Marin County officials acknowledged Friday they erred in allowing thousands of gallons of potentially cancer-causing pesticides to be sprayed in parks and other public recreation areas in violation of county policy.

"It was an unfortunate oversight on my part," said Fred Crowder, the county's deputy agricultural commissioner, who helps oversee Marin County's integrated pest management program.

This week Corte Madera resident Paul Apffel compiled a report he delivered to the Board of Supervisors indicating the county violated its spray law more than 90 times in the past 10 years by using pesticides that are possible human carcinogens.

Stafford Lake in Novato, McInnis Park in San Rafael, McNears Beach in San Rafael, Paradise Beach Park in Tiburon and the county Civic Center are some of the areas where the county sprayed pesticides in violation of its policy, Apffel said.

"The law is clear: if a pesticide is classified by the U.S. EPA as a carcinogen or possible carcinogen, it can't be sprayed," he said.

It is Crowder's job to advise the county's Department of Parks and Open Space and other county departments on pesticide use. He said he mistakenly relied on the California Proposition 65 list, which is much more narrow than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's list.

While admitting the error, Crowder noted the pesticides used are "also available at the local garden store and there is nothing there that is not available to the public.


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"We appreciate the public engaging in this issue and bringing it to our attention," Crowder said, acknowledging the use of some pesticides was in violation of county law.

The county law, passed in 1998, specifies that no county department shall use "any ingredient classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a human carcinogen, probable human carcinogen, possible human carcinogen, reproductive toxin or developmental toxin."

But through the end of 2007, those types of pesticides were used at least 92 times, often to suppress weeds, according to Apffel's report. In 2005, 2,758 gallons were sprayed; in 2006, 4,159 gallons were sprayed and in 2007, 2,677 gallons were sprayed, although Crowder said those numbers are high. Previous years' totals were not available.

"It shouldn't have been done and the citizens of Marin are entitled to a public hearing on this," Apffel said. "It can't be swept under the rug. It was the citizens who were wronged."

One group called for an investigation.

"The allegations are serious enough to warrant an investigation by the Board of Supervisors," said Debbie Friedman of Mill Valley, head of Mothers of Marin Against the Spray. "Many of us do have children with severe allergies, eczema and other health implications."

Crowder noted the county is in the process of re-writing pesticide laws and it would provide an opportunity to strengthen its policy.

"It will be much more clear and much more direct than the current pest management laws," he said.

But Apffel said the current law is structured in a way in which the spraying should have been reported.

"This did not happen because the existing ordinance is vague," he said.

On Friday, the 11-member Marin County Integrated Pest Management Commission took up the issue of a new pesticide management plan with hopes of sending it to the Board of Supervisors Tuesday for a first reading.

But by the end of the three-hour meeting there was enough doubt on wording of the new law for the commission to vote it down. Now it will go through another revision.

One sticking point is the creation of goals to further reduce pesticide use in the county. The ordinance presented Friday lacked that language.

Others want the county to impose "no-pesticide zones," including 300-foot buffer zones in places where children play including playgrounds, bicycle and multi-use paths and playing fields.

"We should have buffers for public trails, walkways, wetlands and things of that nature," said Roger Roberts, vice president of the Marin Conservation League.

Contact Mark Prado via e-mail at mprado@marinij.com