PROVIDENCE — Surrounded by fountain pools, rain forest-like heat, and bright jungle greens of tropical palms and wild orchids, Mayor Jorge O. Elorza rang in Earth Day by launching a public awareness campaign that encourages residents and businesses to reduce the use of potentially harmful chemicals on their lawns and gardens.
The Pesticide Free PVD campaign asks community members, property managers, and businesses to take a pledge to commit to eliminating harmful chemicals, such as pesticides, fertilizers, and other toxins. Leading by example, the Parks Department has eliminated nearly all pesticides and herbicides from parks and playgrounds, according to a report released Thursday by the city and the Audubon Society of Rhode Island.
The commitment, Elorza said, was personal for him.
“Growing up in the city, my backyard was a parking lot. I didn’t have green space. I didn’t have grass to run around in. So I relied on the parks. The parks were my backyard,” he told reporters Thursday at the Roger Williams Park Botanical Center. “We want to continue to invite all of our residents and our kids to enjoy our parks. But we want them to be able to enjoy them in the safest way possible.”
He said it was important for him to ensure the city took the lead, but encouraged residents and business owners to “pitch in and be part of the solution.”
He told the Globe that, for most people, “it just clicks” as to why this is an environmentally responsible policy and movement.
“Climate change is on the front page of national news today and in the recent past. It’s going to continue to be an ever more important issue. So people are asking themselves how they can be part of the solution,” Elorza said. “Perhaps it’s something that they hadn’t thought about before. But once we tell them that they can do it, and show them exactly how they can do it, I think people are ready to take that step.”
The city recommended some easy solutions for residents, including:
- Decluttering yards
- Removing standing water and open food sources to discourage pests
- Manually removing weeds
- Watering sparingly and avoiding watering in the heat of the day
- Mowing less often and allowing lawns to grow to 4 inches to support stronger roots and native pollinators
- Fertilizing naturally by leaving grass clippings on the lawn
- Applying an organic method of control like milky spore to rid lawns of insects like Japanese beetle grubs or neem oil for garden insect pests like slugs
Those who take the pledge will receive a free “Pesticide Free” yard sign from the city.
Further recommendations were outlined in a 49-page document prepared by Samantha Kronyak, an intern at the Audubon Society, as well as the city’s Office of Sustainability, Healthy Communities Office, and Parks Department.
The campaign and the report on chemical-free practices was supported by a $35,000 grant from Healthy Babies Bright Futures.
Its Bright Cities program partners with local nonprofits and city governments to reduce exposure to neurotoxic chemicals by lowering the levels of them in the air, water, food, soil, and consumer products. Providence joined the Bright Cities program in 2018. There are now 20 municipalities in the program, including the Massachusetts cities Salem and Lynn.
The report said that of Providence’s approximately 180,000 residents, 98 percent of the population lives within a 10 minute walk of a park and 10 percent of the land in Providence is public park space.
But of those spaces, the campaign used the Botanical Center as the example, highlighting the three brother goats — named Salvador, Vincent van Goat, and Jean Ralphio — that eat weeds like poison ivy instead of using harsh chemicals. Or the park’s bio-control program that manages insect pests without using toxic chemicals.
“The chemicals found in many lawn and garden products, pest management products, and household cleaners are linked to neurotoxicity, birth defects, cancer, and other health effects with longstanding impacts,” said Leah Bamberger, director of the city’s Office of Sustainability. “We hope this campaign can raise awareness of the health and ecological implications of these products and encourage residents and property managers to make the switch to low- and no-cost alternatives.”