While many of us are off campus for the remainder of this semester—and likely the next semester—one campus-based issue still deserves our attention even if we're still completing online classes.
"LMU currently contracts out a company to come onto campus and spray synthetic herbicides," said junior economics and international relations double major Rose Williamson. "Synthetic herbicides are inorganic and have harmful chemicals ... [and is positively associated with] a multitude of human health conditions, including Alzheimer's disease, asthma, diabetes and several forms of cancer."
Williamson is a co-fellow of the Herbicide Free Campus movement starting up at LMU, a cross-college campaign to eliminate synthetic herbicide use on college campuses in favor of organic alternatives. Though HFC LMU is still in the current process of becoming a Registered Student Organization (RSO), the main HFC traces its history back to 2017 from UC Berkeley.
The campus group was initially led by environmental studies major Sierra Barsten ('20) and accomplished in-person projects like weekly weed-pulling on Fridays with the groundskeeping team as recently as March.
"Rose and I both started this semester but began preparing a bit over the summer. Sierra Barsten was the fellow last year," said junior screenwriting major and HFC LMU co-fellow Emma Dax, "so our campaign has had a presence on campus since last fall."
HFC LMU's layout for 2020 had been to encourage said weekly weed-pullings across different sections of campus, thereby eliminating the need for synthetic herbicides with organic methods.
"However," commented Williamson, "we weren’t able to execute this because of [the COVID-19 pandemic]."
The group has now moved online, beginning with last week's Zoom information session. Their goals still mirror what the larger HFC campaign has been moving toward: an environment where students don't have to worry about interacting with health-degrading herbicides while also interacting more with the community. Right now, that takes the form of educating the LMU community about possible dangers involving herbicides.
But it's not just possible dangers from herbicides that the HFC campaign wants to address — there's a financial motivator to buck herbicides, too.
"The typical argument for synthetic herbicides is that they are cost-effective," said Williamson. "However, after speaking to the head of groundskeeping, Mario, we know that at LMU, this isn’t the case. LMU could save around $20,000 per year if we went herbicide-free."
There are important considerations to consider if LMU were to abandon these herbicides and use methods outlined by the HFC movement. LMU would have to conduct multiple studies, sampling the LMU population for health effects from herbicide use to see if there are any negative health effects or if students and visitors are truly unaffected. It would be bad science to abandon herbicides just because it would feel better to do so without any evidence of harm.
Of course, there's just as much scrutiny to be laid against the opposite position — that we stick to the status quo of herbicide use without any statistical evidence showing harm. The absence of evidence can't confirm our priors.
However, if we do want to achieve a green campus, any discussion to push ourselves further to that goal should be undertaken. Once the LMU community gets more physical and the campus can reopen to a more active student body, a needed conversation between students and the University has to be had on the role current herbicide use plays in our community and whether or not we're better off for it.
This is the opinion of Cristobal Spielmann, a junior environmental science major from Brentwood, Tennessee. Email comments to email@example.com. Follow and tweet comments to @LALoyolan on Twitter, and like the Loyolan on Facebook.