Memo addressing Montgomery County Councilmember Roger Berliner’s opposition to Bill 52-14

MEMO

Subject: Councilmember Roger Berliner’s opposition to Bill 52-14 proposed by Council President George Leventhal, “To Prohibit Use of Certain Chemical Pesticides on Lawns and Certain County-Owned Property in Order to Better Protect Sensitive Human and Pollinator Populations:” A Story of Two Letters.

Date: August 24, 2015

From: Diana Post President Rachel Carson Landmark Alliance (RCLA)

11701 Berwick Rd., Silver Spring, MD 20904, rachelcarsonlandmark@verizon.net

 

Summary

Councilmember Roger Berliner could be expected to have a generally good grounding in human health associated pesticide problems consistent with modern scientific findings and in certain ways he does. However, we take issue with several statements about pesticides’ health hazards in a letter Mr. Berliner wrote dated August 10, 2015 (see Footnote #2 for details). Also, unfortunately he opposes legislation that could help accomplish pesticide reduction through excluding applications of certain chemical pesticides to residential lawns for cosmetic purposes, as proposed by Council Chairman George Leventhal (Bill 52-14). Mr. Berliner suggests education instead. Based on the experience in Montgomery County over the past 25 years, an education only solution may fall short of the best remedy available in 2015. Further, it appears to be at odds with Mr. Berliner’s own May 11, 2015 letter advocating a voluntary pesticide ban. (see Footnote #3 for details) The adverse health and environmental effects from pesticides call for action. To help reduce pesticides as a source of toxic chemicals in our community for our own human health and for the healthy environment that we depend on to survive, we call on Councilmember Berliner to support Bill 52-14.

Discussion

Toxicities and disease associations continue to be reported by scientists for those chemical pesticides being marketed. Combinations of older pesticides remain available for use on lawns while at the same time new pesticide products with limited testing and market experience are being introduced. Consumers and others can have trouble keeping current with these developments.

A strong statement of health concerns about pesticides in 2004 by Canada’s Ontario College of Family Physicians urged health care workers to be responsible for advising patients of the hazards of pesticide exposures and for supplying information about organic lawn and garden care. Following this Physicians’ report, have come a series of anti-pesticide regulations in Canada and the US, of which the Leventhal Bill 52-14 is a recent example.

Current losses of honey bees and other pollinators, have been linked to a class of insecticides (neonicotinoids) [1] and to multiple pesticide exposures of bees (to various insecticides and fungicides).

The alarming decline of the Monarch butterfly population has captured national attention. This has been associated with a specific herbicide, glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup™. Glyphosate was recently designated as probably carcinogenic for humans by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). IARC recently determined that 2,4-D is a possible human carcinogen. This is the same herbicide that was a component of the Agent Orange defoliant used in the Vietnam War.

Both neonicotinoids and glyphosate, along with other hazardous chemical pesticides, would be excluded from cosmetic use on residential lawns in Montgomery County under Bill 52-14.

A valid case could be made for citizen education in conjunction with a way to significantly reduce pesticide use, however to call for education without an exclusion in 2015 seems inappropriate. We have not heard of a consumer education program for pesticide awareness in Montgomery County that could promise reductions of these chemicals at the residential level for any use.

Even if the County were to institute an assertive pesticide educational program, on the opposing side, promoting pesticide use for cosmetic purposes, there are the powerful multibillion dollar pesticide companies whose chief concerns are not those of the homeowners, physicians or environmentalists but of their own businesses and of the bottom line.

Currently Montgomery County appears to be in a position to regulate pesticide use under Bill 52-14; and this is the road that should be taken.

The proscribing of certain bad-actor chemicals as proposed in Bill 52-14 is limited only to their use on residential lawns for cosmetic purposes, not to gardens. Our understanding is that it may allow for exceptions to be granted based on appeals from individual citizens, under limited circumstances. Mr. Berliner has stated in error that the exclusion would be “absolute.”

In his August 10, 2015 letter to me, Mr. Berliner suggests consumer education as an alternative to proscribing pesticides for cosmetic uses on residential lawns, however, in an earlier letter dated May 11, 2015 to a hospital in Montgomery County (Suburban Hospital) he asked for a voluntary ban on pesticide use on the hospital’s grounds. For various reasons including recent County history discussed below, we believe this earlier support for the exclusion strategy indicates Mr. Berliner’s recognition of its power in leading to a significant reduction in pesticide use, and its importance for the health of residents in our county in 2015.

Specific statements from Mr. Berliner’s August 10th letter that fail to bolster the argument against exclusion are found below along with our comments.[2]

In his May 11th letter, Mr. Berliner gives reasons based on pesticides’ health hazards for a banning request to the Suburban Hospital administrator.[3]

Pesticide Reduction/Education in Montgomery County: A Historic Perspective

For over 25 years Montgomery County officials have been attempting to increase awareness about pesticides and to promote reduced pesticide use. In 1990 a non-binding resolution was passed to adopt Integrated Pest Management (IPM) as a way of reducing the level of pesticide use for County buildings and grounds. In 1996 the County Commission on Health found that there was a need to further reduce pesticide use and that there was a great need to educate the public about pesticides. Per Mr. Berliner, County pesticide education efforts have not been successful, thus far.

What to do in 2015

Is it prudent to only rely on efforts to educate the public about pesticides’ hazards when, thus far, such measures seem to have been unproductive in increasing pesticide awareness and reducing pesticide use and when the exclusion of bad actor pesticides for certain limited uses (on lawns for cosmetic purposes) is a possibility?

Mr. Berliner appears to understand the value of banning as a way to bring about pesticide reduction and in his May 11th letter he asked that there be a voluntary elimination of the use of pesticides on hospital grounds.

Without indicating that he had found a proven, effective strategy to replace previous, futile methods of educating the public about pesticides, and while acknowledging that there are valid reasons for concern about the adverse effects of exposure to pesticides (based on findings by IARC and the American Academy of Pediatrics), Mr. Berliner withholds his active support from Bill 52-14 as the road needed to reduce pesticide use on residential lawns.

From the vantage point of 2015 and considering the history of pesticide education in Montgomery County, exclusion of pesticides for cosmetic uses on residential lawns seems to be the only alternative which is capable of achieving the desired objective – significantly reducing pesticide use.

Further we note that the environmental effects of pesticides have been neglected by regulators and that they can have direct adverse impacts on bees, beneficial insects and other natural sources of ecosystem services. As Rachel Carson wrote and as others since have advocated we humans are part of nature and dependant on environmental health for our own well being.

We applaud Mr. Berliner’s letter to Suburban Hospital, and ask him to reflect on the reason that he wrote it as well as on the unsuccessful attempts by Montgomery County to educate its residents about pesticides. He has described our citizens’ perception of pesticide hazards today as showing: “… barely any public awareness.”(Mr. Berliner’s August 10, 2015 letter) We urge Mr. Berliner to support Bill 52-14 and use it as an example to the rest of Maryland to show how our progressive jurisdiction proposes to help protect human health and the environment in 2015.

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FOOTNOTES

[1] A nearby business, Behnke Nurseries in Beltsville, MD has posted a sign: “WARNING: PESTICIDES MAY KILL BEES AND OTHER POLLINATORS,” and is phasing out sales of neonicotinoid-containing insecticides.

[2] Specific Statements from Mr. Berliner’s August 10th letter that fail to bolster the argument against banning along with our comments:

From the August 10 Berliner letter:“…Experts at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) have told us that the state of the science with respect to health risks is not `definitive.’”

Our comments: No direct references are cited and no individuals from NCI are identified as having made this statement. We have two concerns with the NCI statement:

First, with regards to cancer and pesticides it seems to contradict the standard adopted by toxicologists for evaluating health effects on people, described as “the probability of risk” since humans cannot be test subjects. The standard of “definitive” or absolute proof of a chemical’s toxicity is what toxicologists reserve for research animals because they can be directly treated with the toxic agent.

Second, while the NCI experts are respected authorities on cancer, is it appropriate to imply as Mr. Berliner appears to be doing, that their judgment on pesticide toxicity to humans (that they have termed “not definitive”) pertains to all fields of medicine (where conditions associated with pesticide toxicity include: Parkinson’s Disease, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Dementia, Endocrine Disruption, and Diabetes)? Although we respect the NCI, we believe other experts need to be consulted about the neurological, endocrine and metabolic diseases linked to pesticides and mentioned above.

In this August 10th letter, Mr. Berliner described Bill 52-14 as “an absolute ban.” Our comments: We understand that there may be exceptional situations where regulations may be relaxed in response to special individual requests from consumers. Further the Bill 52-14 exclusion is restricted to certain bad actor chemical pesticides used only on residential lawns for cosmetic purposes.

 

[3] In his May 11th letter Mr. Berliner gives reasons based on pesticides’ health hazards for a banning request to the Suburban Hospital administrator:

“There are strong signals from leading medical professionals that there is a fundamental need to reduce the amount of pesticides to which individuals are exposed… [and]… the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded that glyphosate, a commonly used pesticide was `probably carcinogenic.’”

The letter further requests: “We are writing to ask that hospitals…assume a leading role in increasing awareness of the health concerns regarding pesticides by voluntarily agreeing to eliminate their use on hospital grounds [and as well] “… help to reduce pesticide exposure for some of our most vulnerable residents…”

According to Mr. Berliner such banning action by the hospital can: “increase awareness in our community as to [pesticides] potential harmful effects.”

 

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