Recent rankings that named Montgomery County as the healthiest in Maryland prove the county’s aggressive public health policies are working, says Councilmember George Leventhal.

“I think it stands to reason that at least some of our efforts in making good health policy, public health policy in some way contributed,” Leventhal said Monday at a regular weekly press session. “So call me a nanny all you want, but this is the healthiest county in Maryland.”

Many people have called Leventhal just that, especially after he introduced a controversial pesticide law that would ban widely used and federally approved weed killers such as Roundup.

Montgomery County would be the largest jurisdiction in the country to enact such a ban. A town in Maine and the City of Takoma Park have approved similar laws.

Efforts such as the pesticide ban earned Leventhal the nickname of “MoCo’s Dr. No,” in a The Gazette editorial cartoon. A few weeks ago, a pair of conservative radio talk show hosts asked Leventhal if the pesticide ban, bag tax, e-cigarette ban and foam container ban were examples of Montgomery County being too intrusive.

Leventhal took the opportunity Monday “to crow a little bit” about the healthiest county designation, which was Montgomery County’s for the second year in a row.

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The sixth annual County Health Rankings, from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, used Census numbers, hospital stats, crime data and other government reports to come up with the results.

Leventhal said the fact Montgomery was able to overtake slightly wealthier and less diverse Howard County in the rankings proves some of those county laws have made a difference.

“Even though we are more diverse, even though we have larger numbers of less wealthy people, we are the healthiest county in Maryland,” Leventhal said. “So I think that that’s something that all of us, in the executive branch and in the legislative branch, should take pride in.”

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The pesticide ban isn’t the only public health-related issue Leventhal has been involved in this year.

Last week’s Council worksession on alcohol reform brought a public relations blitz from the county on how its ultimate control of alcohol sales helps reduce alcohol-related accidents and safety issues.

Critics of the county’s control model say they must go to stores in bordering jurisdictions for the alcohol products they want.
“Inconvenience is one of the tools that is used to limit the social costs and the social problems that do accompany alcohol use and abuse,” Leventhal said Monday.
He still thinks the county should allow restaurants and beer and wine stores to get special order products from private wholesalers. Many restaurateurs have complained the county’s Department of Liquor Control messes up deliveries of special wines and craft beers they depend on.
Like the proposed pesticide ban, any changes to the county’s control of alcohol sales will be made after this spring’s budget sessions.
In a Monday morning worksession, Montgomery Parks officials again made the case for why its nearly 300 athletic fields should be exempt from the pesticides bill.
Parks Green Management Coordinator Jody Fetzer said while the department has significantly cut down on its use of pesticides, some are still necessary to ensure fields are safe and playable.

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While Parks has said non-chemical organic turf management would be too expensive and inefficient for its fields, it will implement an organic project pilot at one of the soccer fields at Timberlawn Local Park in North Bethesda.

The initiative will consist of doing organic turf treatments on a field directly next to one with conventional pesticide treatments.

Leventhal has said before he sees no reason to exempt Parks playing fields from the ban. The bill would exempt agricultural uses and golf courses.

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“I want to say very generally, I’m very pragmatic about this legislation,” Leventhal said Monday. “I’m willing to consider lengthening the period of time necessary for compliance. …I don’t anticipate it will be enacted precisely as it was introduced.”