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Daily News Blog

17
Dec

Community Pesticide Use Restrictions Expand; Organic Takes Root Across the Country

(Beyond Pesticides, December 17, 2021) Los Alamos, New Mexico is the latest locality to act on some degree of protection of the community from pesticides. Its County Council passed a proposal on December 15 that will ban use of glyphosate-based herbicides on county properties, among other provisions (outlined below). Cities, towns, and counties (and occasionally, a state) across the U.S. are moving to protect their parks, playing fields, other green spaces, and the communities broadly from the harms of synthetic pesticide and fertilizer use. The approaches vary: sometimes comprehensive, though often piecemeal, i.e., tackling the problem one compound, one category of pesticide, or one or two kinds of properties at a time. Beyond Pesticides endorses comprehensive approaches that embrace the transition to organic land management. Because these can sometimes be more challenging for localities to enact, Beyond Pesticides has announced its program — Parks for a Sustainable Future — that helps localities learn about, secure training in, and benefit from the guidance of experts on, organic management.

Synthetic pesticides and fertilizers are used widely in agriculture, but also, in a large variety of public spaces — on and in playgrounds, parks, and playing/recreational fields and courts; along roads, sidewalks, and hiking and bike trails; next to fences of all kinds; and in many other locations. In these green spaces and corridors, use of herbicides to control growth of weeds, invasive species, and/or those considered “noxious” (such as poison ivy, oak, or sumac, or giant hogweed, e.g.) is very common. These land areas may be managed by municipalities, counties, state agencies, water districts, transportation authorities, utility companies or entities, or others.

For larger expanses of turf, such as playing fields, golf courses, and parks, herbicides are often “spot” applied, and use of synthetic fertilizers is routine, as managers and the public have come to expect such fields to be a perky, bright green all the time. This expectation runs counter to how plants actually behave in most circumstances; most plants have cycles of decline and dormancy, followed by renewal and growth. But in many places, the expectation is that the baseball field or the golf course or the park has to look 100% all the time — a notion that helps drive use of high-nitrogen, synthetic, petrochemical fertilizers.

As members of the public increasingly recognize the multiple environmental and health challenges that are caused by, associated with, and/or made worse by the use of synthetic pesticides and synthetic fertilizers — as well as the inadequacy of response to them at the federal and state levels — they are calling on local governments to step in and up to protect public and environmental health. (That said, some states do takes action, as Maine and Connecticut have done.)

To be fair, sometimes, governments take initiative without significant public pressure, but most often some nongovernmental organizations representing the public have roles in persuading governments to act. (See Beyond Pesticides’ coverage of other local pesticide actions, starting more than a decade ago, here, here, here, and here.) Most local government entities find it easier to tackle such issues in what Beyond Pesticides might term a “piecemeal” approach, rather than undertaking a comprehensive program to transition to organic land management.

The Los Alamos County Council decision, for example, goes directly to banning use of one synthetic herbicide compound — glyphosate. Traveling with that ban in the adopted proposal are provisions for notification of pesticide applications, and for expansion of Integrative Pest Management (IPM) efforts by relevant departments (with a direction that staff develop an IPM implementation plan and return to the council within 90 days for approval). IPM has its own issues, as Beyond Pesticides has reported, and is an insufficient approach to the pesticide problem. Brought forward by the county’s Environmental Sustainability Board (ESB), the proposal was endorsed by the Rio Grande and Pajarito chapters of the Sierra Club, and the League of Women Voters.

The ESB included, in its case presentation on the matter, many of the points that Beyond Pesticides has covered regarding glyphosate: it is an antibiotic and endocrine disruptor that has become ubiquitous in the environment and in human bodies; it is more toxic in product formulations than per se because of the adjuvant ingredients the manufacturers include; and its use has triggered many thousands of lawsuits for the damage it has caused — most notably, the development of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. The firehose of litigation against Bayer (now owner of the Monsanto brand that originally introduced the infamous Roundup product line) evidences the potential liability associated with glyphosate’s use: Bayer has already ponied up more than $14 billion in attempts to sever the flow of litigation. No locality wants to be in the legal crosshairs of such suits.

New York City has taken a more ambitious approach. In the Spring of 2021, the New York City Council passed landmark legislation that restricts the use of toxic pesticides on all city properties, including parks and playgrounds. The law favors, instead, use of compounds permitted under the National Organic Program (NOP) National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances, or those designated as “minimum risk” — the least-toxic available.

About the NYC legislation (the bill moniker was “Intro 1524”), Beyond Pesticides wrote, in April 2021, “According to public health advocates, by restricting pesticide use, the City will provide critical protections for community health, particularly for children, the elderly, and vulnerable population groups that suffer from compromised immune and neurological systems, cancer, reproductive problems, respiratory illness and asthma, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, or learning disabilities.” Further, it wrote that neither the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) nor the responsible state agencies — the Department of Environmental Conservation in New York, but departments of agriculture in most of the country — are adequately protecting people and the environment from pesticides, creating urgency for local actions like that taken by New York City.

This is certainly a more comprehensive strategy than banning a single compound; still, the NYC law acts only on pesticides. It does not tackle use of synthetic fertilizers, nor does it take the genuinely holistic step of moving to organic land management practices. Other localities have moved the needle. Philadelphia stepped up its game in 2020 by banning herbicides on its public property; the City Council stopped short of banning all toxic pesticides, but did encouraging the adoption of organic land management. Beyond Pesticides noted at the time that the “bill’s language indicates a clear spirit and intent to move Philadelphia’s public spaces to organic practices.”

In Summer 2021, the Maui (Hawai’i) County Council passed a law that will prevent the use of toxic pesticides and fertilizers on county properties, allowing only those materials permitted under the NOP National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances. The law does not affect property managed by the state or private owners, county agricultural parks, or county property used for agricultural purposes. The new law will be in effect starting in August 2022 for most county parcels; a few other large facilities will phase in over the next several years.

Beyond Pesticides Executive Direct Jay Feldman lauded the “‘whole systems’ approach to county land management that this law would launch, saying that it ‘creates a framework for nurturing desirable plant life in a management system, like the one we developed for the organic transition plan provided to Maui County.’ Beyond Pesticides has been working on Mau’i, Kaua’i, and the Big Island, and — with Osborne Organics — has developed organic land management plans for public parks and playing fields.”

Mr. Feldman also commented — on the Maui County action, but the sentiment is broadly applicable in the U.S. and is the crux of the organization’s approach. “‘We need to stop the use of hazardous chemicals, pesticides, and synthetic fertilizers, and replace them with a different approach. We do not need toxic pesticides to achieve our community goals for aesthetic[s] or safety in the parks, [on] playing fields or sports fields, and along the roadside. We are not talking about product substitution. We are talking about a systems change’ — to organic, regenerative approaches to all land management.

As of 2019, more than 150 communities throughout the U.S. had passed laws or established policies to restrict the use of toxic pesticides, given the level of inaction by EPA. The number has no doubt increased since then. (See the map on this Beyond Pesticides webpage.) Increasingly, communities are looking to eliminate toxic pesticide use — with particular recent focus on glyphosate, given recent court decisions and legal liability concerns. The cities of Portland (ME), Baltimore, and Philadelphia, as well as Montgomery County (MD), for example, have all enacted laws similar to the New York City “Intro 1524” statute.

Beyond Pesticides recognizes that these are all good steps in a protective direction. Yet, the real solution to the multiplicity of public health, environmental, biodiversity, and climate harms generated by the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers in all land management (including agriculture) is the shift to organic land management. In a new effort to support, train, and guide localities in their transition efforts, Beyond Pesticides has initiated its Parks for a Sustainable Future program. The organization is partnering with retailer Natural Grocers and food processor Stonyfield Organic, and dozens of communities across the country, to advance the transition “on the ground” at the local level.

The program is an in-depth training that supports “community land managers in transitioning two public green spaces to organic landscape management, while aiming to provide the knowledge and skills necessary to eventually transition all public areas in a locality to these safer practices. . . . [Beyond Pesticides and partners] provide this service to qualified communities because of our organization’s mission to protect public health and the environment, starting at the local level. Given increasing public understanding of the dangers associated with lawn care pesticides, our organization strongly encourages localities to take advantage of the growing availability of alternative practices and products that do not subject people or local environment to these hazards.” Successful “organic pilots” tend to leverage broader adoption in communities, which is, of course, the goal.

The program is available, via an application process, to local government staff who oversee land care management. Communities that qualify will benefit from the expertise of Osborne Organics (or an equivalent service provider) — a long-time leader in organic landscape management.

The Parks for a Sustainable Future webpage says, “Envision an organic community where local parks, playing fields, and greenways are managed without unnecessary toxic pesticides, children and pets are safe to run around on the grass, and bees and other pollinators are safeguarded from toxic chemicals. At Beyond Pesticides, this is the future we envision and are working to achieve.” If your community may be interested in transitioning away from synthetic pesticides and fertilizers and to protective organic strategies, please encourage your local government staff to apply for the program. As always, reach out to Beyond Pesticides with questions at [email protected] or 1.202.543.5450.

Source: https://losalamosreporter.com/2021/12/11/county-council-to-vote-tuesday-on-pesticide-issue/; The Pesticide Ban Movement Gains Momentum, Environmental Health News

 

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

 

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