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The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has found that at least 10 Minnesota watersheds have been contaminated with a pesticide called chlorpyrifos. Don’t worry about how to pronounce it, worry that you’re eating it for breakfast since our government has let it be used for decades as an insecticide on crops including apples, corn and wheat. According to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, more than 1 million pounds of the pesticide were sold in 2017.

Chlorpyrifos is a wide-spectrum pesticide and kills insects including bees, butterflies and dragonflies. It’s been proven to be highly toxic to birds. Even worse, chlorpyrifos has been shown to damage the developing brains of children. Multiple scientific studies link exposure during pregnancy to lower birth weight, delayed mental and psychomotor development, attention and behavior problems, and reduced IQ.

Other civilized countries have already rid their environments of this killer. The Environmental Protection Agency was on its way to a final ban until the Trump administration took over. With the federal government unwilling to act, it’s now up to the states. California, Hawaii and New York have already banned chlorpyrifos.

Minnesota needs to get on board. Contact your state senator and representative and tell them you don’t want this pesticide in your water or in your breakfast. If they fail to act, remind them there’s an election next year.

Greg Larson, Excelsior

JUSTICE SYSTEM

Closure of Boys Totem Town guides us into a more just future

This week our community celebrated and commemorated the closure of Boys Totem Town (“End of an era for troubled boys,” Aug. 15). BTT was Ramsey County’s male juvenile incarceration facility. The closure shows a bottom-line message that the county has made a true and direct commitment to progressive reform in its juvenile justice systems.

From my first day on the County Board to today, I reflect on the direction we have taken to rethink and address the overincarceration of our youths and the ripple effect it has had downstream in our communities. A decade ago many would have barely believed that we could change the trajectory of our justice systems, but here we are, deep in conversation with the community about what is next. When we look to our data, it shows a nearly 80% reduction in youth detention admissions over the past dozen years, which I attribute to our persistent and committed effort as a community to reduce incarceration and duration of lockup, mindful of the disproportionate engagement of young people of color in these systems.

It is clear that lasting reform will require deeper discussion and planning for prevention services and trauma-informed interventions, done intentionally with community-based organizations and those families experiencing the justice system. For services and offerings to young people and families in the justice system, keeping our focus on alternatives to incarceration and deeper impact strategies for our young people will be paramount.

While we will always need responses to young people who offend, we will continue with our community to pursue and build more effective methods to ensure public safety while also addressing youth development and equity. In that regard, I am excited to encourage our community to help shape our Ramsey County 2020-21 budget as we look to further our upstream justice reform efforts that will provide us direction for wider and deeper systems transformation.

Toni Carter, St. Paul

The writer is a Ramsey County commissioner.

WAGE THEFT

Pay employees fairly. But don’t construct a patchwork of rules.

I’d like to thank the Star Tribune Editorial Board for its editorial on wage theft (“Mpls. doesn’t need new wage-theft ordinance,” Aug. 8). I serve as the head of human resources at Graco, a Minneapolis-based manufacturer, and chair of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce board. At Graco (and the chamber), we’re absolutely in favor of protecting employees against wage theft. Employees are our most valuable assets and paying employees fairly — competitively, in fact — is critical to our business.

The same goes for sick and safe time. We’re not opposed to these concepts. For example, in 1997, we replaced factory-paid sick leave in Minnesota with the equivalent of 48 hours of paid sick leave in employees’ paychecks. This may not be the solution for all businesses — but it was right for us.

Twenty years later, the city of Minneapolis acted beyond what the state requires with its sick- and safe-time ordinance and removed flexibility for organizations to implement solutions that fit business needs. Similarly, the local wage-theft ordinance goes beyond the state’s requirement and will cause an administrative burden for our Minneapolis operations, which are already under the pressure of ever-increasing manufacturing competition worldwide.

No employees should ever wonder if they’ll be paid for their work. We’d simply like to avoid creating an unworkable patchwork of labor rules. We welcomed the statewide approach, but we’re again left with new rules from the city of Minneapolis. If we want to keep sustainable jobs in Minneapolis, we need a strong set of statewide labor rules pre-empting cities from creating their own.

David Ahlers, Minneapolis

VAPING

It’s time to ban nicotine flavoring

A few days ago, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services reported that at least a dozen teens had been hospitalized with severe lung damage, and last week Children’s Minnesota reported four cases of severe lung damage associated with vaping (“Teen lung injuries linked to vaping,” Aug. 14). Almost certainly this “severe lung damage” is bronchiolitis obliterans — complete destruction of the small airways in the lungs. The popular name is “popcorn lung” because it was first identified in individuals who were exposed to high levels of microwave popcorn flavoring during production. Unfortunately, the only treatment of this condition is a lung transplant.

The Minnesota Department of Health has issued a warning about the association of vaping with severe lung damage, but it is time to go further before we end up with a cohort of teens and young adults who are listed for lung transplant. It is time to prohibit the sale of flavored nicotine and the sale of flavoring for nicotine. Right now.

Thomas E. Kottke, Minneapolis

The writer is a doctor and medical director at HealthPartners.

DIPLOMACY

Israel bans Omar, Tlaib at its peril

I am a lifelong Democrat and a Jew. I disagree with almost everything that U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar says she stands for. I did not vote for her in the primary and I’m really hoping she faces a primary challenge in 2020. Having said all of that, I’m appalled by the decision of the Israeli government to deny entry to Omar and Rep. Rashida Tlaib. With every step Benjamin Netanyahu’s government takes, it ties itself closer to the current U.S. administration and further politicizes support of Israel.

Israel used to be an issue Jewish Democrats and Republicans could agree on. Now, thanks to President Donald Trump and Netanyahu, it’s yet one more issue that is polarizing our community and our country. There won’t always be a Republican in office — Israeli officials would be well-advised to consider that fact.

Betsy Yarosh, St. Louis Park

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