Saugus Union School District Grounds Supervisor/Technician Tony DiTommaso diplays the high-heat, low pressure steam heads used to kill weeds with the news weed abatement system at Tesoro Del Valle Elementary School in Valencia on Tuesday. Dan Watson/The Signal

SUSD unveils new, eco-friendly weed remover

Before Los Angeles County supervisors decided last week to suspend the use of RoundUp — the weed-killing chemical associated by the World Health Organization with cancer — the Saugus Union School District had already begun planning to end its use at the district’s schools.

Hoping to replace the controversial herbicide, district officials began looking at alternatives that were safe for students and staff, were environmentally friendly and could be used effectively at all 15 SUSD school sites, according to district officials.

Weeds wilt as Saugus Union School District Groundskeeper Juan Arriaga uses high-heat, low pressure steam to kill weeds at Tesoro Del Valle Elementary School in Valencia on Tuesday. Dan Watson/The Signal

“RoundUp is still a product that can still be used in California, but we made the decision to no longer use it,” said Nick Heinlen, the district’s assistant superintendent of business services. “Typically we would only spray RoundUp once a year. We still wanted to find a better solution.”

The district eventually decided to purchase a weed-killing machine that — instead of using harmful herbicides — has a motorized sprayer that shoots out a combination of both steam and boiling water to scald the weed’s root system. The district says the solution is effective while also being safe for humans and environmentally cautious.

“The unit itself cost between $25,000 and $30,000 …  and the steam does require at least two applications to really kill everything,” said Heinlein. “But it’s 100 percent safe, and we believe we’re the first local school district to use this method.”

Weeds wilt as Saugus Union School District Groundskeeper Juan Arriaga uses high-heat, low pressure steam to kill weeds at Tesoro Del Valle Elementary School in Valencia on Tuesday. Dan Watson/The Signal

Using two different types of nozzles attached to the end of their hoses, a team of two district employees can drive the machine around to all 15 SUSD school sites, spray the cracks and flowerbeds and head out without having to worry about how much of a chemical they should be using near an elementary school.

“We have not added any positions (because of the weed killer), but because it is spring we are spending a couple extra dollars on overtime in order to catch up (on the landscaping),” said Heinlen. “We’ll spray an area twice, and then come back about four to five months later for another round.”

Union School District Groundskeeper Omar Santiago uses high-heat, low pressure steam to kill weeds in the cracks in the parking lot at Tesoro Del Valle Elementary School in Valencia on Tuesday. Dan Watson/The Signal

“They trained us how to use it because it is very hot water and a very powerful generator,” said Barbara Boliver, the maintenance and operations manager for the district. “It’s more work, but (district maintenance workers) don’t want weeds in their yards just as much as anyone else. So, if this is an alternative that can still make their job easier, then they’re very grateful for it.”

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