Those lush green lawns in office parks and surrounding homes throughout the county required hard work and in some cases probably the application of pesticides, too.
But the legality of using those pesticides could change under a new bill introduced by County Council Vice President George Leventhal on Tuesday that would restrict the types of pesticides that can be used on lawns in the county.
“This is the beginning of what will be a long conversation,” Leventhal said about the proposed legislation Monday afternoon. His bill would ban pesticides that are linked to possible health concerns—specifically those chemicals classified as carcinogenic or likely to be carcinogenic to humans by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It would also require the county to adopt a pest management plan to monitor the population of pests and assess the damage they cause in order to help determine when the application of pesticides is necessary.
“There are ways to care for lawns that don’t require the use of hazardous chemicals,” Leventhal said. “There are companies that I know well that are springing up to meet that need right now in Montgomery County.”
Leventhal said he expects opposition to the bill, but points out that all but two Canadian provinces have passed similar legislation banning specific pesticides. The bill excludes golf courses, farms and garden centers from the regulations and makes exceptions for control of noxious weeds and invasive species.
“Companies that are using these chemicals will be able to adapt,” Leventhal said.
Eric Wenger, the co-owner of Laytonsville-based Complete Lawn Care Inc. and president of the Washington, D.C., branch of the Professional Grounds Management Society, said he is opposed to the bill.
Wenger pointed out that pesticide use is already regulated by the Maryland Department of Agriculture, which is also regulated by the EPA.
“They know what they’re doing,” Wenger said. “It seems redundant for the County Council to create new legislation in the county for what’s already being done.”
He said the legislation could cause certified pesticide applicators to lose business in the county. Wenger says his business has used organic pesticides for two decades in addition to chemical products, but said that the organic products are more expensive and not always effective.
For example, he said lawn care companies often use corn gluten meal as an organic way to suppress crab grass. But it’s also an effective fertilizer and if too much is applied, a business could violate state nutrient management laws designed to cut down on fertilizer runoff into streams and the Chesapeake Bay, he said.
While Wenger said he didn’t know whether products his company uses would be in violation of the bill, he said that the county should allow the state and federal government to handle the regulation of pesticides.
However, Leventhal said the EPA warns that people often misapply lawn chemicals. He said the bill would be enforced by the county’s Department of Environmental Protection and rely on a complaint-driven system.
A public hearing on the bill has not yet been scheduled.