(Beyond Pesticides, July 31, 2012) Last week, Richmond, California’s City Council unanimously approved a pesticide reform ordinance targeting the use of toxic chemical pesticides within city boundaries. Barring a public health emergency or immediate threat to city property, the regulation bans city departments from using any pesticide considered a known carcinogen (Toxicity Category I and II) by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency. It also prohibits city workers and contractors from applying pesticide products which contain highly toxic organophosphate and carbamate class chemicals. Moreover, with the implementation of the new ordinance, picnic areas, playgrounds, and riparian areas will be considered “no-spray” zones. In other public areas, the legislation puts a strong emphasis on non-chemical methods of pest prevention and control. It would allow the use of least-toxic pesticides only as a last resort, with the intention to significantly reduce or eliminate the use of and exposure to pesticides. The legislation also requires all city departments involved in pest management to submit an implementation plan and undergo training and education programs on least-toxic pest control.
According to Roger Roberts of the Contra Costa Times, when the City Council first considered the ordinance in June, some were skeptical of the proposal. They felt that changing pest control practices would put an unnecessary burden on the city’s finances. However, after Parks and Landscape Superintendent Chris Chamberlain explained that his department had already begun to implement a least-toxic pest control strategy without increasing the financial cost to the city, dissenters of the proposal agreed to support the plan. “We just point you to it, and you get it done and do it well,” remarked Corky Booze, who was converted by Mr. Chamberlains’ assurances. The Parks and Landscape department oversees pest management practices on over 600 acres of city land on a $4 million budget. Mr. Chamberlain added that, within the past 2 years, the department has decreased their use of carcinogenic pesticides by over 40 percent.
The passage of this ordinance adds to the growing movement across the country calling for increased restrictions on the use of dangerous chemicals in the public sphere. In addition to Richmond, CA, Beyond Pesticides has worked with localities throughout the U.S. in an effort to promote organic land care systems and restrict the hazardous use of chemicals. Washington D.C. recently passed legislation which restricts the use of pesticides on District property, near waterways, and in schools and day care centers. Ohio’s Cuyoga County successfully banned a majority of toxic pesticide uses on county property, prioritizing the use of natural, organic, horticultural and maintenance practices with an Organic Pest Management (OPM) program. The City of Greenbelt, Maryland also has a law that completely eliminates the use of cosmetic pesticides through a phase out period, and includes a requirement that all city contractors follow OPM and organic land care management. The village of New Paltz, New York has a “Healthy Turf and Landscape Policy,” which emphasizes the precautionary principle, and only allows the use of pesticides if a pest problem poses a threat to public health. While stopping short of an all-out ban, Connecticut currently has a statewide prohibition on the use of toxic pesticides on school grounds. The state of New York also acted to protect children by passing the “Child Safe Playing Field Act” in 2010, which requires that all schools, preschools, and day care centers stop using pesticides on any playgrounds or playing field. Additionally, several communities in Cape Cod, Massachusetts are currently in the process of moving towards organic land care as a norm in their public spaces.
Of 30 commonly used lawn pesticides, 19 are linked with cancer or carcinogenicity, 13 are linked with birth defects, 21 with reproductive effects, 26 with liver or kidney damage, 15 with neurotoxicity, and 11 with disruption of the endocrine (hormonal) system. Of those same 30 lawn pesticides, 17 are detected in groundwater, 23 have the ability to leach into drinking water sources, 24 are toxic to fish and other aquatic organisms vital to our ecosystem, 11 are toxic to bees, and 16 are toxic to birds.
Organic land management is practical and economical. Opponents may claim that organic management will cost more money, or put the fields at risk for disease and weed infestation; however, in a Cornell University study of turf, chemically maintained turf is more susceptible to disease. Another report prepared by Grassroots Environmental Education and Beyond Pesticides’ Board Member Chip Osborne for the New York State legislature concludes that organic approaches can save money. The report compares the relative costs of maintaining a typical high school football field using a chemical-intensive program and an organic program over a five-year period and finds that the annual cost of maintaining an organic field can be as much as 25% lower than the cost of chemical-based programs. The Parks and Recreation Department in Branford, Connecticut has a successful organic land care program resulting in more attractive playing fields at a decreased cost to taxpayers. Furthermore, Harvard University saved two million gallons of water a year by managing the grounds organically, as irrigation needs have been reduced by 30 percent. Previously, it cost Harvard $35,000 a year to get rid of “landscape waste” from its campus grounds. Now that cost is gone because the school keeps all grass clippings, leaves and branches for composting and making compost teas. This in turn saves the university an additional $10,000 from having to purchase fertilizers elsewhere.
For more information on organic-based, pesticide-free lawn and landscape management, see Beyond Pesticides Lawns and Landscapes program page. Beyond Pesticides encourages concerned citizens to stand up and make their voices heard in their community. If you’d like to join Richmond, California and help ban pesticide use in your community’s public spaces, contact Beyond Pesticides at 202-543-5450 or at [email protected].
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.