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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Pesticides v. Organics in the Burbs

The W$J has a great article on growing conflicts between neighbors over pesticide use for lawncare.  Some excerpts:

As the organic lawn movement grows, so are tensions in some communities. The latest front is over whether lawn-care methods are the horticultural equivalent of secondhand smoke: a choice that affects the whole community. Neighborhood activists argue that using pesticides on one lawn exposes everyone nearby to the chemicals, including kids and pets. . . .

To try to make everyone happy, In Harmony Sustainable Landscapes in Bothell, Wash., offers three tiers of weed programs: "No Weeds," "Minimum Pesticides," and "Completely Organic." When new customers call up, co-owner Mark Gile says he subtly encourages the latter two programs.

Community peer pressure is one thing. It's another to mandate organic care by law. In 2001, Canada's Supreme Court ruled that the nation's communities can restrict cosmetic pesticide use on private as well as public property. To date, more than 129 have done so.

That ruling mobilized the U.S. pro-pesticide movement like never before both on a grassroots and legislative levels, says Allen James, president of the Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment, a trade group representing makers and suppliers of pesticides and fertilizers. "Canada was the warning shot for us," he says.

Partly due to RISE's efforts, today all but nine states currently forbid local lawmakers from enacting such residential bans, because it would pre-empt state laws.

As a result, organic activists to date have instead concentrated on getting pesticides banned in public properties where municipalities have control. Just last month, Connecticut extended a ban on lawn pesticides through the eighth grade. Currently at least 20 U.S. towns have pesticide-free parks and several hundred school districts have laws or policies designed to minimize kids' exposure to pesticides.

Such actions unnerve homeowners such as John Schmaltz in Cromwell, Conn., who fears private property could be next. He sees a hypocritical undercurrent to organic lawn enthusiasts' pleas. "People put on deodorant, perfume and cosmetics, and who's to say about those?"

Ben Barros

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