In 2021, inspired by the national movement Non Toxic Communities, Alison Reintjes helped start Grow Safe: Non Toxic Missoula to reduce synthetic pesticide use in the City of Missoula.

Alison and a core group of volunteers have set out to educate, shift perspectives, and change municipal policy. In this interview with volunteer Candice Mancini, Alison describes the urgency behind this issue.

CM: Describe how you got involved in the non-toxic community.

AR: About five years ago, I began reacting to pesticides in much the same way someone with asthma reacts to cigarette smoke. At first it was unclear what was happening to me, but my health was significantly affected.

CM: What were some of your symptoms?

AR: When exposed, I have an immediate reaction that intensifies over time. I taste it as well as smell it. It’s like I’m coming down with something. It affects my respiratory system, makes me irritable and my thinking less clear, and creates a thirst that won’t go away.

CM: Can you speak about the health concerns?

AR: I started researching pesticides used by a neighbor and a nearby city park. I was shocked to see all the ways pesticides are scientifically linked to chronic disease and neurotoxicity. For instance, TruGreen, with the active ingredient 2,4-D, is used ubiquitously in Missoula. It’s linked to cancer, endocrine disruption, neurotoxicity, kidney and liver damage, birth defects, and reproductive effects.

CM: How did the use of pesticides and insecticides originate?

AR: The pesticide industry grew out of chemical warfare developed in WWI and WWII. In fact 2,4-D was a key component of Agent Orange, and Nazi Germany’s gas chambers used the insectide Zyklon B to kill. Pesticides, which include herbicides and insecticides, are meant to harm life. We want to think of them only killing weeds, but they also harm human health, insects, pollinators, wildlife, our pets, as well as our land, air, and water quality.

CM: What is the risk to children?

AR: The American Pediatric Association released a powerful statement highlighting the ways children are at particular risk. Since their brains and bodies are developing, kids are more sensitive to toxins.

There are three main avenues of exposure: inhalation, skin contact, and ingestion. Kids breathe more rapidly than adults, taking in more through inhalation. They roll around and have their bodies down on the ground. And they put their hands and other things in their mouths more than adults.

Many parents feed their kids organic foods but don’t realize the risk of pesticide exposure in the air and soil of their own towns. I picture my kids at Sacajawea Park, sitting at the base of a tree building fairy houses, their favorite activity in early years. It was bare dirt around the base of those trees. I hadn’t realized the barren circle was from glyphosate applications, meant to reduce weed whacking.

Glyphosate, known more commonly as Roundup, is linked to cancers. Juries have found the industry guilty and liable for injury.

I’m heartbroken when I think of my kids playing in those circles of dried pesticides.

CM: How are these products brought to the market?

AR: We know that the overall quantity of pesticides applied each year across the U.S. has increased dramatically over the past 4-5 decades. But what’s most concerning is the chronic and synergistic exposures we have almost no control over. The EPA itself does not test products but approves or not based on industry testing. And we know that corporations have an incentive to show certain results. All we have to do is think about the cigarette industry. The EPA also is not looking at what happens when you’re exposed to a combination of ingredients or long-term, repeated exposures in your daily life.

CM: What are alternatives to these products?

AR: The main alternative for public spaces is organic land care. Like organic agriculture, it has a set of standards that are regenerative, sustainable, and successfully put into practice across the country. There’s a great field guide to organic land care written by Amy Rowe and Michele Bakacs, published by Rutgers NJAES Cooperative Extension.

CM: How can people get involved?

AR: Go to growsafemissoula.org, where you can sign our petition encouraging the City of Missoula to transition to organic land care on our parks, playing fields, and other public lands. Join us in embracing healthy and safe land care.

Candice Mancini is a volunteer for Grow Safe: Nontoxic Missoula. This Sustainable Missoula column is brought to you – via the Missoula Current – every week by Climate Smart Missoula and Home ReSource.

Sustainability Happenings

Here we offer ideas about sustainable ways to stay involved in our community. If you like these offerings, consider signing up for Climate Smart’s eNewsletter here. And sign up for the Home ReSource eNews via their homepage here.

Missoula’s Farmers Markets. Eat local now through the early fall! The original Farmers Market at the north end of Higgins runs every Saturday 8am-12:30 – information here. The Clark Fork Market is now located at 101 Carousel Drive near Dragon Hallow, runs every Saturday 8am -1pm – information is here.

Sunday Streets – August 8. This annual Missoula open streets celebration is back – this time hosted by the Franklin to the Fort neighborhood! Walk, bike or bus on down! Noon – 3pm. Details here.

Western Montana Fair - Aug. 11-14. Volunteer for the Zero Waste team at the Fair! Help set up and maintain Zero Waste stations. More information and sign up here. While at the Fair, check out the Creative Reuse Division!

Bike to Barns tour - Aug. 14-Sept. 30. Explore local farms and flavors on a 15-mile bike tour through Missoula’s Orchard Homes and Target Range neighborhoods. Check back here for more info.

Fixit Clinic - Aug. 21, 11am-3pm. Save the date for upcoming Fixit Clinics, hosted by Home ReSource! Bring your broken items and work with skilled repair coaches to learn how to fix them. More information and sign ups here.

River City Roots - Aug. 27-28. Help out with sustainability efforts at River City Roots! Volunteers are needed to sort trash, recycling, and compost, and to help out at the bike valet. Check this page for more info and sign ups.

Spontaneous Construction – Sept 18th. Missoula’s festival of creative reinvention! Reuse. Compete. Create. Enjoy! More info and team registration here.

Missoula’s third annual Clean Energy Expo – Sept 25. Climate Smart Missoula and Montana Renewable Energy Association are back to hosting this premier event at Caras Park. Save the Date.

Materials donations to Home Resource keep the wheels of reuse spinning in our community; and remember that everything you need to know about what to do with your unwanted stuff is at www.zerobyfiftymissoula.com.

Find more local activities and events at Missoulaevents.net and on Montana Environmental Information Center’s Conservation Calendar. And you too can help organize events – here’s the 2021 Calendar of Environmental Awareness Days – month by month break down of world day campaigns.