The Montgomery County Council has approved, what Councilmember Roger Berliner called the “strongest anti-pesticide measure of any major jurisdiction in the United States.”
At Tuesday’s Council meeting, the Council passed Bill 52-14 by a six to three vote. The legislation bans the use of EPA-registered pesticides in lawn care for most uses in the county including public and private playgrounds, mulched recreation areas, child care centers, and county property.
Council President George Leventhal was the bill’s chief sponsor. Councilmembers Marc Elrich, Nancy Floreen, Nancy Navarro and Hans Riemer were co-sponsors. Councilmembers Craig Rice, Sidney Katz, and Roger Berliner voted against the bill.
Councilmembers Leventhal, Elrich, Floreen, and Riemer were all elected as At-Large members of the Council.
The approved amended Bill 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.
The County Council held public hearings on the bill were on Jan. 15 and Feb. 12, with more than 300 attendees at each. More than 300 people attended yesterday’s Council 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. Yesterday, 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.
“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, who was elected as an At-Large member of the County Council. “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,” said Leventhal. “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,” said Leventhal.
“Property owners have a right to maintain their own property, but they do not have a right to inflict harm upon their neighbors,” said the Council President. “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.”
However, not all members of the Council were supportive of the Bill. Craig Rice, who represents the Germantown area, did not vote in favor of the Bill and told the Council, “It seems as though we are rushing forward with something without knowing where we are going.”
“I feel that this bill is going to create a tremendous amount of confusion in our community,” said Rice during the Council Session. “Items that are sold via Home Depot, Lowes, or your local hardware store that will still be able to obtained legally, but then would not be able to be used in Montgomery County. It is a little concerning.”
The concerns led to an exchange between Rice and the Council’s Legislative Attorney, Josh Hamlin.
Rice: “What we are going to do, ladies and gentlemen, is create such confusion around what it is, and the intent, and use of. Who would enforce this limited cosmetic use of pesticides?”
Hamlin: “The Department of Environmental Protection, would be the agency charged with enforcing it.”
Rice: “The Department of Environmental Protection has people that will go out and inspect these lawns is there is an alleged violation?”
Hamlin: “I don’t think they have that now. I am not sure how they would do that. That would be an executive decision as to how they would enforce that.”
Rice: “Do we have the authority to go onto another person’s property to inspect whether or not they used a chemical?”
Hamlin, “I believe we do.”
Rice: On a private lawn, we have the right to just go in and do a soil-sample test on a private lawn.”
Hamlin, “I can’t speak definitively, but I believe that we could.”
Rice also questioned the requirement that Montgomery County Parks “develop a plan for transitioning to the maintenance of all playing fields without registered pesticides by 2020.”
“We are saying that we are going to develop a transitioning mechanism that will ensure that these registered pesticides will not be used on playing fields by 2020,” said Rice. “Has this date and this plan been used in conjunction with the management of our parks and playing fields. Have (Montgomery County Parks) said that there is a process by which they could do this without jeopardizing the massive amounts of investments that we have put into securing that these parks and playing fields are up to the standards that our community expects?”
“My concern is that when we do pilots to learn whether or not we can do something, to see if it is possible and if it is going to achieve the results that we want,” said Rice. “When I look at our Germantown SoccerPlex, when I look at Ridge Road where we just invested $1 million in to a brand new playing field there. When I talked to the Director of Parks Mike Riley about this particular playing field, he said specifically about this field -- that I fought for so that low income kids would be able to play football on -- would not be able to be held up to that same standard. That was the very reason we built that field to begin with, was that the very field they had been playing on had rocks and bare grass and all kinds of other things that endangered those children.”
Rice also expressed concern that home owners associations would have to adjust pricing to accommodate these new restrictions, sometimes with an increase of almost 25 percent more for lawn care. “This staggered rollout on the restrictions will give HOAs time to inform their residents that they are going to have to raise rates,” said Rice.
He told his fellow Councilmembers that such increases are, “very concerning for some of our lower income residents, who live check-to-check. For a senior citizen on fixed income any additional expense matters. Sometimes we forget in the grand scheme of assuming that everyone is like us and has the fortunate ability to pay to drive their Lexus and afford custom organic lawn care instead of the only thing that they can afford to try to make sure that their house looks good, matters.”
“I have a lot of concerns about how these amendments will make, what I think is already a problematic bill more problematic,” said Rice. “As a person that is about to sell their home. We talk curb appeal, and while clovers might not matter to some, I guarantee that it does matter to others.”
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.”
Karen Reardon, vice president of public affairs for RISE (Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment), worked with residents, local businesses, and professionals to create a shared solution with the council.
“Lawmakers have spent nearly two years on a bill that provides no benefit to the citizens of Montgomery County,” said Reardon. “This bill is so extreme that it’s unenforceable. It’s also unnecessary. It puts the community’s health and workers’ livelihoods at risk. The Council is going against federal and state regulatory guidance on what is safe and necessary for pest control, and also goes against the opinion of the National Cancer Institute, which says the scientific evidence to support such a ban is not conclusive.”
Earlier this year, the Maryland Attorney General advised a general ban on pesticide application is likely preempted by state law.
The bill can be vetoed by County Executive Ike Leggett within 10 days of Tuesday’s vote.