(July 16, 2013 update) On July 15, the Takoma Park City Council unanimously passed the first reading of the Safe Grow Zone ordinance, which could enact important protections for the health of Takoma Park residents and the environment. The ordinance is expected to get a second and final vote at the council’s meeting next Monday. Help us ensure that it passes on July 22! We urge Takoma Park residents to call or write your Councilmember and tell them you support their efforts to curtail toxic pesticide drift and exposure within the town limits. If you are in the area, please also consider attending the July 22nd meeting to show your support. The meeting will be at 7:30pm Monday at the Takoma Park Community Center, 7500 Maple Ave, Takoma Park, MD 20912. See the current agenda here.
(Beyond Pesticides, July 11, 2013) In a show of support for a local initiative that would restrict the use of cosmetic pesticide use on lawns and gardens within the city limits of Takoma Park, MD, the Washington Adventist Hospital announced that as of June 17, 2013 it will no longer use insecticides or herbicides for its grounds maintenance program. The Safe Grow Zone Ordinance before the City Council is intended to protect the health of residents and the environment by stopping involuntary poisoning and nontarget contamination that occurs as pesticides move off of treated private yards as a result of chemical drift and volatility.
“We’re proud to fully support this important community initiative,” said Joyce Newmyer, President of Washington Adventist Hospital in a press release. “We always strive to create the safest environment for the community we serve, and we worked quickly with our landscaping and turf management program managers to implement this change.”
Hospitals have a special obligation to demonstrate leadership in instituting effective and safer pest management in keeping with the medical profession’s basic tenet of “first, do no harm.” See Beyond Pesticides’ webpage on Healthy Hospitals for more information on how to get toxic pesticides out of your hospital and advance management practices that take toxic chemical our of structural pest management and adopt organic turf and landscape methods. Washington Adventist Hospital is currently working on effective options for grounds maintenance that fits within the framework of the proposed Safe Grow Zone Ordinance. In addition, the hospital will continue with plans this year to review rainwater management and promote the use of native and adaptive plants to reduce water needs.
The Safe Grow Zone Ordinance would immediately prohibit the use of cosmetic pesticides on City property, and phase in a public education campaign and restrictions on the use of cosmetic lawn pesticides on private property within the City. It is similar to the Ontario Cosmetic Pesticide Ban, which was enacted back in 2009, and has been mirrored throughout Canada and is supported by the Canadian medical community, including the Canadian Cancer Society and the Ontario College of Family Physicians, as well as the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE). Under the proposal, residents still would be allowed to use pesticides on invasive species and insects.
Opponents may claim that restricting pesticide use 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 concludes that organic approaches can save money. 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.
High quality turf and landscapes can be achieved through proper management of soil health through proper fertilization that eliminates synthetic fertilizers and focuses on building the soil food web and the nurturing of soil microorganisms. This approach eliminates chemicals, adopts compost fertilizers and mulching systems, and focuses on managing weeds and insects through the development of healthier plants and turf that are not vulnerable to disease and infestation.
Many communities, school districts, and state policies are now following a systems approach that is designed to put a series of preventive steps in place that will solve pest (weed and insect) problems. The systems approach is based on three basic concepts: (i) natural, organic product where use is directed by soil testing, (ii) an understanding that the soil biomass plays a critical role in soil fertility and turf grass health, and (iii) specific and sound cultural practices. Experience, such as in Marblehead, Massachusssetts finds that this approach will build a soil environment rich in microbiology that will produce strong, healthy turf that is able to withstand many of the stresses that affect turf grass.
For additional information on land management strategies which eschew hazardous pesticides in favor of an organic, systems approach, see Beyond Pesticides’ Lawns and Landscapes webpage. The site also provides an online training, Organic Land Care Basic Training for Municipal Officials and Transitioning Landscapers, to assist in going pesticide-free. With the training, landscapers can learn the practical steps to transitioning to a natural program.
The Takoma Park City Council is scheduled to vote on the ordinance on July 15. If a majority of councilmembers vote in support, there will be a second vote on July 22. For more information on the ordinance, see the City of Takoma Park Public Notice.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.