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Daily News Blog

21
Sep

County-wide Lawn Care Pesticide Ban Bill in Maryland Stripped of Major Provisions in Committee

(Beyond Pesticides September 21, 2015) Last Thursday, the  Transportation and Environment (T&E) Committee in Montgomery County, Maryland voted 2-1 to strip major provisions of the Healthy Lawn Bill 52-14, including a  ban of (i) cosmetic use of lawn pesticides throughout the county on private and public property and (ii) the treatment of playing fields with hazardous pesticides. The amended bill retains a pesticide ban on all playgrounds and sets up an organic pilot program on some  playing fields and parks. The bill’s prime sponsor and two of its cosponsors said they will work to gather the five votes necessary to restore critical protections for human health and the environment.

The T&E Committee voted 2-1 on substitute legislation, proposed by Committee Chair Roger Berliner, to remove the central portions of the bill intended to transition Montgomery County land, including public and private property, to non-toxic sustainable management practices. While Committee members Nancy Floreen, an original co-sponsor of the bill and Mr. Berliner both voted for the substitute legislation, Council member Tom Hucker, a lead co-sponsor of the bill rejected the changes, stating that the county had a “very clear responsibility to protect public health.”

Joining the committee discussion were Montgomery County President George Leventhal, who introduced the bill last fall, and Council member Marc Elrich, another original co-sponsor of the bill. Mr. Leventhal pledged  to continue pushing for a strong Bill 52-14 and expressed optimism that the original bill would have the support of the body when the discussion goes to the full County Council on October 6. There are nine members on the Montgomery County Council.

“Of those who were moved to express their views to the County Council, overwhelmingly, 72% felt that we should go ahead with [the original] Bill 52-14,” said Mr. Leventhal.

Bill 52-14, as originally introduced last fall, would limit the use of non-essential pesticides on County lawns, certain athletic playing fields and County-owned public grass areas. The landmark ordinance that would protect children, pets, wildlife, and the wider environment from the hazards of unnecessary lawn and landscape pesticides.

Mr. Berliner’s proposed amendments would: (i) eliminate the phase-out of toxic pesticides on private land within the county, except for property 25-feet from a waterbody (by eliminating original Section 33B-9, Prohibited application; and (ii) eliminate the phase-out of toxic pesticides on playing fields that children use throughout the county by redefining lawn to exclude playing fields.

This alternate legislation reduces the scope of the bill to phasing out toxic pesticides on playgrounds and five pilot playing field sites and reorients the approach to a posting and notice bill with an undefined 50% reduction goal in hazardous pesticide use over three years. If the reduction goal is not met, the county is required to implement “additional measures,” which are not defined. Another provision allows homeowner associations by majority vote to treat common spaces with hazardous pesticides. Ironically, a provision requires that written notice be given to exposed individuals (which presumably will cover most of the population) with specific language that indicates that EPA states “where possible persons who potentially are more sensitive, such as pregnant women and infants (less than two years old) should avoid any unnecessary pesticide exposure.” Central to 52-14 is the sponsors’ understanding that exposure in a community where toxic pesticides are used is virtually impossible to avoid.

At the  Committee  meeting, the Department of Parks announced that all playgrounds in the county would go pesticide free, although no date has been set. A representative from Parks also said that the Department  will hire an expert in  organic turf management to assist in the transition to organic practices at the  five pilot athletic fields. Up until this announcement, Parks had testified that organic management of playing fields was not possible and argued that organic management was too costly. The  Parks Department has no staff experienced in organic land management. Bill sponsors and advocates maintain the Parks Department announcement, while taking minimum protective measures, leaves kids on athletic fields at continued risk despite the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of organic practices.

In his closing statement to the committee, Council member Marc Elrich stated: “I will not support legislation that is this weak. There is just too much evidence out there that we’re dealing with . . . For us to just hope that if you just reduce the amount [of pesticides], as oppose to eliminating it, I think is just wrong. This is not a path towards a safe place, it’s a path towards a somewhat  \less dangerous place, and I don’t understand less dangerous when you have an option for safe.”

“I fail to see the necessity to continue to conflate ornamental uses with public health benefits,” Mr. Elrich continued, “I think we’ve just gotten lost in the cosmetology of our place instead of focusing on the health of our spaces, and I really do think this is a mistake.”

“We can’t wait for the Federal government to take action,” stated Mr. Hucker. He continued, “Particularly in the area of environmental health, they haven’t taken action on one area after another. They didn’t keep us safe from tobacco, they didn’t keep lead out of our toys, so we took action at the state level, and at the local level in the case of tobacco. They didn’t keep BPA out of our plastics, so we took state action. They didn’t keep mercury out of our thermostats, thermometers and scrap cars so we took action at the state level as well. I believe pesticides fits into that same long lengthy list of things where the federal government hasn’t taken action, and the state and the county government needs to. That’s been our tradition, especially in Montgomery County.”

“I think we have the opportunity to do better, and we have done better. I think our residents expect us to have done better. We’ve sure done better on other issues,” Mr. Elrich said, referring to the County’s long record of taking action on public health issues, including banning coal tar sealant on resident’s driveways.

Bill 52-14 is supported by Safe Grow Montgomery, a local coalition of individual volunteers, organizations and businesses. The coalition works to prevent exposure to chemicals that run-off, drift, and volatilize from their application site, causing involuntary poisoning of children and pets, polluting local water bodies such as the Chesapeake Bay, and widespread declines of honey bees and other wild pollinators.

Takoma Park, Maryland in 2013 was the first local jurisdiction to enact a similar provision that prohibits the non-essential use of pesticides on public and private property, based on human and environmental health concerns. Learn more about the Safe Grow Act of 2013. The Town of Ogunquit, Maine  adopted a similar ordinance by ballot initiative in November, 2014.

Advocates say that only if residents in Montgomery County contact their Council members, prior to the October 6 hearing of the full Council, will it be possible to restore provisions stripped out of Bill 52-14 by the T&E Committee and reestablish the Bill’s strong protections from hazardous pesticides. Go here to sign Safe Grow Montgomery’s letter to County leaders, and follow up with a phone call. Given the dangers and excessive costs that pesticide pose to human health and the environment, as well as the wide availability of economical alternatives, Montgomery County is considering the adoption of a true lasting model for the strongest pesticide protections in the nation, and residents of the County  can play a part in making that happen.

A transcript of the T&E Committee meeting is available on the Montgomery County Council Website.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

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