My crystal ball is dusty so I can’t predict the long-term consequences of the passage of a lawn care pesticide ban in Maryland. However, I can predict property owners in Montgomery County will see a marked change in the health and appearance of their lawns after the ban goes into effect. That change will not be for the better.
This past October, after two years of discussions and several public hearings, the Montgomery County Council approved Bill 52-14. The act forbids the application of EPA-registered lawn care pesticides to lawns within the county.
The council cited concerns over the deleterious effects of lawn care pesticides to the region’s environment, but framed their action mostly as a protection to the health of county citizens.
The law went into effect at the start of 2016 for public property, such as parks. Homeowners and professional lawn applicators have until 2018 to begin complying with the ban.
A strangely crafted law
Bill 52-14 is sometimes referred to as the Non-Essential Pesticides Bill and, in a few mentions, as the Healthy Lawns Bill. In my view, it’s more accurate to refer to it as the Platypus Bill for reasons that should become obvious.
While I’ve never seen a platypus in the flesh as they live in Australia and are notoriously shy, I’ve seen pictures of them. A platypus is a strange-looking creature. It has a bill like a duck, webbed feet, a tail like a beaver and a furry body like a muskrat. Rather than giving birth live, the platypus lays eggs, which is also odd.
But enough about this strangest of animals; instead, let’s examine how Bill 52-14 resembles it.
Let’s start by listing the hodge-podge of pesticides forbidden for use on lawns (public and private) as listed in 52-14. Banned products include pesticides categorized as “restricted use” by federal regulators, the European Union’s “Category One Endocrine Disruptors” and why not throw in “Class A” pesticides as defined by Ontario, Canada, too.
Consider also while the law will forbid professionals and homeowners alike from applying EPA-approved chemicals to their lawns, these same products can continue to be used on trees, in gardens and on driveways, sidewalks and pavers to control weeds and pests.
Welcome lawn cheaters?
Finally, even though property owners and licensed applicators will be forbidden from treating lawns with almost all common pesticides, these same products will remain available in the retail trade for anyone to buy.
Montgomery County, bordering Washington D.C., is Maryland’s most populated county with about 1 million residents. It is also as one of the most affluent counties in the U.S., according to Forbes magazine.
Homeowners in Montgomery County have enjoyed the services of professional lawn care companies almost from the birth of the industry more than 50 years ago. Dozens of lawn care companies there treat thousands of private lawns annually.
Will homeowners there buy and surreptitiously treat their lawns once crabgrass and other weeds begin dominating their lawns? What will they do when white grubs and scavenging critters ravage large sections of their lawns?
While the professional applicator industry isn’t tipping its hand in terms of challenging 52-14, it’s very likely they will. We hope so. This platypus of an act is unnecessary and unworkable as it stands.