Maryland County Initiates Discussion on Lawn Care Pesticides

Anti-pesticide foes attempt to leverage Takoma Park Success
by Ron Hall/Editor-in-Chief
9/23/2013

ROCKVILLE, Md. - The Montgomery County Council's Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy & Environment Committee met here this past Sept. 9 with a select group of individuals to discuss lawn care pesticides.  The individuals were divided into three panels. The panels included county officials, several experienced landscape/lawn care pros and also several individuals who are pushing for a ban on the use of synthetic lawn care pesticides in the county. The meeting was open to the public.

The meeting took place approximately a month after the seven council members of Takoma Park, which is in Montgomery County, approved the Safe Grow Act of 2013. The Act forbids commercial applicators from applying "restricted pesticides for lawn care purposes" beginning March 14, 2014. The Act also applies to property owners and tenants. The Act gives the city manager the responsibility for creating the register of restricted pesticides.

According to the Act, restricted pesticides can only be used to combat noxious growths, noxious weeds, invasive species and to control insects that are venomous or disease carrying.

The City of Takoma Park (pop. 16,700), a suburb of Washington D.C., has few commercial lawn care customers. What it does have is a history of supporting and passing legislation that most U.S. citizens would consider as being quirky, for want of a better word. These include declaring itself a sanctuary city and also a nuclear free zone, allowing voting by 16 and 17 year olds and banning gas-powered leaf blowers for public works crews.

The Watchdog Wire, in a June 2013 blog referred to Takoma Park as "Maryland's little morsel of Moonbeamery." In another sentence the blogger referred to the small city as "arguably one of the most socialist enclaves east of the Mississippi."

While Takoma Park's city council voted unanimously in favor of the pesticide ban, citizens of the town were not so one-sided in supporting it. In fact, more than a few spoke out against it, as reported by The Takoma Voice March 25, 2013.  Check out the blog entitled GRANAOLAPARK:diddlysquat. (Hopefully, you will find the blogs as informative and entertaining as I did.)

But back to Montgomery County, Md. (population 1 million), which is one of the most affluent counties in the United States. The professional lawn care industry, which is active in Montgomery County, views the possibility of a lawn care pesticide ban there in a very serious light.

"We're monitoring the situation very closely," says Tom Delaney, director of government affairs for The Professional Landcare Network (PLANET). He says that PLANET, with the help of Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment (RISE) and local and regional green industry company owners are mobilizing to protect their right to continue to use the chemical products they've been using to keep their clients' properties weed and pest free.

To that end, the industry is seeking the support of its customers (property owners, including homeowners, business owners, property managers, etc.) who appreciate the dollars & cents and environmental benefits that professional lawn care provides their properties.

"We have to engage our customer base within the county. We have a direct relationship with our customers and they appreciate what we do for them," says Delaney. "A lot of what we're attempting to do to defend our industry comes down to the citizens in the county. Montgomery County is certainly not Takoma Park."

RISE Director of Communications Karen Reardon agrees that Montgomery County represents a different challenge than what the lawn care industry faced in Takoma Park. Montgomery County is a large county, she points out, with a very diverse population. It also has both agricultural and urban areas. It also has lots of golf courses and beautiful parks.

Reardon adds that Montgomery already has a strict IPM program in place for its public properties, and she feels that landscape and lawn care pros are generally viewed as good stewards within the county because of their professionalism and also because of the strength and activity of the state and regional industry associations.

Meanwhile, Beyond Pesticides, a Washington D.C. anti-pesticide organization, and several of the individuals who spearheaded the anti-pesticide drive in Takoma Park are seeking signatures on petitions to ban pesticide use in Montgomery County.

From here, likely county committee that convened the recent meeting and panel groups will draft some language addressing pesticide use, says Readon. Then, regardless of whether the committee supports the ban or not, the language is expteced to  to be passed to county lawmakers for more discussion and the possibility of action.

Maryland is one of nine U.S. states that do not have preemption for local pesticide regulations.