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Study Finds Local By-Laws Most Effective in Reducing Lawn Pesticides
(Beyond Pesticides, September 29, 2004)
A study published earlier this year concludes that communities that pass local by-laws or ordinances that restrict the cosmetic use of pesticides for home lawns and gardens are more effective in reducing the use of pesticides than those that rely solely on public education or social marketing.

The study, conducted by The Canadian Centre for Pollution Prevention and Cullbridge Marketing and Communications, analyzed the efforts of nine leading communities in Canada, the U.S. and Europe. According to the authors, communities that coupled education with a by-law or made a community agreement succeeded in reducing the use of pesticides by a high degree (51-90%). While those communities that relied on education and outreach programs alone, achieved only a low reduction of pesticide use (10-24%).

The purpose of the study was to do a best practices review of the impact of by-laws and public education programs on reducing the cosmetic/non-essential, residential use of lawn pesticides. Of the nine communities, three were selected in the U.S.: Chesapeake Bay, Pennsylvania (Harrisburg); Seattle and King County, Washington; and the North Central Metropolitan area of Texas encompassing 16 counties surrounding Dallas and Fort Worth.

In the vast majority of best practice communities studied, political and/or popular support was found to be critical, regardless of which method was employed - a by-law or education and outreach. Media pressure was also instrumental in forcing some communities to move forward with pesticide reform.

Although local legislation with education was found to be the most effective way to reduce the use of hazardous pesticides, the report did cite some positive lessons that came out of communities that rely on public education and outreach to reduce pesticides. “In both Seattle and Texas,” reads the report, “program organizers had a multiple focus (reducing pesticide use as well as other “green” initiatives such as reducing water use), which proved more cost-effective and appealing to local retailers, than tackling one issue at a time.” The report also noted that reductions can be won just through raising the controversy and public discussion of pesticide use. In Hudson, Quebec, for example, sales of herbicides decreased by 90% before the by-law even came into effect.

Unlike in Canada and Europe, communities in the U.S. have an additional hurdle in passing a local ordinance to protect residents from the cosmetic use of pesticides. In the 1980’s the chemical industry lobbied hard to ensure that only the state government can act to tighten pesticide regulations. In June 1991, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Federal, Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) “leaves the allocation of regulatory authority to the ‘absolute discretion’ of the states themselves, including the option of leaving local regulation of pesticides in the hands of local authorities.” Despite this affirmation, forty states moved to take away the authority of local governments to restrict pesticide use or require disclosure of use in their towns and cities. These state preemption laws forbid the adoption of local pesticide ordinances similar to those sweeping across Canada. However, many states have passed legislation to require various pre and post notification of pesticide treatments.

TAKE ACTION: See Beyond Pesticides Fact Sheet on State Pre-Emption laws or Fact Sheet on State Lawn Notification Laws to see the status of your state’s laws in these areas. Learn more about alternatives to pesticides in the management of lawns and landscapes. Contact Beyond Pesticides to get more information about the growing movement in the U.S. to eliminate the cosmetic use of pesticides on lawns and landscapes.