crew placed only a few small flags as notice to the public that the lawn had been treated.

Jenne Farley, who lives near the park, was one of several people to raise concerns about chemicals. She said she is on a park district list to be notified when the contractor sprays, but she didn’t receive a notice because of the error.

Debbie Kopas, parks executive director, said: “We had delayed (spraying) Irwin and we had confirmation from the owner of the company that they would do it at the end of August once the kids were back in school. Unfortunately, the message internally didn’t get from the owner to the people doing the treatments and they went out and treated it.

“There were three flags put at Irwin which to my thinking was not enough. There should have been one at every entrance point.  We called to complain, and in addition to putting a lot of flags in so anyone walking their dog or (using the park) would see and they didn’t do that either.”

Farley said she understands the park district will be looking into alternatives to chemical treatments with Midwest Grows Green, a collective of community-based lawn and landscape care initiatives, including pesticide-free parks.

“I am willing and wanting to work with the park district to help find a safe solution that will hopefully appease most people. My goal is to raise awareness for our constituents to encourage less pesticide use in public parks and spaces but also to educate constituents to make safe decisions in managing their own homes and yards,” Farley told the Chronicle.

The discussion has been ongoing for years, and the park district has cut back significantly on using chemical sprays. After surveying all 31 parks, staff decided in 2019 that some parks would get no treatment, some two treatments and the larger parks – Apollo, Irwin and Flossmoor – three treatments. Parks that are not treated include Butterfield, Cedar Park, Hollydale, Rover’s Run, Scandia in Homewood; Irons Oaks in Olympia Fields; Flossmoor Hills, Pinehurst, Pheasant Hills in Flossmoor.

No treatments were done during the pandemic.

Park commissioners have agreed with the schedule recognizing that reducing weeds has a direct impact on the parks’ presentation and use.

“The parks that don’t get any treatment, that’s great and we’d like to see that list grow,” said Farley, a Homewood mother of two young children. “We’d like to see the parks that are frequented by children not be sprayed with these carcinogens. And that’s kind of the issue, like there are safer ways to manage weeds than using these carcinogens on grasses where our children are playing.”

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