Environmentalists and those just learning about the challenges we are facing with a warming planet gathered at West Chester University on Friday, December 7, to view the film “The Future of Energy.”
The program, moderated by Paula Kline of Ready for 100, also featured the presentation of an award for volunteer of the year on behalf of Don’t Spray Me! by Sierra Club of SE PA leader Wylie. Rachel Davis, who won this honor as a result of her leadership on environmental issues in the community, headed the program Adopt a Drain with the Sierra Club Youth Corps, monitoring storm drains throughout West Chester Borough. Rachel is a member of Mayor Herrin’s committee to phase out the use of single-use plastic in the borough. She was also a block captain and board member for Don’t Spray Me! and serves the Borough on the Sustainability Advisory Committee. Congratulations, Rachel.
This film, the final this year in a series of four, was sponsored by Don’t Spray Me!, Sierra Club, PennFuture, PennEnvironment and West Chester University’s Office of Sustainability. This second annual series was presented to the community in memory of Graham Hudgings, who died last year as a result of chemical poisoning. Graham wanted everyone to be aware of the dangers of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and all of the everyday chemicals people now encounter in their daily lives.
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. …
Tell your representative to oppose this anti-environment House Farm Bill.
The House 2018 Farm Bill is an absolute disaster — and we need to do everything we can to stop it. It is replete with partisan, anti-environmental provisions, representing Big Ag and pesticide companies over our food supply, wildlife, ecosystem, residents, and small farmers. Congress should look after the public interest before the profits of the world’s largest chemical companies. Take action here to urge your representative to vote down this dangerous bill now!
The House version of the Farm Bill:
Cuts programs to develop farmer’s markets
Seeks to exempt pesticide manufacturers from liability for harming endangered wildlife
Weakens critical protections to keep wildlife safe from toxic pesticides
Increases costs for organic farmers and undermines ecological, sustainable farming
Proposes a new office to advocate for the use of genetically engineered organisms
Logs its way through our forests and guts water conservation programs
Makes it easier for corporate polluters to contaminate drinking water supplies
Cuts safety net programs for low-income people, exacerbating hunger and food insecurity
Attacks food sovereignty and home rule, striking state rights to set their own food and animal standards, such as pesticide bans or cage-free egg requirements
Cuts programs proven to promote soil heath and fight climate change
Continues support for big corporate Caged Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs)
This Farm Bill would cause so much damage, it must be altogether stopped. The public deserves safe and healthy food, water, wildlife, and forests — and the House needs to put the greater good before Big Ag’s toxic agenda. We deserve fair food and farm policies that respect our rights, our health and the need for a healthy environment to sustain our current and future generations.
Text of the talk given at the April 22 Earth Day rally by Ken Hemphill, Open Space Advocate and Southeast PA Sierra Club Executive Committee Member:
There are two axioms that have inspired me in my involvement to save open space. The first is Margaret Mead’s point that a small group of thoughtful people can change the world. The second is that we should think globally but act locally. And both of these were certainly true the first time I got involved fighting with a small group against the destruction of a local place known as Beaver Valley on the DE PA border.
A politically connected developer wanted to build 450 ticky tacky houses in a 325 acre publicly subsidized wildlife refuge that had been open for public use for 40 years. In late 2012, when the plans were introduced, things looked really grim and our mood reflected that. Few in the group believed we could win. Some were just hoping to scale down the plans and make them less egregious and reduce the traffic impact. Everyone thought it was a done deal since the supervisors in Concord Township were advocating for the development in various newspapers.
Nevertheless, a few of us felt that we could fight city hall and save Beaver Valley. So we formed a second group called Save the Valley and we hunkered down knowing it would be a long fight. We held rallies and protests. We built a massive Facebook presence. We published dozens of our own articles. We sent mailers. We put flyers on windshields all over the Brandywine Valley. Grew our email list. We canvassed. We got in the newspaper, on the radio, and TV. We flooded public meetings, at one point turning out 1,000 people to a meeting in May of 2013. We were everywhere and relentless. And we won. We didn’t settle for a smaller development. We didn’t settle for a little less traffic. We saved all of it. Five years later, that wildlife refuge in Beaver Valley will be added to the First State National Historical Park and will be permanently protected.
With that success showing what was possible, someone mentioned to me what Toll Brothers wanted to do to Crebilly Farm right down the road on 202. I went to a meeting at Stetson Middle School and I dove in head first with Neighbors for Crebilly. As many of you know, Crebilly Farm is one of Chester County’s most iconic farms and a place that saw action with Hessians during the Battle of the Brandywine on September 11, 1777. During WW2, German POWs built a barn on the property. And yet all of this history and beautiful open space would be lost if Toll Brothers were to plop 317 of their plastic houses on this hallowed ground. But Toll didn’t expect people to organize and fight back. And that’s what Neighbors for Crebilly has been doing for the last year and a half. The fight now heads to court and we’re in this for as long as it takes to save Crebilly Farm.
If I could boil my involvement with open space advocacy down to one common truth it would be this: you don’t have to take it. You can fight back against corporations and a government that enables them. Small groups are having an impact and effecting change all over this country. If you think that your voice won’t be heard, that you’re too small to fight back just remember that one woman saw the damage that DDT was doing to our environment and she did something about it. But she didn’t just write Silent Spring cataloguing the harm of a pesticide, she devoted herself to seeing its use banned. And the movement Rachel Carson started was successful in having DDT banned.
To invoke John Kennedy, don’t ask what others are doing to protect YOUR environment. Ask what you can do to help. You can join Sierra Club volunteers working to circumvent the federal government to get municipalities to commit to 100% renewable energy. You can join Del-Chesco United for Pipeline Safety fighting Sunoco’s Mariner East 2 dragonpipe. You can sign up with the Don’t Spray Me group organized to stop the unneeded spraying of toxins in our communities. You can get involved with the group fighting to clean up the old Bishop Tube site in East Whiteland. You can join Neighbors for Crebilly and fight for our landscapes and history. Or you can organize your own group to fight some other environmental injustice.
But, remember, we lose the right to complain about things when we refuse to get involved. When we refuse to become part of the solution, we are part of the problem. But, if you’re willing to work, you can win. We won in Beaver Valley and we will save Crebilly Farm. And you can win, too. But you just have to put your shoes on and get involved. You don’t need your entire community to support you. It only takes a small group of thoughtful people to change the world. Nothing is ever a done deal.
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.
In August 2015, the Chester County Health Department announced that it planned to spray the insecticide Permanone in the northeast part of West Chester, on Marshall Square Park (which made particularly little sense as there is no standing water there; any mosquitoes would fly in from elsewhere), A group of concerned citizens circulated a petition requesting that the Borough ask the Department to cease and desist until more data about the human and environmental safety of the pesticide in question became available.
With the support of more than 400 signers, of our mayor at the time, Carolyn Comitta, and of our Borough Council, we won our first victor5. 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. The Department of Health agreed to not spray in West Chester at that time.
Later that year, a 2012 mosquito task force was revived, with County and Borough officials and concerned citizens. That committee made a series of recommendations to address the mosquito problem and reduce mosquito breeding in the Borough. In 2019, West Chester Borough took over from the County the responsibility of larviciding mosquito breeding spots in the Borough.
Don’t Spray Me! reaches out through social media, signs, regular events, and citizen action. We let people, businesses, and non-profits know how not to breed mosquitoes on their property and how to cut down on chemical use. We urge local governments to distribute similar information and to larvicide standing water rather than allowing spraying.
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 (although many locations, including West Chester, were sprayed late in the 2018 season).
Our signs symbolize our desire to protect the environment and people, particularly the young, who are most vulnerable from the dangers of chemical poisons.
We are now a group of about 400 concerned citizens with teams in West Chester Borough, East Bradford, West Goshen and Westtown working in our neighborhoods on these important environmental issues. We have branched out successfully into ending Roundup use by the Borough government. With the help of paid summer interns, we have also worked with young people on killing weeds in sidewalks without toxic chemicals, monitoring storm drains, and gardening organically. In implementing community education, we have organized several community picnics and cosponsored Earth Day observations and a regular fall environmental film festival at West Chester University.
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.
Our very recognizable signs have been very successful in getting out our message, with hundreds in place across the County during the mosquito season. The mood of our 2018 sign, pictured below, is in the middle between 2016 and 2017, pictured above.
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.