Dear EcoNews

EcoNews has recently received multiple inquiries from concerned citizens about pesticide use in their neighborhoods. We turned to Patty Clary, Executive Director of Californians for Alternatives to Toxics (CATS) for advice.


Dear EcoNews,

My garden in Eureka backs up to the second slough. I have a little pond in the lower yard that is fed by runoff from the streets above us. I’m pretty sure some of my neighbors up there are using toxic sprays on their perfect lawns.
I planted watercress next to the runoff but am not sure if it is safe to eat. Also there used to be frogs and crickets down there, but no longer. Water testing is very expensive. Got any ideas on how to remediate this?

-Pond Protector


Dear Pond Protector,

Unfortunately, even expensive water testing for pesticides won’t be much help in overcoming problems associated with having runoff from streets watering your garden and pond unless you can convince neighbors to quit the chemicals. Even if you can, runoff from streets contains other toxic pollutants far more difficult to control and in a mix that isn’t compatible with growing food or sustaining frog and cricket populations.

In addition to pesticides, discharge from cars in exhaust, oil drippings and tire dust, along with pavement wear and street debris that contains animal poop, legacy heavy metals, household toxins and other waste, requires highly specialized detective work to ID. Most important for your pond is that eventually it will rain, and when it does, water containing some amount of toxins will flow down streets to points of least resistance, such as storm drains or a yard below, and ultimately to streams and the bay beyond.

A growing body of information shows that runoff from streets impacts water quality more than we knew. Last year researchers found that when sun shines on the black goop in street asphalt, already a known source of toxic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons as it breaks down, reactions are caused that produce more of the chemicals than what were there originally and ups the amount of oxygen atoms, making its discharge more soluble in water. Another recent study revealed chilling evidence that a preservative in tires, when worn to dust and washed off to the environment, transforms into a chemical deadly to salmon. Its impact on other living beings is not yet known.

Some amount of any of these toxins is likely to be in the runoff that flows to your pond. The only remediation I can recommend for immediate relief is to stop this water from entering from the street. You can start with a call to Eureka Public Works for advice and help to eliminate the problem, at least in your own backyard.


Dear EcoNews,

I have asked my neighbor nicely to stop spraying Round-up on her side of my fence. She refuses and the Round-up came to my side and contaminated my raspberry plants to the extent that I cannot eat them.

The last day she sprayed it was windy and the Round-up drifted in. I have zucchini plants ready to go into the big box that I have composted in and now I cannot.

I am 87 years-old and I depend on the food I grow. What am I to do? Is there anyone at EcoNews that can advise me?

-Garden Defender


Dean Garden Defender,

There aren’t many things harder to deal with than a neighbor who intrudes on your space with obnoxious and dangerous activities conducted in theirs, as in your case by spraying a cancer-causing herbicide so that it drifts into your food garden, especially concerning when it’s food you depend on. Fortunately, there is help a phone call away, and I urge you to make that call as soon as possible.

You don’t have to deal with this problem alone. Bring in the local pesticide-use enforcement authority and the weight of his office to take care of it for you. 

My experience with the office of Humboldt County Agricultural Commissioner Jeff Dolf and his helpful crew has been very positive. Though limited in what they can do under the law (sometimes more than we’d like), they will come to your aid to establish if it’s pesticide damage from over-the-fence spray drift, take samples for testing (you don’t have to pay) if needed to establish the violation, and if shown to be a violation, they will deal directly with the person at fault without you having to be involved. Just remember that it’s important to make a report immediately so that evidence of toxic drift will be fresh for sampling and not degraded by sunlight and heat, fog or rain. 

Good luck with your garden, I hope it will soon recover from this assault and that your neighbor will keep her bad and ultimately useless chemicals to her side of the fence, or even learn to get along without them. 

-Patty Clary

Executive Director, Californians for Alternatives to Toxics (CATS)