Historic Pesticide Bill Aims to Protect Children, Waterways
Though the bill passed today only applies to the District of Columbia, its significance may be felt nationally.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — After more than a year of strategic planning and fierce opposition from synthetic chemical lobbying groups, a Washington, D.C., councilor today was able to unanimously pass the nation’s most comprehensive municipal law to restrict pesticides.
Representative Mary’s Cheh’s bill, known as the Pesticide Education and Control Amendment Act of 2012, is now awaiting the signature of DC Mayor Vincent C. Gray, who is expected to sign the historic legislation within 10 days.
Provisions of the law — which restricts non-essential “cosmetic” pesticides such as weed ‘n feed and Roundup from all government-owned property in DC — will be implemented by the District Department of the Environment beginning in late 2013 or early 2014. In the meantime, the bill calls for further education of DC businesses and even private homeowners, who will still be able to apply synthetic chemical products on their own properties that do not border waterways.
This is believed to be the first pesticide bill in the United States that reaches onto private property in certain instances — by eliminating synthetic chemical pesticides from all property within 25 feet of a waterway and also any privately owned schools and daycare facilities where children congregate.
Because of the bill’s jurisdiction in the Nation’s Capitol, it’s seen as a severe symbolic blow to the synthetic chemical pesticide industry, which asked its constituency from Maine to California to fight against passage.
“We cannot allow this type of public policy to be the law where our federal legislators and regulators work and live,” said a memo circulated nationally by the lobby group known as the Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment (RISE). “Expressing your concern as a U.S. citizen regarding our nation’s capital is valid and important. It is imperative DC Council hears from potential tourists, business travelers and citizens that they will not travel to Washington, D.C. if pests go unchecked.”
Cheh, however, did not back down, as was evident from a February hearing in council chambers in which she clearly voiced her concerns about the toxic products.
Her bill, which does not address public health pesticides such as those used for mosquitoes, ticks and bedbugs etc., was ultimately not opposed, however, by the National Pest Management Association (NPMA). Unlike RISE, which is financed primarily by Dow, DuPont, Scotts Miracle Gro, Monsanto and other manufacturers, the NPMA consists of applicators.
“Ultimately the applicators can still make a living by applying safer products to deal with weeds and insects,” said Matt Orlins, a staffer for Councilor Cheh who was the chief broker and architect of the bill. “We feel we worked with the local applicators to address their concerns. This bill isn’t going to put any local businesses out of business, even though the chemical manufacturers won’t be able to sell as much of their product here in the District.”
For Alan Cohen, an applicator of safer pesticides in the district, the passage today was the culmination of his own personal lobbying effort. He invited SafeLawns to meet with Cheh’s staff in early 2011 for a strategic planning session.
“As a resident and a father the passage of Mary Cheh’s bill means a lot,” he said. “My children and other children will not be exposed to potentially harmful chemicals where they play or go to school at least in DC. There will be better training for applicators, to learn about what Integrated Pest Management really means, and what it does not mean.”
As owner of BioLogical Pest Management services, Cohen has seen “an astronomical rise in demand for our services this year. From alternatives products for bedbugs to less toxic wasp treatments, to less toxic termite baiting and boric acid treatment, ant and cockroach treatments, etc. Some of our customer base learns about us though list serves set up for moms who want a less toxic environment for their newborns and older children, and /or pets.”
Ultimately, said Orlins this evening, the bill centered around the protection of children and the testimony of the medical community.
“There is a growing body of information based upon animal studies and human epidemiologic research that long-term, low-dose exposure of children to pesticides is associated with a wide range of adverse outcomes,” Jerome A. Paulson, director of the Mid-Atlantic Center for Children’s Health and the Environment at the Children’s National Medical Center, testified in February. “By allowing the city to limit access to hazardous pesticides, this legislation should decrease children’s exposure to those toxic chemicals and encourage the increased use of integrated pest management.”