(Beyond Pesticides, March 16, 2010) The New Hampshire House of Representatives passed a measure last week to study the passage of a bill, HB 1456, that would establish a New Hampshire General Court committee to study the use of pesticides and their alternatives in areas where children may be exposed. Yes, that’s right; they passed a bill to study a study bill. The House majority committee proposed the interim study bill as an alternative to seeking a floor vote on HB 1456 itself because of the bill opponents’ view that the safety of pesticides is unquestionable and fear that HB 1456 would lead to a moratorium on lawn pesticides, much like what has been done throughout Canada. HB 1456 is the first state bill in the country to be successfully introduced and have a hearing with intent to restrict toxic pesticide use on public and private property, showing the momentum that is building throughout the country on this issue.
At the House Environment and Agriculture Committee hearing on HB 1456 in February, the issue of studying the impact of pesticides, mainly herbicides, on children where they are commonly used in residential neighborhoods, on school grounds, playgrounds, and other places where children congregate was hotly debated. The committee hearing lasted more than 2 hours with opposing testimony from pesticide manufacturers, pesticide applicators, and those that sell pesticides. Supporting testimony came from organic lawn care professionals, public health and medical community members, environmentalists, individuals that had been poisoned by pesticides and concerned citizens.
The interim study bill passed with no floor debate with 193 votes in favor and 110 opposed. Now the House Environment and Agriculture Committee will work over the next several months gearing up for the next push for HB 1456. The interim study will give advocates more time to show the legislature why New Hampshire needs to prohibit certain high hazard pesticides and provide a solid list of alternative methods and approaches to managing lawns and landscapes throughout the state.
As Beyond Pesticides stated in written testimony on HB 1456, the registration of pesticides is fraught with studies of adverse human health and environmental effects and uncertainties associated with effects on children and untested health outcomes. Any pesticide legally used in this country must be registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This registration does not constitute an approval rating or safety claim of any sort — nor does it guarantee that the chemicals have been fully tested for environmental and human health effects. Risk assessment calculations under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) — the federal pesticide registration and tolerance laws, respectively — are fraught with limitations in fully evaluating health effects and false realities about daily toxic exposure and individual sensitivities. Risk management decisions under these laws assume the benefits of toxic pesticide products to society or to various sectors of users, and then make a determination that the risks are “reasonable.” Even under FQPA, which has been touted for its health-based standard, there is an inherent assumption that if a pesticide meets a highly questionable “acceptable” risk threshold, it has value or benefit. This is the practice even though there are typically less or non-toxic methods or products available. Absent altogether is any analysis of whether the so-called “pest” (insect or plant) has been accurately defined. EPA does not regularly consider non-chemical alternatives (such as organic agricultural methods), nor does it evaluate the need for or the benefit provided to society (do we need to use toxic chemicals to kill clover in our yards?). The agency assumes 100 percent compliance with pesticide product labels, ignoring real world violations or accidents, which are widespread. While much is known about the effects of individual pesticides and products, the health effects of the mixtures are not evaluated by EPA. Many people think that the pesticides “wear off” and children are not being exposed.
In addition, we now know that in all circumstances it is not the dose that makes the poison, that even low dose exposure can cause significant adverse health effects. For example, there is significant scientific evidence of the endocrine disrupting mechanism —which defies classical “dose-makes-the poison” toxicological theory with exquisitely low doses causing effects based on timing of exposure. Risk assessments justify use patterns for widely used pesticides based on assumptions about toxicity and exposure, which are truncated by the lack of data on endocrine disruption. The analyses are skewed in favor of the continued use of hazardous chemicals. Beyond Pesticides has urged EPA and local decision makers, because of this and other regulatory inadequacies, to embrace the precautionary principle, and promote the avoidance of toxic pesticide use in favor of non-chemical practices. Beyond Pesticides believes that the only reasonable action to take is prohibiting the use of toxic pesticides and only allow the use of defined least-toxic pesticides.
The pesticide lobby pushes the notion that without toxic pesticides buildings and lawns would be overwhelmed by disease-carrying pests and unsightly and dangerous weeds. This is not true. Experience shows that pest problems can be effectively managed without toxic pesticides. The vast majority of insect and weed pests may be a nuisance, or raise aesthetic issues, but they do not pose a threat to children’s health. Where they do present a threat, they can be prevented or managed effectively without toxic chemicals. There is no rational use of a toxic pesticide linked to asthma, cancer, learning disabilities or other adverse health effects to manage pest problems when safer alternative non-chemical and least-toxic pest management strategies exist.
Organic products are making inroads into the $35 billion lawn- and garden-care industry, which for years has been focusing on chemically-intensive methods. The growing demand for organic land care is coming from all sectors: homeowners, municipal park managers, and business professionals alike. Examples from around the country prove that pest management without toxic chemicals is effective and successful. This is just the tip of the iceberg, as new policies and programs that have restrictions on pesticide use are continually being implemented by local and state government entities as well as schools and homeowner associations.
* Massachusetts statewide pest management requirements prohibit the Massachusetts prohibit pesticide applications on school grounds for purely aesthetic purposes. The state law also prohibits the use known, probable, or likely carcinogens as well as products that contain EPA List 1, Inerts of Toxicological Concern.
* Connecticut statewide pest management requirements prohibit the use of pesticides on day care center and kindergarten through 8th grade schools’ grounds. Connecticut law that prohibits pesticides from being applied on school grounds has resulted in several municipalities finding success in implementing pesticide-free, organic turf programs on their property.
* Oregon statewide pest management requirements prohibit the use of known, probable, or likely carcinogens and EPA toxicity category I or II pesticides product (bares the words “Warning” or “Danger” on its label) as well as the application of a pesticide for purely cosmetic/aesthetic purposes or a schedule routine preventive application.
* San Francisco, California passed their pesticide ordinance in 1996, which requires all city departments to eliminate their use of the most hazardous pesticides, including immediately banning the use of pesticides linked to cancer, reproductive harm, and those that are most acutely toxic. It also banned all pesticides except for a list of approved least toxic pesticides effective January 1, 2000.
* Camden and Rockport, Maine have both adopted policies that eliminate the use of pesticides on town-owned property including parks and on playing fields. Camden’s pesticide policy states, “All pesticides are toxic to some degree and the widespread use of pesticides is both a major environmental problem and a public health issue. Federal regulation of pesticides is no guarantee of safety. Camden recognizes that the use of pesticides may have profound effects upon indigenous plants, surface water and ground water, as well as unintended effects upon people, birds and other animals in the vicinity of treated areas. Camden recognizes that all citizens, particularly children, have a right to protection from exposure to hazardous chemicals and pesticides.”
* Branford, Connecticut is a model for others around the country in managing town playing fields, parks and public lawns without using pesticides. The town’s Parks and Recreation Department’s remarkable success in implementing an organic land management approach has resulted in healthier turf and lower maintenance costs. Alex Palluzzi, Jr., director of the Branford Parks and Recreation Department, says he once was “on the other side” but now is motivated by the results he sees with organic and wants to get others to do the same. All twenty-four of the town’s fields are maintained with organic practices. “We have not used pesticides in years,” says Mr. Palluzzi. Instead, the town relies on properly aerating the soil, overseeding, mowing the turf high, adding compost and testing the soil.
* Greenwich, Connecticut also passed a policy banning the use of pesticides on all of its athletic fields and parks.
* Rockland County, New York legislators passed a bill to eliminate the use of toxic pesticides on all county-owned or leased land.
* Marblehead, Massachusetts Board of Health adopted an organic landscape managment policy for turf and landscape on all town-owned lands. The policy prohibits the use of toxic chemical pesticides on town property, including known, likely or probable human carcinogens or probable endocrine disrupters, and those pesticides that meet the criteria for Toxicity Category I or II, as defined by the US EPA. Products approved by the Northeast Organic Farmer’s Association (NOFA) Organic Land Care Program or of the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI), which reviews the allowed inputs for USDA certified organic food, may be used on town-owned lands.
* Thirty-one communities in New Jersey have adopted pesticide-free zones and pest management programs that aim to eliminate toxic pesticide use on township property including playing fields, parks and public lawns. Examples of New Jersey communities with such policies include the townships of Hamilton, Bernards, Chatham, Cherry Hill, Collingswood, Asbury Park, East and West Windsor, Hightstown, Montclair, Ocean City, Dennis, Colts Neck, Hazlet, Neptune, Red Bank, Pine Beach and Wall as well as Burlington and Cape May Counties.
* Seventeen Northwest U.S. cities have adopted a pesticide-free parks programs, allowing more than 50 parks to be managed without the use of any pesticides (including insecticides, fungicides and herbicides), according to the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides. Weeds in these parks are managed with a variety of techniques including hand pulling, flame weeding and mulching by parks staff and sometimes by volunteers.
* The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation is driven by a policy that targets areas frequented by children, such as playgrounds, picnic areas, baseball fields, campgrounds, beaches, and hiking trails to substantially reduce pesticide use throughout the State park system. “New York has a magnificent State park system that is a tremendous resource for all New Yorkers,” said Governor Paterson. “People visiting our parks, particularly children, should not be exposed to pesticides. The policy asserts in the introduction that, “[T]he use of pesticides can cause potential environmental and human health risks, even when pesticides are used in compliance with regulatory requirements and manufacturer recommendations.”
* Harvard University has committed to managing its entire 80-acre campus with pesticide-free, natural, organic lawn and landscape management strategies, all the while saving tens of thousands of dollars a year. According to reports, managing the grounds with an organic management approach saves the school two million gallons of water a year as irrigation needs have been reduced by 30 percent. It cost Harvard $35,000 a year to get rid of “landscape waste” from its campus grounds. Now that cost is gone, as the school keeps all grass clippings, leaves and branches it can for composting and making compost teas, which in turn saves the university an additional $10,000 from having to purchase fertilizers elsewhere.