‘Turf’ War in Maryland County: Activists Push to Ban Lawn Chemicals

Published April 29, 2015

If the county council of Montgomery County, Maryland has its way, it may soon be more difficult for property owners to maintain their lawns as they wish: well-kept, lush, and green.

A coalition of environmental and public health activists is pushing for a Montgomery County Council ordinance that would ban the use of cosmetic lawn-care chemicals. The proposal is sponsored by Council President George L. Leventhal (D).

The anti-lawn-treatment coalition argues young children exposed to lawn treatment chemicals are placed at elevated risks for cancer and other diseases. They argue less-risky organic options can still produce high-quality yards.

Seen as Nanny-State Intrusion

Various homeowners associations and residential lawn enthusiasts in the county are fighting the proposal, arguing it is an unnecessary intrusion into a private matter that could lower property values and their neighbors’ opinions of them as responsible homeowners.

Angela Logomasini, a senior fellow in environmental risk, regulation, and consumer freedom studies at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, says there is no good public health and safety reason for banning lawn-related pesticides the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved as legal and safe for yard application.

“This appears to be more of a nanny-state issue, as activists try to force people to conform to their preferred green lifestyle,” said Logomasini.

Lawn-care companies and a trade association for the pesticide industry have joined the fight to kill the measure, arguing the chemicals are safe. If the products were not safe, they argue, federal and state regulators wouldn’t allow the products on the market.

Seton Motley, president of the public policy organization Less Government, says the fact the chemicals and pesticides have already been approved by federal and state regulatory agencies proves environmentalists will never be satisfied, no many how many hurdles they force people to jump through.

“I believe that what animates the environmentalists is that they’re afraid that somebody somewhere is having a good time or enjoying themselves too much,” said. Motley. “So in typical liberal fashion, they’ve dedicated themselves to preventing this.”

Fear of Manmade Chemicals

Gennady Stolyarov, editor-in-chief of The Rational Argumentator, says science, not a visceral, unjustified fear of “chemicals”—of which all matter is composed—should inform decisions on public health and safety.

“While there can be situations where it is justified to protect people from being involuntarily exposed to genuinely harmful substances, a blanket ban on ‘nonessential’ pesticides, however defined, would not fit that description,” Stolyarov said.

“The sweeping scope of the proposed ban by the Montgomery County Council indicates the motivation for the ban is not scientific and does not arise from specific, documented, substantiated health concerns,” Stolyarov said. “Rather, it appears the ban’s proponents have succumbed to the myth that all ‘artificial’ pesticides are bad because they contain ‘chemicals’ that are somehow ‘unnatural.'”

Stolyarov says because all substances are made of chemicals, each should be considered on its own terms. Technology is not our enemy, and manmade substances improve and often save lives.

“Even purely esthetic impacts can improve the lives of those who consider them particularly enjoyable,” Stolyarov said.

Stolyarov says before a ban is even considered, there should be credible, substantive evidence a particular chemical or mix of chemicals poses threat of harm. A reflexive ban of any substance that is commonly in use is unjustified. 

Property Rights Cited

“Preventing a homeowner from transforming his or her lawn in a chosen manner is a form of micromanagement that cannot be justified unless the behaviors involved in doing so pose dire and involuntary physical harms to others,” Stolyarov said. “This is a heavy burden of proof and could only be addressed through rigorous research and impartial consideration of the evidence. It is not a situation that could be resolved by a county council acting on unsubstantiated stereotypes.”

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) is managing editor of Health Care News.