January 15, 2015
Good evening. My name is Kathleen Boucher. I am the Acting Director of the Department of Environmental Protection. Thank you for the opportunity to testify on behalf of County Executive Leggett regarding Bill 52-14, which proposes to restrict the use of certain pesticides on lawns in Montgomery County.
In his October 22, 2014 memorandum to other Councilmembers regarding this bill, Council President Leventhal noted that “This issue is among the most technically complex which the Council has ever faced. Therefore, it is critical that we approach this in a thoughtful manner and that we consult with a variety of experts who are knowledgeable in the field so we can make a well-informed decision regarding this important public health issue.” After extensive discussion with a range of Executive branch departments, including the Departments of Environmental Protection, Health and Human Services, General Services, and Recreation, the County Executive concurs with Mr. Leventhal’s assessment of the need to consult with experts in the field. Among the complex issues addressed by this bill are the effects of pesticides on human and environmental health, and the science of turf grass management. The specialized nature of these topics necessitates input from outside experts because individuals with detailed knowledge in these areas are not available within the County government. The bill also deals with a major philosophical issue – society’s perceptions about what constitutes a healthy and attractive lawn. Fundamental changes in lawn care practices in the County will be difficult without addressing this subject.
Bill 52-14 would prohibit the use of certain “non-essential” chemicals on lawns in the County except under certain prescribed circumstances. The definition of “lawn” is broad, including not only the grass areas around homes and other buildings, but playing fields as well. The County Executive’s initial reaction is that playing fields should be treated differently than other types of lawns. He has heard from opponents of the ban that organic-only options may have implications on the quality of lawns and the cost of lawn care services. Nonetheless, he believes that accepting these outcomes may be appropriate if the science regarding the risk from the use of pesticides is compelling enough to justify a ban on the use of certain chemicals on residential lawns. For playing fields, where the quality of the turf is critical to the availability and playability of the field, he is sympathetic to the concerns raised by those responsible for the management and operation of such fields in the County that synthetic chemical treatments are necessary to ensure high-quality playing fields. Therefore, he believes it is appropriate to exempt playing fields from the ban in the same manner that golf courses are exempt.
The County Executive also wants to ensure that careful consideration is given to how the proposed bill is implemented. If the County were to adopt a ban, our residents and businesses must understand the full implications of the ban, and be able to clearly identify which products and practices are allowable and which are not. For example, the bill would allow for the use of a banned pesticide for the control of designated invasive species. The average resident may not have the knowledge to determine the species of a particular weed to ascertain whether it is subject to the ban. Addressing issues of this nature will be critical to successful implementation of the proposed bill.
The County Executive appreciates the opportunity to comment on the proposed bill, and is confident that the knowledge we all gain during the upcoming work sessions will help ensure that we are, as Mr. Leventhal suggests, making a “well-informed decision” regarding further regulation of pesticides. DEP staff, as well as other Executive staff from HHS, DGS and Recreation, look forward to participating actively in the Council’s consideration of this bill.