Next Wednesday, one of the nation's most stringent pesticide notification laws takes effect in Prince George's County. Maryland law already requires lawn care services to post little signs for up to 48 hours after they treat a yard. The Prince George's law goes farther, however, requiring all residents to post notification a day before the use of pesticides, whether they apply it themselves or through a lawn service.
Listen to the reaction of the lawn care industry to this law and you can hear the echo of the tobacco industry fighting smoking regulations: "The scientific studies suggesting health risks have been inconclusive," industry spokesmen assert. "The regulations will be impossible to enforce." And, last but not least, "the legislation is an infringement on personal freedom." That last point leads to one more correlation industry reps would just as soon ignore between cigarettes and pesticides: What one person does can't help but affect his neighbor. With second-hand smoke and pollution runoff, one man's freedom is another's health hazard.
Just as worries over smoking have swelled to a crescendo, concerns over misuse of pesticides are building in a state that's the nation's cancer-rate leader. Parents at Thunder Hill Elementary School in Columbia, for example, recently agreed to weed and maintain the school's lawn for the coming year as a trade-off to keep the maintenance crew from spreading chemicals where students walk and play. A Bethesda community near the National Institutes of Health also voted not to have a common area sprayed because it is used by children. Agricultural extension agents too have been cautioning Harry Homeowners from over-medicating their lawns as a weak substitute for more fundamental practices, such as planting the proper seed, aerating the soil and removing thatch.
Industry pressure against pesticide regulation, however, is bound to stiffen. Lobbyists are still licking their wounds over a 72-57 defeat in the Maryland House of Delegates last winter of a bill that would have barred counties and municipalities from regulating pesticide use. Even the measure's opponents were surprised they could swamp legislation that had the blessing of the Schaefer administration and the House leadership, along with the industry. A similar federal measure to supersede local pesticide regulation is being considered by Congress, however.
Neither Baltimore City nor any of its surrounding suburban counties are considering following Prince George's, whose regulation is simply informational: It doesn't block people from using lawn care services or from spraying pesticides themselves.
Just as recycling programs have made us more cognizant of what we waste, the greatest effect of pesticide notification may be as a catalyst to ask ourselves: Do we really need all this stuff?