Sunday, September 23, 2007

Reality on the "Renovation" of Magazine Beach

On September 23, 2007, Marilyn Wellons sent the following letter to the Cambridge City Council about the city's ill-conceived "renovation" of Magazine Beach. Cambridge's $1.5 million project will pollute the Charles River. It will expose our children to the toxic chemicals needed to maintain the 7 acres of commercial sod there.

The letter refers to an e-mail Wellons sent in July to State Rep. Marty Walz on the same topic. The text of that e-mail follows this letter.

Dear Mayor Reeves, Vice Mayor Toomey, and other members of the Cambridge City Council:

For your information, please find the attached copy of my reply to State Rep. Marty Walz, dated July 29, 2007, about the joint Cambridge-DCR project at Magazine Beach and its prototype, the Ebersol Fields at Lederman Park in Boston.

My e-mail cites documents at the Boston Conservation Commission and other sources regarding runoff from the renovated playing fields at Ebersol. Although the DCR says it doesn't usually use fertilizers or herbicides on the Charles, it did so at Ebersol. Although it didn't plan to use the fungicide "Tartan" there, it did so. It does not deny the use of pesticides.

Runoff from these chemicals at Ebersol Fields polluted the river in 2006 and 2007. They also exposed Little League players to the long-term effects of pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides. Children are at particularly high risk from exposure to pesticides.

You may remember the Council's own concern regarding the use of harmful chemicals expressed in Councillor Simmons's Policy Order No. O-8, December 4, 2006, regarding ChemLawn on the Cambridge riverfront.

Our children have access to the benefits of Little League ball without this project. The adequate, functioning, regulation Little League field at Magazine Beach is less than two hundred yards from a second, at Lindstrom Field. Will you "renovate" Magazine Beach and give our children access to all the chemicals required to maintain the turf there?

Please reconsider this project and reject it. It will pollute the river--undoing millions of dollars and years of work to clean up the river--and adversely affect our children's health.

P.S. There is an error in the attached e-mail to Rep. Walz. Cambridge's $1.5M project at Magazine Beach will install 7 acres of commercial sod, not 6.

E-mail from Marilyn to Rep. Marty Walz attached to this letter:

Dear Rep. Walz,

Thank you for sending the DCR’s response. Unfortunately it doesn’t address the problem for water quality caused by the DCR’s 6 acres at Ebersol Fields (installed spring 2006) and by the one planned for 6 acres [sic] at Magazine Beach (set for this summer).

The DCR has heavily fertilized and otherwise chemically treated Ebersol Fields. Boaters could smell the fertilizer in the middle of the river offshore from the fields all last summer. Runoff from fertilizers and other chemicals is a well-known cause of algae bloom.

Contrary to the DCR’s statement to you, documents filed with the Boston Conservation Commission indicate ongoing maintenance of the Ebersol Fields is with fertilizers, pesticides, and other chemicals as necessary. The DCR lists “slow-release organic fertilizers” and “integrated pest management practices using biological controls and minimizing [but not prohibiting] the use of chemical alternatives.” (“Operation and Maintenance Plan,” DCR Notice of Intent, submitted May 4, 2005.)

Fertilizers, organic or not, have nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium that wash into the river, as do the other chemicals applied. Standard chemical care of a home lawn is: 5 applications of fertilizer, 6 of herbicides, and 1 of pesticides, in five treatments from early spring to late fall. (Mailing received from TLC, The Lawn Company, P.O. Box 698, Shrewsbury, MA.)

Maintenance of the 6 acres at Ebersol Fields is estimated at $200,000 per year. Mr. Dick Ebersol has pledged up to $500,000 to match private contributions for this purpose. (Charlestown Patriot-Bridge, June 15, 2006.)

In July, 2006, the Ebersol Fields developed a fungus, as is common with overwatered, fertilized turf (New York Times, July 6, 2007, p. B1, “When the Grass Was Greener”). On August 2, 2006, the DCR asked for and received permission to apply “Tartan,” a fungicide, to the entire 6 acres. The first “Tartan” application was August 10-11, the second, September 1. (Communication from Richard Scott, DCR, September 11, 2006.) Geller Sport, DCR designer of Ebersol, supplemented the two fungicide treatments with “field fertilization” and irrigation. (Memo, July 19, 2006, Stephen D. Brown, DCR Project Manager, to Boston Conservation Commission.)

The algae count exploded after the first treatment, then dropped toward the end of August. After the second, the count climbed again.

The DCR has not hesitated to fertilize and otherwise chemically treat the sod at Ebersol Fields. It has an ample budget to do so. The DCR representative told the ConCom on August 2 that “Tartan” was required to provide “the quality of turf our players deserve.” The agency is eager to provide the same at Magazine Beach. Cambridge also is giving an ample budget for maintenance.

The label warning for “Tartan” reads: “Toxic to fish and aquatic invertebrates. Do not apply directly to water, to areas where surface water is present or to intertidal areas . . . . Drift and runoff from treated areas may be hazardous to fish/aquatic organisms in adjacent sites. . . Do not apply when weather conditions favor runoff or drift.” (Material Safety Data Sheet, attachment to DCR Request for Determination of Applicability, July 19, 2006.)

The Boston ConCom’s Order of Conditions for “Tartan” requires that “[i]f at any time during the implementation of the project a fish kill or significant water quality problem occurs in the vicinity of the project, all site related activities impacting the water shall cease until the source of the problem is identified and adequate mitigating measures employed to the satisfaction of the Commission.” (Attachment A—Project Conditions, Negative Determination of Applicability, August 2, 2006.)
The unprecedented algae bloom of August, 2006, occurred in the twenty days between the two applications of “Tartan” and fertilizer. I have found no evidence that there has ever been an inquiry into the cause of the bloom or its relation to Ebersol Fields. The DCR has offered none to you.

In sum, the DCR says it doesn’t usually use fertilizers or herbicides on the Charles. Nevertheless it did so at Ebersol Fields. It didn’t plan to use “Tartan” there, but did so. The reply does not deny the use of pesticides.

With regard to Magazine Beach, this response means nothing good to residents of the Charles River watershed. We’ve already spent $60 million to clean up the river, with another $19 million to go before 2013. Our water rates in Cambridge continue to rise. Now we’re set to pay $1.5 million to repeat the blunder at Ebersol Fields and pollute the river at Magazine Beach.

I hope you will ask the Governor not to disperse the Cambridge funds for this imminent, ill-conceived project.