Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Council Approves Restrictions on Pesticides

Having battled breast cancer myself, I am particularly sensitive to the need to limit our exposure to toxic chemicals. I am proud that Montgomery County is taking the lead in protecting public health and welfare in this way. All residents, and particularly our children, stand to benefit from reduced exposure to pesticides. Here is the full press release on today's action:

ROCKVILLE, Md., October 6, 2015—The Montgomery County Council today approved amended Bill 52-14 that bans the use of pesticides on County-owned and private lawns, becoming one of the few jurisdictions in the nation to have such restrictions. One of the amendments to the original bill will allow the County’s Department of Parks to continue to use pesticides on playing fields as part of an integrated pest management program and requires the department to develop a plan that would lead to maintaining fields without pesticide use by 2020. The department will conduct a pilot program in the interim period to study the impact of maintaining fields without using pesticides.

Amendments that were approved today were proposed in a memo on Oct. 2 by Council President George Leventhal (the lead sponsor of the original bill) and Councilmembers Marc Elrich, Tom Hucker, Nancy Navarro and Hans Riemer. The amended bill was enacted by a vote of 6-3, with those five and Council Vice President Nancy Floreen in favor. Councilmembers Roger Berliner, Sidney Katz and Craig Rice were opposed.

Public hearings on the bill were held on Jan. 15 and Feb. 12, with more than 300 attendees at each. More than 300 people attended today’s session.

The enacted bill provides for a phasing of effective dates, with provisions related to County-owned property and County parks taking effect July 1, 2016. Today, on a motion by Council Vice President Floreen, the bill was amended to have provisions related to private property taking effect on Jan. 1, 2018 (rather than the originally proposed Jan. 1, 2017). 

In addition to lawns, the bill also restricts the use of certain pesticides on public and private playgrounds, mulched recreation areas and children’s facilities such as child care centers.  The bill’s restrictions do not apply to gardens. They do not restrict pesticide use for the control of noxious weeds or invasive species, for human health or agricultural purposes or to prevent significant economic damage. 

The memo of Oct. 2 from Council President Leventhal and Councilmembers Elrich, Hucker, Navarro and Riemer offered amendments to recommended changes to the original bill that had been made by a majority of the Council’s Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment (T and E) Committee on Sept. 17. 

The recommended changes approved by the committee would have eliminated the ban on the use of pesticides on County-owned and private property lawns. T and E Committee members Berliner and Floreen supported the amendments. Councilmember Hucker was opposed. 

In addition to restoring the restriction on the use of certain pesticides on both County-owned and private property, the approved bill substantially clarifies the method of determining which pesticides are subject to the restriction. 

“Today’s action is another step in the ongoing effort to make Montgomery County the healthiest, safest county in the country,” said Council President Leventhal. “Countless studies have linked pesticides to a wide range of health conditions in children and adults and, since the bill was introduced one year ago, I have received hundreds of reports from constituents of children and pets experiencing adverse effects from the application of pesticides.

“Local government can—and should—step in a preventative way to protect the public’s health, even when there is not complete scientific certainty. The science may never be conclusive since it involves complex chemical interactions, but the absence of incontrovertible evidence does not justify inaction.

“I am extremely optimistic about what the passage of this bill will mean for Montgomery County’s economy. Now that this bill has become law and that harmful chemical treatments will be banned, I think it will foster an extraordinarily competitive industry for alternative lawn care options in the County. 

“Property owners have a right to maintain their own property, but they do not have a right to inflict harm upon their neighbors. Residents will still be free to hire any lawn care professional to treat their lawn or to manage their own lawn care, but they can do so now with the confidence that their family will be better protected.”

Council Vice President Floreen said: “Having battled breast cancer myself, I am particularly sensitive to the need to limit our exposure to toxic chemicals. I am proud that Montgomery County is taking the lead in protecting public health and welfare in this way. All residents, and particularly our children, stand to benefit from reduced exposure to pesticides.”

Councilmember Elrich said: “This legislation is an important step toward protecting our public health and environment.  We have an obligation to let the public know that our regulatory agencies’ actions do not keep pace with the multiple recent scientific findings.  In 2015 alone, we have seen important news: glyphosate, the active ingredient in RoundUp, is classified as a probable carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer; a study links pesticides to antibiotic resistance, and, perhaps most important, a study of daughters whose mothers were exposed to DDT 54 years ago shows an almost four-fold increase in breast cancer risk in their daughters.

“DDT was banned in 1972 because it was endangering our national bird, the bald eagle and not because of health impacts on people. If we had waited for the proof that DDT caused cancer, it would have been used for 40 more years, and many more women would have been at increased risk for breast cancer. We lack certainty about the safety of many EPA registered chemicals, and many earlier studies do not begin to assess risk pathways to human health that are widely recognized today. 

“I did not want to look back in 20 years and say that we could have acted.  This bill acts on the precautionary principle, restricting and reducing the use of pesticides and exposure wherever possible.  It does so based on the scientific evidence.  I think as the public understands the science, they will appreciate our action.”

Councilmember Hucker said: "Our first concern cannot be protecting homeowners' right to the cosmetic benefits lawn pesticides promise, especially when there are alternatives. Our first concern has to be protecting public health and the environment."

Councilmember Katz said: “The health and safety of our residents remains my utmost priority, and the Council should rightly do all it can to limit exposure to hazardous chemicals on the properties we maintain. However, I still have many concerns about how we encourage the reduction of chemicals on privately-maintained properties in a responsible, thoughtful, and cost-effective manner. Today’s discussion made it abundantly clear that we don’t have all the answers. We must continue to educate and inform not only the public, but ourselves regarding the implementation of this legislation.” 

Councilmember Navarro said: “I'm proud of the work that Montgomery County has done today in passing this groundbreaking pesticide legislation to restrict the use of pesticides for cosmetic purposes. I have stood behind this bill from the beginning because I believe that it is the Council's responsibility to work to protect Montgomery County's public health. 

“As this bill is implemented, the education campaign will be key. Educating the public on the intent to reduce major health risks and the effects of these chemicals will be a critical piece of enforcement. This bill will set the national standard for reducing pesticide use and creating a safer and cleaner environment for our communities.”

Councilmember Riemer said: "People need and trust the government to protect them from health risks associated with toxic chemicals. Having reviewed the scientific evidence, I find that there is enough concern to justify restrictions on the application of lawn chemicals. As a parent of two young children, my priority in this legislation is to protect the health of all children in our community. I believe we have done that today."

More details about Bill 52-14 and related amendments are available at: http://tinyurl.com/q56xdsr .

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