An Herbicide-Free LMU is Safe, Sustainable, and Sensible

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Photo via Herbicide-Free LMU
An Herbicide-Free LMU is Safe, Sustainable, and Sensible 

By Emma Dax, Rose Williamson

As Lions finish classes this semester, our return to campus remains highly anticipated, whether it be in spring or next fall. However, this begs the question: what do we want campus to be like when we come back? As co-fellows of the Herbicide-Free Campus movement at LMU, we know a transition toward a campus free from herbicides is not only possible but already in the works for our return. 

In an op-ed published by The Loyolan, “What Would an Herbicide-Free Campus Look Like?,” the author, Cristobal Spielmann, gives his opinion on the issue of herbicides on LMU’s campus and reviews our Herbicide-Free Campus (HFC) Campaign. Citing our goals for creating a more safe and sensible campus, Spielmann writes that going herbicide-free has both environmental and economic incentives. While we are grateful to have our campaign highlighted, our conclusions differ from those of Spielmann. Though we agree that dialogue around herbicides at LMU is important, we find that the transition to a more organic campus is not only safer, sensible, and more sustainable—it is achievable.

Spielmann argues that for LMU to transition to an herbicide-free campus, the university “would have to conduct multiple studies, sampling the LMU population for health effects from herbicide use to see if there are any negative health effects.” Such a study is unnecessary. Students already receive email notices from Facilities Management notifying them of when the department will be spraying for weeds and pests. The department also advises students to close their windows if they live on the first floor of an on-campus living space to keep harmful chemicals from entering their dorms, given how there are known connections between herbicides and human health conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, diabetes, and several forms of cancer. These notices suggest that the university is well aware of herbicides’ negative health effects, so there is no need to conduct a study. We have also been in contact with university groundskeeping, who are in favor of an herbicide-free campus and need student support to officially begin the transition.

The student’s and housing services manager’s names have been blocked out for privacy, as well as the Student Housing Office phone number. 

Further, Spielmann’s insistence on on-campus studies goes against the Precautionary Principle, a philosophy long-held by public health and environmental officials which states that “when an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause-and-effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.” This principle places the burden of proof on those proposing potentially dangerous tasks—legally, the herbicide and pesticide manufacturers, not the consumers. Spielmann’s call for a campus-wide study places responsibility on the university to find cause-and-effect relationships even though the link between herbicide use and human and environmental health degradation is already understood by the scientific community.

Conducting a study based solely on LMU students and staff would be inefficient and risks wasting crucial time that could be spent actively transitioning campus to an herbicide-free, organic model. Spielmann’s suggestion implies that going herbicide-free is a utopian, unrealistic desire which would take the campus many years. In reality, the herbicide-free movement is already in full swing at other universities. Students at the University of California, Berkeley, were able to rid their campus of glyphosate, the harmful chemical found in many synthetic herbicides, just two years after the start of their Herbicide-Free campaign, and we have an opportunity to do the same at our own campus sooner than we think.

Spielmann concludes his article with a call for an active student body on the issue of herbicide use. He writes, “once the LMU community gets more physical and the campus can reopen to a more active student body, a needed conversation between students and the University has to be had…”. Our first ten weeks of the semester as co-fellows of Herbicide-Free Campus, along with the Loyolan publishing a piece on the topic, have proven that there already is student engagement with this issue. HFC’s partnering with groundskeeping thus far proves that the university is both open to this change and ready for student guidance to support this transition regardless of students’ physical presence on campus.

With herbicide-free campaigns existing at thirteen other campuses around the country, the question is not what would an herbicide-free campus look like? But rather will you be there to join us?

Photo via Herbicide-Free LMU

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