Chesapeake PSR

Judge rules against pesticides restrictions

Toxics and HealthTimothy WhitehouseComment

Chesapeake PSR is urging Montgomery County to appeal an August 3 ruling by a Montgomery County judge overturning a county ban on the use of certain lawn pesticides.

In 2015, the Montgomery County Council passed a law banning dangerous pesticides, which was set to take effect in 2018. The law banned the use of pesticides classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as "Carcinogenic to Humans" or "Likely to Be Carcinogenic to Humans" and "Restricted Use Products."

The law also banned the use of pesticides classified as "Class 9" pesticides by the Ontario, Canada, Ministry of the Environment; all pesticides classified as "Category 1 Endocrine Disruptors" by the European Commission; and any other pesticides that the county executive determines are not critical to pest management in Montgomery County.

In overturning the ban, Circuit Court Judge Terrence McGann ruled that the county ordinance would in effect “preempt” state and federal laws that allowed some of the more toxic chemicals. Maryland is one of seven states that has not explicitly preempted local authority to restrict pesticides more stringently than the state.

Chesapeake PSR provided public testimony in support of the ban in 2015.

The consequences of pesticide exposure can range from simple skin rashes to nervous and immune system disorders and cancers. Children are especially vulnerable, as their organs are still in the development stages, and they tend to spend more time on or near the ground. Studies have found a 50 percent increase in childhood leukemia risk following routine pesticide use in the home.

“Epidemiologic evidence demonstrates associations between early life exposure to pesticides and pediatric cancers, decreased cognitive function, and behavioral problems,” according to the American Academy of Pediatrics’s policy statement on children’s exposure to pesticides. 

Montgomery County’s law would exempt certain areas such as golf courses and farms. Organic pesticides and those identified by the EPA as “minimum risk” would be acceptable for lawns.

Montgomery County Councilmember George Leventhal, the law’s lead sponsor, said in a statement that he was “very disappointed” with the judge’s ruling, which set a “worrisome precedent for the ability of local governments to protect their residents on vital issues of health and safety.” Council President Roger Berliner noted that federal environmental and public health protections were “dwindling.”

The county has until early September to decide whether to appeal McGann’s ruling. Leventhal and Berliner said they support reviewing legal options that could include an appeal.

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