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EPA Announces Industry-Environmental Guidelines on Lawn Care
(Beyond Pesticides, February 19, 2004)
EPA's office of pesticide programs announced on February 13, 2004 the unveiling of new, voluntary lawn care and the environment guidelines "to help develop a strategy for educating consumers about the proper use of pesticides and fertilizers, and how to conserve water and protect wildlife while maintaining a healthy and attractive home landscape." The guidelines, being developed by a group that includes lawn care and pesticide industry organizations, government agencies and environmental groups, will be released and discussed at a conference in San Antonio, Texas from March 14 to 17, 2004. The public is invited to attend the conference and provide input. The draft guidelines at the time of this publication have not been released for public review.

Beyond Pesticides' executive director, Jay Feldman, urged environmental organizations and the public to carefully critique the guidelines to ensure that they support the tremendous momentum being made in the private sector marketplace to manage lawns and landscapes without dependence on pesticides. According to Mr. Feldman, "The focus of guidelines should be on educating consumers about the viability and availability of practices and services that do not utilize pesticides, not on 'proper use of pesticides' in accordance with label instructions, which tends to be a big emphasis of EPA and the pesticide industry." Beyond Pesticides says labeled or "proper" use can cause harm to human health and the environment, and the public does not realize it.

The guidelines are emerging at a time when local ordinances or bylaws across Canada are outlawing the use of lawn chemicals for cosmetic uses due to their public health and environmental hazards. The lawn care industry in the U.S. has been preparing to fight this trend to restrict pesticides in the U.S. on city, county and school property, and has historically supported federal and/or state laws that preempt the right of local jurisdictions to ban specific pesticides.

According to Beyond Pesticides, some of the issues that must clearly be addressed in guidelines that govern lawn and landscape management include full information on:

  • non-chemical management techniques (healthy soils, planting of well-adapted varieties, soil aeration and dethatching, proper watering and mowing);
  • pesticide product ingredients (including inerts, metabolites and contaminants), toxicity issues, adverse effects and untested endpoints (children, endocrine disruption);
  • limitations of the regulatory review process, potential hazards, uncertainty and the inability to characterize pesticide products as safe;
  • cosmetic use issues;
  • advance notice and posting if toxic inputs are used;
  • an environmentally sensitive definition of integrated pest/plant management; and,
  • sensitive human and animal population groups, habitat and endangered species.

"Private sector pest management and public interest groups should come together to craft guidelines for pest management that set goals, strategies and tactics to safeguard human health and the environment, going beyond that which is currently required by law," said Mr. Feldman. "This effort should identify procedures and practices to manage lawns and landscapes while eliminating, where possible, inputs for which there are known or uncertain adverse effects, and providing full disclosure and notice if toxic materials are used," he continued. Mr. Feldman points out that, "While chemical industry groups lobby the outcome of legislation and regulations in an effort to protect their market share, they should not influence management guidelines such as these which may seek to eliminate use or dependency on their toxic products." For this reason, environmental organizations involved in the development of guidelines for golf and the environment several years ago, which included Beyond Pesticides, National Wildlife Federation and others, insisted that the chemical industry be excluded from the negotiating team.

Of the 36 most commonly used lawn pesticides, 13 can cause cancer, 14 cause birth defects, 11 cause reproductive problems, 21 are neurotoxic, 15 are kidney and liver toxicants, and 30 are sensitizers or irritants. Of the same chemicals, 14 are detected in groundwater, 6 are potential leachers, 11 are toxic to birds, 21 toxic to fish and aquatic organisms, and 12 are toxic to bees.

As noted in a Beyond Pesticides' Daily News in May, 2003, Lawn & Landscape magazine reported last year about a newly formed partnership of the Professional Lawn Care Association of America (PLCAA) and the Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA). PLCAA represents residential and commercial lawn care professionals in the U.S. and Canada, while ALCA represents roughly 2,500 professional exterior and interior landscape maintenance, installation, and design/build contracting firms and suppliers nationwide. PLCAA now has the duty to administer regulatory affairs for both groups. PLCAA's vice president of legislative affairs, Tom Delaney, will coordinate the two association's legislative programs in an effort to curb potential pesticide restrictions in the U.S. "State and local activity is undermining customers' appreciation for the very benefits of our members' lawn and landscape services," says Mr. Delaney, "We have learned from the recent activity in Canada that we must put more resources into being proactive to control the issues that can hurt our members' businesses."

Increasingly, companies see the public demand for non-toxic services as a business opportunity and have embraced approaches and practices that are not reliant on toxic chemicals. These companies also submit to full disclosure of their company practices and products through Safety Source on the Beyond Pesticides website.

While PLCAA and ALCA fight to keep chemicals on private yards, the potential for more and more people to be exposed to the toxic chemicals on their lawn heightens. Many people assume that since pesticides are so common, they must not be harmful. However, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registration of a pesticide does not guarantee its safety. In fact, according to a U.S. General Accounting Office report, "EPA believes that no pesticide can be considered 'safe…'" (GAO, Nonagricultural Pesticides: Risks and Regulation, RCED-86-97, p4, 1986) For many chemicals, there is a serious lack of toxicity data. Furthermore, most pesticide products contain so-called "inert" ingredients that have not been adequately tested to address the public's health concerns. Despite these alarming factors, toxic pesticides continue to be used every day. These poisons trigger a number of symptoms including nausea, dizziness, headaches, aching joints, disorientation and inability to concentrate.

A study published in November 2001 found that the commonly used herbicides 2,4-D and dicamba are easily tracked indoors, contaminating the air and surfaces inside residences and exposing children at levels ten times higher than preapplication levels. (Nishioka, M., et al., "Distribution of 2,4-D in Air and on Surfaces inside Residences after Lawn Applications: Comparing Exposure Estimates from Various Media for Young Children," Environmental Health Perspectives 109(11) (2001).)

The group crafting the Lawns and the Environment guidelines, as of the end of January, included the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Agriculture, The Scotts Company, TORO Company, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Professional Lawn Care Association of America, Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment (RISE, a trade group representing pesticide manufacturers), San Antonio Water System, Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, Businesses for the Bay/Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, and Agronomy and Horticulture Services. EPA and companies are underwriting the cost of the guidelines development, which is being facilitated by Center for Resource Management, Salt Lake City, Utah.

For more information about the "Lawns and Environment Initiative" and how to participate in the San Antonio conference, please contact Paul Parker or Nancy Nelson at Center for Resource Management. You may contact Paul or Nancy by phone at (801) 466-3600, or by email at nnelsoncrm@mns.com. For information on EPA's involvement in this coalition, please contact Edward Brandt, in EPA's Office of Pesticide Programs Biopesticide and Pollution Prevention Division by phone at 703-308-8699 or email at Brandt.Edward@epa.gov.

Beyond Pesticides will keep you updated on the guidelines and the process surrounding their development as information becomes available.

For more information on what you can do to stop the dangerous use of lawn care pesticides and adopt alternative practices around your home and policies in your community and school, see Beyond Pesticides' Lawns and Landscapes issue page.