CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — A Champaign-Urbana environmental group is warning about the negative impacts of herbicides on trees, saying that everyone needs to take action.
Prairie Rivers Network said more than 95 species of trees were tested for herbicide chemicals. In their study of herbicides, the environmental group found 20 oak trees exposed to chemical symptoms. 42 woody vines and shrubs were affected, and more than 100 herbaceous species were also harmed.
Director of Ecology Protection Kim Ernst-Pitcher said agriculture practices play a role in pollution, which can impact the food we grow and the water we drink.
“We’re growing herbicide-tolerant crops, which allow for the application of herbicides throughout the growing season, not just at the beginning of the growing season,” Ernst-Pitcher said. “We also have a lot of people doing lawn care.”
The group tested trees in Champaign and Urbana and found more than 200 species affected by herbicides through leaf samples. And it’s not just trees at risk.
Director of Strategy Robert Hirschfeld said herbicides are used near schools and public spaces like parks. He said his daughter’s preschool dealt with problems many times.
“Several times this past year, they had to rush the kids inside because they were literally getting herbicide sprays drifting, landing on the kids,” Hirschfeld said.
Experts said curly, wavy or twisted leaves show signs of impact by the spray. Urbana Parks and Recreation Executive Director Tim Bartlett said he’s noticed the problem for a while.
“The last four or five years, we kind of weren’t sure ourselves,” Bartlett said. “Is it climate change, is it insects, is it a tree disease? Is it a combination? That’s kind of what we’re hearing.”
Officials said lowering usage is one solution. Another is building awareness. They said local leaders should take a strong look when applying herbicides around schools and public places.
“We’re always looking for better, safer chemicals,” Bartlett said. “And again, we try to limit it and educate our staff and volunteers that use it.”
Officials at Prairie Rivers Network said they’ll continue to spread the message of drifting herbicide pollution across the state. The goal is to have legislation that can prevent it from doing further damage.