(Beyond Pesticides, July 12, 2012) The Council of the District of Columbia passed a pesticide reform act Tuesday strengthening pesticide restrictions in our nation’s capital. To ensure the rules are enacted, Beyond Pesticides is calling on supporters to take action and urge D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray to sign the legislation into law. The Pesticide Education and Amendment Control Act of 2012, introduced by Chairwoman Mary Cheh of the Environment, Transportation and Public Works Committee, is a step forward in the fight to keep schools and other public spaces free from unnecessary chemical applications. The bill protects children and their parents by restricting the application of pesticides at schools and day care centers, on public property, and near waterways. It also establishes publicly available courses on pesticides at the University of the District of Columbia.
The passage of this Act adds to the growing movement across the country calling for increased restrictions on the use of dangerous chemicals in the public sphere. 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. Recently, 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 state-wide 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.
The District’s new legislation authorizes the District Department of the Environment (DDOE) to designate pesticides registered in the District as either ”˜restricted use’ or ”˜minimum risk’ based on certain criteria such as toxicity to human and environmental health. The legislation prohibits the use of pesticides designated as ”˜restricted use’ on public use property, schools, child-occupied facilities, waterway-contingent property, and District property –unless DDOE grants an exemption in the event an emergency pest outbreak poses an imminent threat to public health, or if significant economic damage would result from not using the pesticide. Under the Act, DDOE will restrict the use of pesticides otherwise allowed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) because less toxic means are available. Those seeking an exemption to use a ”˜restricted use’ pesticide are required to make a good-faith effort to find alternatives by clearly demonstrating through a reasonable plan that effective, economical alternatives to the prohibited pesticide are unavailable.
The Act represents a step forward for D.C and the nation by creating a framework for administrators at DDOE to minimize pesticide use. To ensure exemptions are not overused and the spirit and intent of the law is upheld, concerned citizens and residents in the District of Columbia will have to be vigilant.
Opponents of the law may claim that organic management will cost taxpayers more money; however there is much evidence to the contrary. A report prepared by Grassroots Environmental Education 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. Futhermore, 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.
Take action: Tell Mayor Vincent Gray to sign the Pesticide Education and Amendment Control Act of 2012.
For more information on being a part of the growing organic lawn care movement, see Beyond Pesticides’ Lawns and Landscapes page. If you would like assistance proposing a pesticide reform policy to your city council (or its equivalent), contact Beyond Pesticides at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.