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Daily News Blog

07
Oct

Baltimore Becomes Latest Maryland Locality to Restrict Toxic Pesticides on Public and Private Property

(Beyond Pesticides, October 7, 2020) This week the Baltimore, Maryland City Council passed an ordinance restricting the use of toxic pesticides on public and private property—including lawns, playing fields, playgrounds, children’s facility (except school system property [golf courses are exempt]—following an approach similar to legislation first spearheaded by Montgomery County, MD in 2015. While the legislation, 20-0495, An Ordinance Concerning Pesticide Control and Regulation, generally limits inputs to the allowed materials under federal organic law, it provides for allowances for glyphosate by the Department of  Recreation and Parks. If signed by the Mayor, as expected, Baltimore City will become the most recent Maryland jurisdiction to exercise its authority to regulate pesticide use on private property, after a ruling of the state’s highest court.

Language in the Baltimore ordinance tracks a similar framework to the Healthy Lawns Act passed in Montgomery County, Maryland. Any pesticide that is not compatible with organic land care—allowed under certified organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) or considered minimum risk by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—is subject to the bill’s restrictions. Use can only occur under limited exceptions, such as to manage particularly invasive species, as well as health or economic threats. Bee-toxic neonicointoids are banned from landscape use, and only permitted in a completely enclosed environment, such as a greenhouse or indoor space. Application of the weed killer glyphosate requires prior authorization from the city’s Commissioner of Health, with a determination that its use is necessary to address a “threat.” The same is true for the insecticide chlorpyrifos, however no legal uses of this highly toxic neurotoxicant are affected by this legislation, since golf courses are exempt from the bill. The Parks Department exemption is subject to a “limited use and application” of glyphosate based on a “written integrated vegetation management plan.”

However, because of the exemption for the Parks Department, some advocates feel that the loophole in the legislation, especially for glyphosate (identified as a probable carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer), is unacceptable and encouraged a prohibition. Two groups, Maryland Pesticide Education Network and the Smart on Pesticide Coalition, withdrew support for the legislation after the language was amended with the glyphosate loophole for public property. Regarding the waiver for Parks, Bonnie Raindrop with Smart on Pesticides Maryland and Central Maryland Beekeepers Association said, “Instead of promoting an organic approach to protect our babies, bees and bay, this bill pushes us backwards, by continuing an outdated industry definition of Integrated Pest Management (IPM).” Restrictions on private property applications of toxic pesticides were generally left intact in the final legislation.

Although the legislation passed by the Council does require annual reporting and subjects violators to civil and criminal penalties, critical components for public education were removed from the original legislation.

Unlike language passed in Montgomery County, the Baltimore bill does not establish a citywide public education program, nor does it require retailers to provide signs and information at point of sale. However, after originally establishing a start date six months after passage, the version passed by council members does not take effect until mid-2022. Although this is a longer time frame than some advocates wished, it should provide additional time for the public to be made aware of the law’s requirements.

Baltimore’s ability to pass a law restricting toxic pesticide use to private property was upheld by the Maryland courts after the chemical and lawn care industry lost their legal challenge to Montgomery County’s Healthy Lawns Act. A 2017 ruling by Sixth Circuit Court of Montgomery County Judge Terrence McGann, now retired from the court, struck down that law, but it was quickly appealed by the County Council. Beyond Pesticides joined with local groups to file an Amicus brief defending the right of Montgomery County and other local jurisdictions in Maryland to enact laws that protect their unique local environments from toxic pesticides. After years of court proceedings the Maryland Court of Special Appeals reversed the Circuit Court decision and upheld Maryland localities right to restrict pesticides on all property in its jurisdiction. The industry appealed the decision but was met with a swift dismissal from the state’s highest court (the Maryland Court of Appeals).

Local communities in Maryland wishing to protect their residents, particularly sensitive populations such as children and pregnant mothers, and communities disproportionately harmed by pesticide use, are now empowered to do so under state law. Baltimore follows a recent opt-in to the Montgomery County law from the community of Gaithersburg, MD. The Prince Georges County Council is also currently considering passage of Ordinance CB-08-2020, which tracks closely these recently passed policies.

Advocates within the state of Maryland are strongly encouraged to engage with their local leaders to pass a strong pesticide policy. Beyond Pesticides has supported the efforts in Gaithersburg, Baltimore, and Prince George’s County through expert testimony and comments (1,2,3). For those outside of Maryland, even if you’re in a state with explicit preemption of local authority to restrict pesticides on private property, you can still pass meaningful laws that fight back against unnecessary pesticide use on public land. To get started, see Beyond Pesticides’ Lawn and Landscape Tools for Change.

As Beyond Pesticides’ Map of U.S. Pesticide Reform Policies shows, there is strong demand for local rights over pesticide enforcement. Over 150 communities in 23 states have enacted some form of pesticide reform. Help make your community the next: take the pledge that you’ll fight for a pesticide-free, organic community.

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

Source: Baltimore City Council

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  • Archives

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