“Adopt a Drain” in West Chester

by Rachel Davis, geologist and environmental professional

“Adopt a Drain” is a free, community-driven service program for West Chester Borough started in May 2018 by the Chester County Sierra Club-sponsored Don’t Spray Me! Group and is supported by West Chester Borough Council. Our goal is to educate citizens of all ages, but concentrating mostly on the youth, on how to maintain their local waterways by first caring about the direct avenues to those waterways: the storm water drains. Most people pass drains by without a thought — because drains are flush with the ground and easily overlooked. However, with enough time and education, one can truly begin to understand how important these vital pathways are to our community’s health and well-being.

The program is based on the nationwide concept called “Adopt a Drain” as featured from Nashville to Burlington to St. Louis. Cities throughout the United States are making it viable and accessible to citizens to perform voluntary drain cleaning activities by incorporating debris collection and notation with computer-based mapping software. When the hands-on aspect joins with the technological, a comprehensive city- or town-wide view of the drain quality can be constructed.

The West Chester Borough “Adopt a Drain” program has thus far completed two two-hour events in which we worked as a team to find, observe, take notes on and then clean the surficial area around the storm drains in the borough in Ward 3. We are working to complete this same activity per ward per section until all 1000+ drains are completed within the Borough by the end of the summer 2018. At each drain, we note if there is organic debris (leaves, sticks, etc.), plastic debris/trash (bags, straws, cups, lids, etc.) and/or standing water in and/or around the drain. By combining the physical removal of waste from the drains and the observing of the standing water inside the drains, we hope to identify which drains need attention from the borough to be cleaned further, fixed, dredged, or larvicided.

By the end of summer 2018, “Adopt a Drain” plans to present our data to the West Chester Borough Council and Public Works Department with the help of a West Chester University Graduate Student concentrating in Geographical Information Systems. Additionally, we hope to address the problem of mosquito larvae in the standing water within the drains and share a detailed view of trash in the borough’s drains too. Given the success of the program thus far, we hope that our observations continue to educate citizens for years to come and that the program is embedded in West Chester’s sustainable culture.

The program is open and available to all ages and but is prepared if the participant is less than age 12 that there be a parent or guardian there to support the event. If you are interested in joining in our events, please email me. Meetings at 1 pm on Sundays are confirmed through an email blast. We hope to see you there!

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Entomologist John Jackson: “Bugs and Weeds Away–the Natural Way”

On May 29, John Jackson (BA in biology, MA in zoology, PhD in entomology) spoke on having a weed-free sidewalk and neutralizing mosquito breeding spots without using harmful chemicals. His talk at Iron Works Church in West Chester was sponsored by Don’t Spray Me! / Sierra Club and the South West Association of Neighbors (SWAN).

Here are some highlights of his talk and the subsequent discussion (with some resorting of topics):

1) Mosquitoes

Mosquitoes are the best-known insects in the world, because of their role in spreading diseases, especially malaria, yellow fever, and dengue. But the ways chemical tools have been overused against them are not in the interest of either people or wildlife. Chemicals may be needed to prevent massive epidemics, especially in the tropics, but when overused become ineffective because insects develop resistance.

There are lots of biting flies beyond mosquitoes. Here, the predominantly evening-biting Culex mosquitoes can carry West Nile Virus but day-biting Aedes (including Asian Tiger, which has been in the US only since 1985) almost never do. People should not view all insects (of which most don’t bite) as enemies.

Culex, the “house mosquito,” overwinters as adults in sheds, porches, tree hollows, and other sheltered areas. The adult mosquitoes we see in May have overwintered; they may have not yet had time to reproduce. Culex mosquitoes love urban environments, where they lay eggs in water where larvae feed on bacteria and organic matter.

West Nile Virus, which came to the US in 1999, depends on birds as a reservoir (unlike Zika, whose reservoir is people, making it easier to contain, as recently in Miami). Some birds, which in the past were often dying of WNV, appear now to be developing immunity. Fortunately, WNV is not transmitted through mosquito eggs, only from a bitten bird to another bitten bird or human. Known human WNV cases have been rare in PA.

Effective non-chemical defenses include tight-fitting screens, fans on ceilings or porches, repellents (notably lemon eucalyptus oil, picaridin, or citronella oil), various odoriferous granules spread in gardens or lawns.

Fogging with pesticides is a bad idea, because it kills many species, including mosquito predators like spiders; drift cannot be controlled; and it kills only adult mosquitoes, whereas many more larvae are just waiting to hatch every day and take over the air space.

The absolutely most important thing is to eliminate standing water, including where we might not think of it: in plastic bottles, the folds of tarps, in the fixed bottoms under some potted plants, even vases in cemeteries.

From mosquito egg to adult probably takes 10-15 days when weather is hot and damp, but 25-30 days with temperatures in the 70’s.

The bacteria-based larvcide Bti is very effective at killing mosquito larvae. The biscuits and granules have slower release than liquid and powder form. The hormonal Methoprene is also not toxic and prevents the metamorphosis to adult.

One of the worst sampling stations is in SE West Chester; it is not clear if that is related to Goose Creek. Trash in suburban streams creates mosquito habitat. And water can stand in old storm sewer lines like the Borough’s.

2) Weeds

Some undesired plants, like dandelions and poison ivy, are best dug up. Weeds are tough, but weakening them by cutting off the leaves a few times makes them more vulnerable to other treatments.

Old-school boiling water works really well; be careful, wear boots and goggles! Ditto butane flame torches. Or: a weak acid breaks down cell walls; vinegar works, but changes the soil chemistry.

He prefers to use 1 cup of borax (another kind of salt) in 1 gallon of warm water to kill weeds. The borax concentration can be doubled if needed. It also, for better or worse, it also kills ants, moss, lichen, and liverwort. Two applications a summer usually suffice, preferably in hot dry weather, since rain washes the borax away.

Regular table salt also kills plants; witness the die-off this past winter along roads and alleys in the Borough, which uses salt and brine to melt snow and ice. Municipalities tend to use twice as much salt as 20 years ago, even though less harmful substances are available. As a result, streams have increased chloride levels; he measured half the salt content of seawater in one stream.


excess salt, edge of alley, West Chester, 12/20/17

The year of resistance

By Nathaniel Smith, Sierra Club SEPA Group, April 25, 2018

Perhaps environmentalists have had too much faith in the power of government in advancing our goals. The federal government created national parks, put the EPA to work to protect air and water, has at times protected endangered species, and much more.

But now, with a federal government actively promoting fossil fuels and opposed to even the most reasonable measures against pollution and climate change, we are thrown onto our own resources.

States can do a lot. At least 20 of them (not so far including PA) have pledged to support the Paris Climate Accord; and hundreds of cities have signed on. Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 effort is getting a lot of municipalities to commit to using renewables.

In the gas pipeline controversy, the affected municipalities and their representatives in Harrisburg have been very outspoken. This is not a partisan matter, when people’s homes, schools, and public buildings are threatened. The stakes are air and water quality, human health, and property values; public officials are on notice that their constituents are watching. Many of this year’s candidates for PA House and Senate have been active in the effort to discipline the pipeline industry.

The group I have been most involved in is Don’t Spray Me!, which formed in 2015 as a response to excessive and unnecessary pesticide spraying to supposedly reduce the threat from mosquitoes. Last year Don’t Spray Me! started enlarging its scope to include other chemical threats to environmental and human health. …

read more at Sierra Club SEPA Group

DSM volunteers at work for food and the environment

It’s no surprise that Don’t Spray Me! volunteers are active in other community activities. For four years, Ashlie Delshad, DSM Block Captain and Associate Professor of Political Science at West Chester University, has led student service trips to work with urban gardens in Philadelphia that grow food to combat food insecurity throughout the city. The WCU group partners with organizations including the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society (their City Harvest Program), the Eastern Philadelphia Revitalization Alliance, and Philabundance.

Here is a photo from last year:

Don’t Spray Me! Report for 2017

First, we got some good coverage in 2017 (as in 2016) in the Daily Local News. See “Area teens find organic solution for killing weeds in sidewalks,” 7/17/17, and “‘Don’t Spray Me!’ holds rally in West Chester,” 8/28/17.

Our 5-page report can be downloaded here: DSM report 2017 12-3-17. It includes the following topics:

Spraying, larviciding, and storm drains

West Chester got through another summer with no Chester County Health Department spraying, but East Bradford, Downingtown, Birmingham, Thornbury, and Spring City were not so fortunate. It was a difficult summer with heat and lots of rain and in some areas residents reported more mosquitoes than in 2016.

We would like to emphasize preventive measures and are pressing for more thorough-going inspection, repair, and larviciding of storm drains wherever they exist. We believe that storm drains and sluggish natural water in dry weather are now the main sources of mosquitoes here. We plan to continue to emphasize the Block Captain model in West Chester.

East Bradford report

Lots of progress coming from the town’s Environmental Advisory Council and municipal staff; and residents and homeowner associations started to be more active.

Other accomplishments and victories in 2017

– a March for the Environment, following speakers in the center of West Chester, with 250 people

– an experiment in which our “Sierra Club Youth Corps” of high school students showed that a non-toxic solution is effective in fighting weeds in brick sidewalks

– two celebratory community picnics in May and in September, with other local groups

– an environmental film series at West Chester University in the fall, emphasizing toxic chemicals

Goals for 2018

Work with municipalities and the County on community education.

Emphasize larviciding, the most effective form of mosquito control.

Understand better the Vector Index used as a guide to spraying by the County and work toward raised thresholds.

Institute an “Adopt a Storm Drain” program.

Start up new DSM chapters.

A new model of yard signs.

Programs: Jan. 21 environmental justice film, Feb. 25 panel on environmental and climate change, Earth Day gathering and march on Sunday April 22, summer community event, May and Sept. celebrations in Everhart Park, Green Lawns event in fall.

A summer intern helping implement outreach, mosquito control, and larviciding goals.

“The Wisdom to Survive”

blog by Nathaniel Smith, Politics: A View from West Chester, 12/13/17

About 70 people gathered on Thursday evening December 7 to view “The Wisdom to Survive,” the final film of the fall in the West Chester University Environmental Sustainability Film Series in memory of Graham Hudgings.

The hour-long documentary at WCU’s new LEED gold-certified Business and Public Management Center was sponsored by Don’t Spray Me!, Sierra Club of Chester County, West Chester Food Co-op, WCU’s Office of Sustainability and Sustainability Advisory Council, the WCU Geography Club, and Chester County Citizens for Climate Protection (4CP).


Audience gathers for the film (Photo by Taka Nagai)

After snacks from the Food Co-op, a tour of the new LEED-certified building, and conversation over environmental exhibits, MC Sheila Burke introduced featured speaker Elizabeth Moro, Pennsbury resident and co-founder of Neighbors For Crebilly, which is striving to preserve the large farm south of West Chester as open space. A long-time supporter of environmental actions, Elizabeth was energized by the current political morass to the extent that she is running for the PA 7th U.S. Congressional seat.

Elizabeth explained that she grew up near Lake Huron, where she learned that “Mother Nature doesn’t negotiate – she’s in charge.” Humans used to work in harmony with nature, but now we need to get back to seeing the big picture that we are part of. Money is not a good way to evaluate importance. Try holding your breath, she told the group, and see at what point you’d rather draw a breath than collect money. She has helped raise funds to preserve part of the headwaters of the Brandywine near Honey Brook, Barnard’s Orchard in Pocopson, and now Crebilly Farm in Westtown.

She quoted Margaret Meade: ”Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”…

read more of the introduction, film, and discussion at Politics: A View from West Chester

History of Don’t Spray Me!

Don’t Spray Me! was founded in September 2015 by residents of West Chester PA and surrounding communities to raise awareness about the dangers of pesticides and other chemicals in the environment. We soon started working within the Sustainability Committee of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Group of the Sierra Club, and then reached out to local groups that share our environmental concerns.

Our logo is a baby in a gas mask that was featured in our first yard signs (on the right below) in 2016. We introduced our “Happy Baby” signs (on the left below) in 2017 for those who wish to emphasize that in West Chester and many other locations we had in fact not been sprayed. Our signs symbolize our desire to protect the environment and people, particularly the young, who are most vulnerable from the dangers of chemical poisons.

With the support of our mayor at the time, Carolyn Comitta, and our Borough Council, we won our first victory when the threatened spraying of Permanone in the northeast section of West Chester borough was avoided in 2015. Borough officials agreed with us that the small risk of West Nile Virus was not worth risking the health of thousands of borough residents and the associated environmental damage, including the killing of bees and other beneficial insects, the poisoning of run-off water, and the danger to pets.

We are now a group of about 250 concerned citizens with teams in West Chester Borough, East Bradford, West Goshen and Westtown working in our neighborhoods on these important environmental issues, and we will be reaching out in other municipalities in 2018. We have branched out successfully into ending Roundup use by the Borough government. We have also educated citizens through the Sierra Club Youth Corps’s work on killing weeds in sidewalks without toxic chemicals. In implementing community education, we organize two community picnics in the summer and cosponsored an environmental film festival at West Chester University in the fall of 2017. We have big plans for events in 2018.

We are in agreement with the large and growing body of research showing that spraying airborne pesticides for mosquito control poses serious threats to the environment and human health and is the least effective form of mosquito control. We favor non-toxic measures, such as larviciding and reducing mosquito breeding sites by education of residents. We are following the lead of many communities across the nation that have banned spraying for mosquitoes, some more than 15 years ago, with no adverse human health consequences. The resolution in Lyndhurst OH and the plan in Shaker Heights OH have inspired our work here in Chester County PA. We are also following the lead of the state of California in warning people about the dangers of RoundUp/glysophate. Young people are interested and involved in all these efforts and the Sierra Club is an essential national leader.

Our very recognizable signs have been very successful in getting out our message, with about 350 in place across the County during the mosquito season.

We urge all municipalities to examine these issues, to create detailed plans to control mosquitoes without spray, and thus to protect residents and the environment.

West Chester educates the public about pesticides

by Alexa Brennan, The Quad, West Chester University, October 15, 2017

For decades American society has had a substance that could be sprayed on properties to decrease homeowners’ chances of contracting a mosquito-borne illness. However, this substance has met controversy as it could have long lasting negative effects on your health and other living beings, such as: bees, butterflies, dragonflies, cats, frogs, small children and hyper-allergic individuals. Given that risk, some argue that we shouldn’t spray. Don’t Spray Me is an organization in Chester County that fights to stop the use of dangerous pesticides; instead, they educate the community on safer and more effective means of controlling mosquitoes.

Throughout the Borough of West Chester, their lawn signage can be seen. It features a cartoon baby in a gas mask. When looking for a logo, Founder Margaret Hudgings wanted to find something that represented the dangers pesticide spraying had on children, so she searched Google Images for “baby in gas mask” and that image popped up. They got permission from Slovenian artist Daniel Ferencak to use his work, and that is how the baby in the gas mask came about.

Pesticide spraying can be life threatening. These pesticides have been linked with Autism, ADHD, Parkinsons and other kinds of cancers. Hudgings lost her son, Graham, to multiple chemical sensitivity due to spraying. “My son died five months ago after being sick for over 20 years from exposure to pesticide spraying,” said Hudgings. This has been a huge motivation for her and she is passionate about educating others….

read more at The Quad