(Beyond Pesticides, March 1, 2012) A legislative proposal to strengthen the District of Columbia’s pesticide restrictons, with a specific focus on protecting children’s health, is moving forward after a hearing that brought together supporters of the effort –physicians, a toxicologist, environmental advocates, a pest management practitioner, and the head of District’s Department of the Environment. Introduced in January by Chairwoman Mary Cheh, of the Environment, Transportation and Public Works Committee of the DC Council, the Pesticide Education and Amendment Control Act of 2012 (Act) would, among other provisions, restrict the application of pesticides at schools and day care centers, on public property and near waterways and establish publicly available courses on pesticides at the University of the District of Columbia. With targeted improvement, this legislation has the potential to make a comprehensive approach to integrated pest management the foundation for pesticide regulation in the nation’s capital and place the burden of proof for allowing toxic pesticides on the companies seeking to market such products.
Beyond Pesticides Executive Director Jay Feldman joined the numerous witnesses at a hearing on February 27 in, presenting testimony in support of the basic tenets of the Act and proposing recommendations to strengthen it. The legislation is opposed by pesticide industry groups that testified at the hearing, including the National Pest Management Association and Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment (RISE), trade groups that have consistently opposed local and state legislation across the country to ban or tighten restrictions on pesticides and implement nontoxic management practices.
As currently drafted, the Act authorizes the District’s Department of the Environment (DDOE) to designate pesticides registered in the District as either restricted use or minimum risk based on toxicity toward human and environmental health. The Act further requires DDOE to weigh the necessity for a pesticide’s use against the availability of effective and economical alternatives when making this designation. Under federal law, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is prohibited from considering a pesticide’s necessity as part of its registration review. The Act prohibits the use of pesticides designated as restricted use unless DDOE granted an exemption in the event of an emergency pest outbreak posing an imminent threat to public health or when significant economic damage would result from not using the pesticide. Individuals or entities including pest management companies seeking an exemption to use a restricted use pesticide would be required to make a good-faith effort to find alternatives; clearly demonstrates that effective, economical alternatives to the prohibited pesticide are unavailable and demonstrate a reasonable plan for investigating alternatives during the exemption period.
The strengths of the current proposal are also the areas where more precise language is needed to ensure that the new standard is fully protective. The Act should clearly identify the human health hazards that are viewed as unacceptable and unnecessary in pest management systems in the District and direct DDOE to examine the full spectrum of adverse outcomes associated with each pesticide it registers. The risk management approach used by EPA to register pesticides has failed to adequately protect the public health and the environment. The approach is especially insensitive to the most vulnerable, including children and the elderly, and those who have existing illnesses associated with cancer, respiratory problems, immune and nervous system and other medical conditions cited above. Beyond Pesticides maintains a database of epidemiologic and laboratory studies based on real world exposure scenarios that link public health effects to pesticides. Additionally, the registrants should assume the burden of proving that their products can meet the public health standard going forward. In this context, no chemical should be introduced into a pest management system without a showing that it is necessary after all cultural, mechanical, and biological approaches have been implemented.
The Act would further benefit from an enhanced definition of integrated pest management prioritizing non-chemical practices that prevent pests from entering a site or becoming established. There should be no allowance for any pesticides or synthetic fertilizer ingredients in lawn and landscape maintenance since organic practices are capable of providing outstanding results. Organic practices eliminate chemicals, incorporate compost fertilizers and mulching systems, and focus on managing weeds and insects through the development of healthier plants and turf that are not vulnerable to disease and infestation. Additionally, public health emergencies should be the only acceptable basis for an exemption allowing a restricted use pesticide. Beyond Pesticides supports the proposed increase in the District’s pesticide registration fees with the proceeds being used to fund the DDOE’s enforcement capacity and the public education campaign.
Chairwoman Cheh was a strong supporter of the Loretta Carter Hanes Pesticide Consumer Notification Act of 2008 which was the first revision of the District’s pesticide registration regulations since their passage in 1977. The bill was named in honor of Loretta Carter Hanes, a DC resident whose family suffered severe physical impairment and financial distress in the aftermath of a disastrous application of permethrin to their home to control termites. The Act requires pesticide applicators to provide information to citizens about the pesticides that are applied in and around their homes, encourage the use of reduced risk pesticides and methods of pest control and notify citizens of outdoor pesticide applications.
DDOE Director Christophe Tulou also testified at the hearing and expressed full confidence in the Department’s capacity to meet its obligations as specified in the Act. He acknowledged that the information that EPA currently provides has not been sufficient for DDOE’s needs. Chairwoman Cheh expressed her commitment to reviewing the day’s testimony with an eye towards amending the current proposal before she closed the hearing.
A video broadcast of the entire hearing is available to watch here. Highlights include testimony and responses to follow up questions from panels of witnesses beginning with Dr. Jennifer Sass of the Natural Resources Defense Council, Dr. Jerome Paulson of the Child Health Advocacy Institute and Professor of Pediatrics at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences and Paul Tuchy of Safelawns.org (begins at 19:30); Jay Feldman of Beyond Pesticides, Alan Cohen of Bio-Logical Pest Management and Chris Weiss of the DC Environmental Network (begins at 1:20:00); Dr. Alan Vinitsky, a Board certified internist and pediatrician (begins at 2:15:00); and Dr. Richard Kramer, a pesticide applicator and business owner speaking on behalf of the National Pest Management Association, Burt Dotson, Jr., also a pesticide applicator and business owner and Kate Schenck representing Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment (begins at 2:45:00); and DDOE Director Christophe Tulou (begins at 3:52:00).
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.