Bright Cities Spotlight on Salt Lake City, UT

May 31, 2017
Child walking with black puppy

Implementing a Pesticide-Free Campaign

For the past year, SLCgreen (the Sustainability Department of Salt Lake City, UT) has been pleased to partner with the Bright Cities program as part of Healthy Babies Bright Futures (HBBF) to determine how we can reduce or eliminate children’s exposures to neurotoxic chemicals when they’re at the most vulnerable stage of their development.

Exposure to toxic chemicals is so widespread and the impacts on brain development are so severe that leading scientists and doctors call it a “silent epidemic.” When a child’s exposure to neurotoxic (or “brain drain”) chemicals is high, so are incidences of ADHD, behavioral problems, cognitive delays and low birth weight. These compelling facts led to our involvement in this great program.

Studies also show that disproportionately high exposure to these chemicals is one important reason why children below the poverty line are more likely to have intellectual disabilities. While toxic chemicals are not the sole cause for these lifelong effects, these adverse developmental outcomes are among the most preventable.

While we are a city that leads on many sustainability initiatives, we can and must do better. Our partnership with HBBF has provided fresh ideas, critical expertise and experience and a structure within which to test concepts and drive progress on chemical reduction. With support from HBBF, the City has completed an assessment of the current risks, priorities and opportunities related to neurotoxic chemical exposures stemming from regular City operations.

Using this research, we have prioritized programs that can have some of the largest impacts within the least amount of time. Our actions include:

  • A new internal sustainability policy. With language targeting the procurement of products containing neurotoxic chemicals, the new policy provides an outline for reducing and eliminating the use of these products. Our next step is to hold internal workshops with procurement officers to get them up to speed on the new policy and equip them with the tools and support they need to purchase safe and healthy options.
  • A public outreach campaign. Pesticides are present in public spaces, but the greatest exposure comes at home. While Salt Lake City is taking steps to reduce pesticide use in parks, we’ll ask residents and businesses to take the “Pesticide Free” pledge and show support for healthier ecosystems and children by putting up a campaign yard sign and committing to phase them out as well. To further bolster public support for chemical pesticide alternatives, the City will co-host open workshops on organic turf management. Targeting both Salt Lake City municipal spaces and residential and business landscapes, the “Pesticide Free” Campaign will introduce a new approach that will help to evaluate best practices for organic management and assist in determining the most effective ways to implement these practices on a wider scale.
  • A pilot program that tests the effectiveness of organic-based fertilizer and pest controls. Beginning this spring in two Salt Lake City parks, this new pilot program will evaluate how turf treated only with organic fertilizer and pest controls fares compares to a control area. This work builds from the great progress our Parks Division has already achieved to implement an integrated pest management plan, which currently includes a warning process to notify residents of applications and keeping a pesticide free buffer zone around playgrounds.

The goal is to work both internally and externally by taking effective, city-wide actions to build outside awareness surrounding the risks of pesticide use and showcase the healthy alternatives that exist. We aim to lead by example by using the latest expert studies and research to help inform decisions and educate the public. Future work with HBBF includes a food access study that will incorporate foods of concern and expanding outreach along the Wasatch Front for how cities can improve air quality.

We look forward to keeping you updated on our endeavors. In the meantime, many thanks to the Healthy Babies Bright Futures team for helping us move toward a healthier city for all!


Bridget Stuchly is the Program Manager for SLCgreen, the public face of Salt Lake City’s Sustainability Department. SLCgreen is comprised of award-winning environmental programs that continue to help residents and businesses conserve resources, reduce pollution, slow climate change and ensure a healthy-sustainable future for Salt Lake City. This includes a goal of generating 100% clean energy for the community’s electricity use by 2032; diverting 100% of waste by 2040; and continuing to work towards a low-carbon, sustainable food system that provides equitable access to healthy food for all. Learn more in Climate Positive SLC. The Department also works internally to ensure municipal policies and operations incorporate sustainable goals and metrics. Salt Lake City joined the Healthy Babies Bright Futures campaign as one of the first Bright Cities.