Cities and counties are increasingly banning toxic pesticides—and some are taking aim at fertilizers. But industry attempts to buck local efforts remain a significant hurdle.
By Meg Wilcox
PORTLAND, ME—On an early fall day, the city’s downtown Fox Field and Playground is humming. A half dozen young men shoot baskets, and small children scramble over playground structures. The central playing field is wet with dew and shimmers an emerald green in mid-morning light.
Last fall, Portland’s Parks, Recreation, and Facilities Department began organic turf management—zero use of synthetic pesticides or fertilizers to control weeds and grubs—on Fox Field. It took four applications of organic fertilizer (sulfate of potash); copious soil amendments (sand, peat, and loam); injections of oxygen to increase nutrient and water circulation; and heavy seeding. While scattered clover and dandelion weeds poke through, and there’s one small, muddy patch near a soccer goal post, the grass in the heavy-use field is remarkably healthy.
Portland passed a law in 2018 banning synthetic pesticides for turf, landscape, and outdoor pest management on both public and private property, and the parks department is doing its part to comply across the city’s recreational fields, its 66 parks on more than 1,000 acres, community gardens, and other sites.
Many of the most common lawn and landscape pesticides—including glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup—are harmful to human health, pollinators, and wildlife. Twenty-six of the top 40 pesticides are possible or known carcinogens, and 24 have the potential to disrupt the endocrine system, among other impacts, according to Beyond Pesticides.
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As consumer concerns about the harms of pesticides grow, fueled in part by the billion-dollar settlements against Bayer over glyphosate’s link to cancer, and EPA’s failure to ban or restrict pesticides banned by other industrial nations, communities are increasingly passing pesticide reform laws. Portland is one of 31 communities in Maine, and 190 across the country, to have done so.
Among the more recent laws:
- New York City in April banned synthetic pesticide use on all city property except golf courses and playing fields;
- Maui banned both synthetic pesticides and fertilizers from all county lands (the entire island) in August;
- Late last year Baltimore banned chlorpyrifos, neonicotinoids, and glyphosate use on public and private property.
As the movement matures, some cities and counties—including Maui; Stamford, Connecticut; and South Portland—are not simply prohibiting certain pesticides, which often leads to waivers or substitution with another toxic chemical, they’re requiring local governments to use products certified by the USDA National Organic Program.
“The pesticide reform movement has been quietly, incredibly successful at the local level over the last decade. It’s becoming less controversial,” Drew Toher, community resource and policy director at Beyond Pesticides, told Environmental Health News.
Communities still face headwinds, however, from resistant public agencies that often lack training, staff, and resources, and are subject to the insidious influence of the pesticide industry and its proxies that seek to derail the movement.
Source: Environmental Health News
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Organic & Non-GMO Insights December 2021