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What are we spraying on our grass?

| Monday, September 13, 2021

Notre Dame means a great deal to me. I am a Double Domer, I am married to a Domer and our son literally took his first steps on God Quad. He loves to play in the grass. You may have seen him, squealing as he picks up stick after stick and twirls them about. I’m sorry if he hit you with one. Because my son loves the grass and because I loved sitting in the grass outside Keenan Hall on warm fall and spring days as an undergraduate, I am concerned about what chemicals we are applying on our campus.

Have you ever seen a weed on campus? Have you ever wondered how our grass is so perfect? If you’ve ever worked in landscaping or tended to your own lawn, you know that weeds are nearly impossible to keep away. You either need to spray or remove them by hand. Weeds, in reality, are just plants where you don’t want them to be. Recently, while walking into the south entrance of LaFun, I saw a man applying some chemical treatment to the pristine grass of God Quad. I assume, perhaps incorrectly, that this spray is why we don’t have any weeds on campus.

The chemical that I am particularly worried about is glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup. I have it on good authority that we apply Roundup to the Warren Golf Course, similar to most golf courses. If you believe the California judiciary, which has ruled for the plaintiffs in numerous suits against Bayer for the production of Roundup, glyphosate is carcinogenic. As of August, Bayer had set aside over $16 billion to pay for settlements in Roundup suits and has pledged to remove glyphosate from shelves by 2023 in response to crushing litigation. If you are not inclined to trust the state of California, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified glyphosate as “probably” carcinogenic in 2015.

Governments around the world have begun to question the use of chemicals like glyphosate. Montreal recently banned the domestic use of 100 herbicides and pesticides, including glyphosate. New York State will be banning the use of glyphosate on all state lands on December 31. Germany has passed a law requiring farmers to reduce their use of glyphosate over the coming years before it is completely banned in 2024.

Regardless of the health hazards of glyphosate, we have a moral directive from the Holy Father to stop applying harmful chemicals on campus. In the papal encyclical Laudato Si, paragraph 29, Pope Francis wrote, “Underground water sources in many places are threatened by the pollution produced in certain mining, farming and industrial activities, especially in countries lacking adequate regulation or controls. It is not only a question of industrial waste. Detergents and chemical products, commonly used in many places of the world, continue to pour into our rivers, lakes and seas.” There is no question that the chemicals we spray on campus are draining into St. Joseph’s and St. Mary’s lakes and downhill into the St. Joseph’s River. I am not a hydrologist, but I would suspect that the chemicals on campus are also entering the aquifer that supplies Michiana with its drinking water. We very well may be polluting our community’s water source.

I could be completely wrong. I hope that I am. I might be underestimating Notre Dame. Perhaps that was an organic herbicide or pesticide that I saw being sprayed. Perhaps we did away with lawn chemicals long ago. I would not be surprised if the brilliant individuals working in our chemical engineering department developed an innovative and environmentally friendly method for keeping our grass so green.

But I might be right. We might still be applying Roundup and glyphosate on campus, as countless others have done since the chemical’s invention in 1970 and continue to do so today. If we are, Notre Dame should lead the way by banning the use of glyphosate on all of its properties. By doing so, we would be answering the Pope’s challenge “to protect our common home” and making our campus safe for children to play on.

Either way, we deserve to know the answer to the simple question, what are we spraying on our grass?

Eric Leis

third-year law student

Sept. 8

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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