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Mysterious dog illness, deaths have Summerlin residents worried about pesticides in parks

Summerlin dogs with mysterious illnesses
Summerlin dogs with mysterious illnesses
Summerlin dogs with mysterious illnesses
Summerlin dogs with mysterious illnesses
Posted at 4:23 PM, Jul 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-27 10:21:35-04

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — "He lost like 10 pounds, and he was having all of these neurological issues, like he would shake and tremor."

"All of a sudden he started having seizures. His hind legs gave out and he fell to the concrete."

"What happened with my dog is really weird. I went to several vets and they have no idea what happened, and it happened when I moved here."

Three Summerlin pet owners with three similar stories, shared at a Summerlin Council meeting in May that was called to address concerns first raised by dog owner Danielle Del Nodal.

"It's been really difficult. He is a big part of our family," Danielle said about her four-year-old Rottweiler, Mowgli, whom she describes as healthy and active before moving to Las Vegas.

However, since she and her husband, Nick, settled in Summerlin, Mowgli's had a host of health problems: back legs giving out, excessive drooling, mouth sores and weakness to the point that it's now a struggle for him to simply get up or sit down.

Summerlin dogs with mysterious illnesses
Pets in Summerlin becoming mysteriously ill and dying have residents worried toxic chemicals in their neighborhoods may be to blame.

Nevertheless, they are among the lucky ones.

"He started acting really strange and dropping a bunch of weight," said Danielle Eiferman, who lost her 7-year-old Border Collie, Louis, after she relocated to Summerlin.

"It was the worst thing I've ever experienced. He was my best friend. He was the best. I loved him," Eiferman said.

All the pet owners who spoke to the Summerlin Council have taken their dogs to vets.

"We never got a straight answer from anyone," said Eiferman.

Summerlin dogs with mysterious illnesses
Pets in Summerlin becoming mysteriously ill and dying have residents worried toxic chemicals in their neighborhoods may be to blame.

"We spent like $10,000 trying to figure out what was wrong with him," said Del Nodal. "They just concluded after he spent two nights in the hospital that he had an extreme auto-immune response."

With nothing else to explain Mowgli's symptoms, Danielle and Nick began to suspect it was something in the environment.

"We feel that since we moved here, his health has slowly degraded because of something that they've been spraying in the landscaping. When we would walk him down to the park — down to Summerlin Centre or even just in our neighborhood park — we would see them spraying all the time, having no idea what it was."

Her posts about Mowgli's plight ignited a social media firestorm.

"It's been super frustrating to hear about how many neighbors have had pets that have gotten sick."

Danielle reached out to the Summerlin homeowners association for answers about the pesticides and herbicides being sprayed in HOA parks and common areas.

"What we've asked for is a spraying schedule, just to find out where these products are being used and what specific products they are using, and what Summerlin handed back to us are these two large packets."

Packets packed with chemical names, scary side effects, and lots of rules about how the products must be used. Danielle still has questions, as some ingredients — and even the amounts of those ingredients in the products — are classified as "trade secrets."

Here's what we do know:

"Some of the chemicals they are using are extremely toxic to pets and humans," said Danielle. "Specifically this one ingredient: Trimec 2,4-d, it's in SpeedZone."

The SpeedZone herbicide label the Summerlin HOA gave Danielle says:

"Do not apply in a way that will contact any person or pet directly or through drift. Do not allow people or pets to enter the treated area until the sprays have dried."

But in Summerlin, that's a problem.

"The frequency of them being used and when they're being used has been kind of a mystery," said Danielle.

The landscape contract the Summerlin HOA provided says the contractor "...Can provide notice for larger applications, but daily reporting of spot-spraying would be cumbersome."

"And these are areas where we walk our dogs every day," Danielle said.

13 Investigates confirmed that even for larger applications, residents receive no notice.

We asked Ray Saliga with the Nevada Department of Agriculture if that's OK.

"The state of Nevada does not have a notification requirement for pesticide applications," Saliga explained.

In addition to SpeedZone, Summerlin landscapers also use Roundup. The active ingredient is glyphosate.

"Pesticide risk comes from the specific chemistry of that pesticide as well as the exposure to that pesticide," Saliga said.

The American Animal Hospital Association and veterinary experts from the U.S. to the U.K. say that "when dogs ingest glyphosate — which usually occurs when they sniff or snack on grass that's been sprayed with it — there can be some nasty consequences, like heart rate problems, difficulty breathing, convulsions," and more side effects that mimic Mowgli's symptoms, including burns in the mouth, uncontrolled drooling, gastric problems, loss of appetite and lethargy.

"We should be using products that are safe to pets and especially us," Danielle said.

No one from the Summerlin Council would go on camera for this report, despite repeated requests. At that May meeting, they said they were putting herbicide and pesticide applications on pause.

"We take this very seriously and we want to make sure that if we start moving forward, it's with a better sense of the next right step," Summerlin/Howard Hughes Corp. vice president and executive director Randy Ecklund told residents at the meeting.

The council provided a new statement on July 13, which says essentially the same thing they said in May. It reads:

For more than 25 years, The Summerlin Council has been dedicated to making Summerlin one of our country’s best and safest communities in which to live and recreate. The Summerlin Council exclusively uses licensed landscape contractors who must meet or exceed all federal and state regulations and manufacturers’ specifications when selecting and applying landscape management products. As we prioritize the health of our residents, their pets, and the surrounding environment, we continue to proactively evaluate weed control strategies in our parks and community spaces.

Mowgli had a reaction in April after landscapers sprayed an herbicide in the common area near Danielle's back fence.

"Mowgli started to drool, he started to cough and throw up," Danielle recalled.

Her yard borders a large dual-use recreation path that runs through many Summerlin neighborhoods and also serves as a drainage ditch. SpeedZone's label has a warning not to spray near drainage ditches.

The Nevada Department of Agriculture took samples in the area for testing after Danielle filed a complaint.

"The primary concern of our investigation process is to evaluate the possible misuse of pesticides," Saliga said.

Investigators did not take any samples in Summerlin parks.

They took a total of seven samples from Danielle's yard, along her property line, and between her backyard and the walking path.

The results released July 11 said, "Lab analysis did not detect the active ingredients in SpeedZone," but in four of the samples, they did find glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup.

Lab results also showed "relatively insignificant amounts" of glyphosate near Danielle's "property line and on foliage growing through the fence."

The lab detected "significant amounts" of glyphosate on samples between her yard and the walkway.

"I think the bigger picture here is trying to find an alternative so that we can have a healthier park and area to be around," Danielle said.

The makers of Roundup sent a statement saying:

"Glyphosate has been used to safely control problematic weeds in public areas for more than 40 years. Glyphosate has been thoroughly examined by independent experts at regulatory authorities to ensure approved uses of the product are safe for people, the environment, and other non-target plants and animals, including pets."

But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says, "Pets may be at risk of digestive or intestinal problems if they touch or eat plants that have just been sprayed."

And the National Pesticide Information Center says animals exposed to "glyphosate herbicides have displayed anorexia, lethargy, hypersalivation, vomiting, and diarrhea," as well as heart rate problems, loss of muscle control, collapse and convulsions.

"The use of professionally applied lawn care pesticides raised the risk of lymphomas in dogs by 70%," a 2012 study from Tufts University's Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine found.

The study does not indicate which pesticides, but according to the authors, "exposure to 2,4-d" — the primary ingredient in SpeedZone — "has previously been implicated in canine cancer."

The makers of SpeedZone declined to comment for this story but provided an industry task force document citing its own studies, and stating "2,4-d is not an animal carcinogen."

Summerlin residents aren't convinced, and they told the HOA as much in that May meeting.

"You may say it's unsubstantiated, but I think it's pretty common knowledge that all these chemicals are not good for anybody involved," said Danielle Eiferman.

A similar process played out in May in Oceanside, Calif. According to an article in The Coast News, residents of one HOA community worried their pets had been poisoned by pesticides after dozens of dogs and cats reportedly fell ill and many died.

The article says the animals' illnesses began after the HOA hired BrightView landscape services — the same company that services Summerlin — using some of the same pesticides.

The article says San Diego county officials investigated and, citing in part a lack of veterinary medical reports, "determined there was no correlation between the dogs' illness symptoms and pesticide activities."

A BrightView executive highlighted that in the Summerlin Council meeting, emphasizing that they've never misapplied products and saying they have a clean record.

"Only 6 percent of Summerlin parks are treated with pesticide, and we use the least amount possible to control weeds," BrightView said.

But they agreed their landscape teams need to revisit notification practices.

"There definitely needs to be broad communication," said Eiferman. "I would say even post it at the park where we have the rules for keeping your dog on a leash and picking up after your dog."

The Nevada Department of Agriculture's report did note violations of state law by another pesticide company working for the Summerlin HOA because of records that "do not clearly state the total amount...or concentration of pesticide applied."

We asked Summerlin for a specific response to the state's report and that noted violation, but they referred back to the above statement.

We've learned that Summerlin has started some limited spraying again, with a schedule posted to notify residents on the council's website.

Danielle Del Nodal created a group on social media where pet owners can share their concerns. She also started a petition to create awareness and spark change.

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