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Wellesley Pesticide Awareness Campaign and Regional Collaborative

Project Details

Year: 2001-2002
Location: Wellesly and surrounding 12 towns
Project Manager: Sarah Little, Pesticide Awareness Coordinator Wellesley Health Department
Partners: Wellesley Cancer Prevention Project, Needham Garden Center, Charles River Watershed Association, Northeast Organic Farming Association (Year 1); Towns of Marblehead, Natick, Norwood, Newton, Sherborn, Sudbury, Waltham and Wayland. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection funded four additional towns to participate in the project: Andover, Lexington, Needham, Westwood (Year 2)

Project Overview

In 2001, the Wellesley Health Department, Natural Resources Commission, Department of PublicWorks and Schools worked together to develop a pesticide awareness program and a pesticide reduction strategy for their Town. As part of the strategy, an Organic Pest Management Policy, modeled after the Town of Marblehead's (TURN 1999), was crafted to govern pesticide use on all town-owned property, and set an example for private property owners.

After a year of awareness raising, interest from many surrounding communities led Wellesley to expand their efforts to do more regional education. With support from TURI and the Department of Environmental Protection, 12 communities signed on to a Regional Pesticide Awareness Collaborative that included health officials working with local citizens to develop and mail pesticide awareness letters town-wide. Read more below.

Project Accomplishments (Year 2)

The Regional Pesticide Awareness Collaborative included the following components:

  1.  Development of a Municipal Pesticide Reduction Resource Guide and training workshop for participating towns
  2.  engaging local health officials to work with local citizens on the education effort;
  3.  having local health officials develop information flyers on pesticides and lawn care to be mailed to all residents;
  4.  educating the public on alternatives;
  5.  increasing access to professionals with knowledge of alternative methods and materials.

The Wellesley Natural Resource Commission also supported a landscapers training course in organic lawn care conducted by the Northeast Organic Farmers Association.

Background (Year 1)

by Sarah Little

The Town of Wellesley has long recognized the health hazards associated with pesticides, and in 1992 formed a study committee to come up with recommendations to the town. The committee recommended, among other things, to initiate a public awareness campaign to help people understand the hazards associated with pesticide use. The Natural Resources Commission took the lead and created a number of flyers and educational materials modeled on the work that the town of Newton's Green Decade had already done. The material was made available, but not widely distributed.

In 1998 the Wellesley Cancer Prevention Project, a community group, was formed to address the issue of higher than average cancer rates in Wellesley. Pesticides figure prominently in studies of environmental causes of cancer, so the WCPP approached the Wellesley Board of Health and the Natural Resources Commission to create a Pesticide Awareness Coordinator position to move the town forward in their pesticide reduction goals. This part-time position (10hrs/wk) was funded by a vote in town meeting 2000. I applied for the position, and also in 2000 I applied for a Toxic Use Reduction Networking grant. In November of 2000 both the position and grant were initiated and the Wellesley Pesticide Awareness Campaign was created.

I found the climate ripe for creating a Pesticide Awareness Campaign. Local, state, national and international attention is being focused on restricting pesticide use. There are quite a few government and non-government organizations with information, expertise, and funds to help educate people about pesticides' ill health effects and safer methods and materials. The organic farming movement is spreading to landscaping and organic landscaping standards have been written. Professional organic landscapers and distributors of organic landscaping products are gaining ground in the Northeast.

To take quick advantage of the timing and the TURN Grant, the Wellesley Campaign was created a two-pronged approach, one aimed at the land and buildings over which the Town itself has jurisdiction, and one aimed at private landowners. Critical to both was the gathering of partner organizations to lend support and credibility to the effort.

The Town effort included support from the Health Department, the Natural Resources Commission, the Department of Public Works, the Schools, and the Selectmen. The Town effort is focused on getting the departments to be involved with creating a working pesticide reduction strategy, modeled after one created in Marblehead. This strategy includes an Organic Pest Management (OPM) Policy which after three drafts has been accepted by the Board of Health, the Natural Resources Commission. This policy governs pesticide use on all town-owned property, and sets an example for private property owners.

The public effort included support from the Wellesley Cancer Prevention Project, Bread and Circus Whole Foods Company, Charles River Watershed Association, Northeast Organic Farming Association, Needham Garden Center, Russell's Garden Center, Strata (at nature toy store), and Boston Tree Preservation (an organic landscaping company). The public effort focuses on disseminating the following information to as many people as possible: pesticides are poisonous, safer alternatives are better, we have the information you need to make the switch to organic.

The two most important parts of the public awareness effort are having a single source of information on pesticide alternatives and sources for organic materials and organic landscapers, and sending a town-wide mailing from the Board of Health (message) with the message described above.

We created a website (see sidebar) with all our Campaign material on it. The website also has links to national pesticide awareness centers with a tremendous amount of information on health hazards of pesticides and methods for dealing safely with specific pests. We also provided an e-mail and a phone contact number for the Campaign. In our case we used the Natural Resources Commission because they already had the most information on pesticide alternatives, but a Health Department would also work well.

In addition to the BOH flyer, we also created a Pesticide Awareness Campaign Brochure containing concise information on pesticide hazards, the definition of organic, organic methods, and information sources. We distribute this brochure at our partner's outlets, at fairs, events, and parades.

We produced a booklet, one Beautiful Lawns Naturally!: Guide to organic solutions to common lawn and yard problems, in association with the Northeast Organic Farming Association, and one on kitchen recipes for treating weeds, insect pests, and diseases of suburban landscapes. We also published pesticide related articles regularly in our local paper, and have sponsored one talk on organic landscaping for the homeowner. All this material is also available to view on our website,

A summary of our media outreach in 2001 included:

  •  Wellesley Hills Junior Woman's Club Phone Book Bold White Pages and Web Site entry ads;
  •  Distribution of 2000 organic lawn care brochures;
  •  Design, launch and maintenance of WPAC website;
  •  A Wellesley Free Library WPAC display;
  •  Town-wide mailing of letter from BOH
  •  Distribution of flyers at Wellesley's Hazardous Waste Collection Day;
  •  Creation of a pesticide awareness float for Wellesley May 20th Parade.

Evaluation (Year 2)

The Town relied on feedback from participants, and interest shown in the Guide. According to Sarah Little, "we have had tremendously positive feedback, and our printing of 500 Guides is probably going to fall short of the demand. We've already given out 50 through word of mouth alone. People have been so enthusiastic about our Guide, and our help in getting their pesticide use reduction efforts started, that I feel our program has been a great success." Two quotes received were: "We are very excited. You have laid so much of the groundwork for us already. You have done exactly what we have been trying to do. We are most appreciative of all your input. We have been using your resource guide constantly since we received it at the TURN meeting. Thank you for all the hard work you have put into this most important cause." "By the way, I have never, and I mean never, received so may compliments about anything the Board has done outside of that letter. We are getting a number of calls to compliment us on sending that notice out!!! Thanks for giving us the push to do something like this!!! " (Year 1)

Several metrics were used to determine the success of this project, they include:

  •  Website visits were recorded. We had 400 website visits since March, 2001. The biggest activity occurred after the letter from the Board of Health was sent to each Wellesley resident.
  •  Needham Garden Center recorded Wellesley customers. 35 customers bought the organic 4 step program material (a cost of up to $400). Over 25 others bought miscellaneous organic material or were repeat customers.
  •  The Natural Resources Commission phone lines recorded 30 calls. Many in response to the BOH letter.
  •  The Boston Tree Preservation organic landscaping company received over 15 referrals from WPAC.

In conclusion, a pesticide awareness campaign does not entail a tremendous amount of work. Successful local models (Marblehead, Newton, Wellesley) can be used to jumpstart a campaign in any town, and national organizations offer a wealth of information. The primary requirement for a successful pesticide awareness campaign is to have at least one dedicated advocate. This person can be within a town department or simply a member of the community. There is so much momentum for pesticide reduction now that a single part-time person can successfully launch a pesticide reduction campaign for their town. Wellesley would be happy to help them along.

Beyond TURN

Wellesley is still bringing more towns onboard by offering them copies of the Guide, "Healthy Lawns and Landscapes" brochures, and BOH letter examples to follow. They plan to work with the DEP to hold several workshops to train more towns. The DEP has made the Guide, and specifically the BOH letters and pesticide use reduction policies, part of the Municipal Recycling Incentive Program.

This page updated Monday August 21 2017