Both sides in pesticide ban debate face Montgomery Co. judge

ROCKVILLE, Md. — A law that would ban Montgomery County homeowners from using pesticides on their lawns landed in circuit court Wednesday, and a judge heard arguments from representatives on both sides of the issue.

The ban would prohibit the use of cosmetic pesticides on private lawns.

Attorneys for groups opposed to the ban — comprised of county residents, lawn care companies and pesticide industry representatives — argued the law should be thrown out because it contradicts Maryland laws that pesticides can be applied to lawns safely when they are used properly.

They also said the chemicals that would be banned have already been approved by experts with the state’s Department of Agriculture and the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

On the other side, Judge Terrence McGann heard from an attorney representing Montgomery County who noted it is not unusual for counties to alter state laws on the local level. He also said the law is only a “limited ban” that applies to lawns and places where children frequent, such as playgrounds.

If the ban is allowed to stand, it would take effect Jan. 1, 2018.

The county council passed the law in 2015 on a 6-3 vote after hearing from community members and environmental activists.

“The right of a homeowner to maintain a weed-free lawn does not supersede the right of adjacent neighbors to be kept free of harm,” said council member George Leventhal at the time of the vote.

Groups that support the ban, including Beyond Pesticides, Center for Food Safety, Central Maryland Beekeepers Association and Safe Grow Montgomery, said homeowners should be using organic alternatives to chemicals.

Opponents said the law goes too far and would hurt lawn care businesses.

“This bill is so extreme that it’s unenforceable. It’s also unnecessary,” said Karen Reardon, a spokeswoman for RISE which represents pesticide manufacturers. “It puts workers’ livelihoods at risk.”

A spokeswoman for Safe Grow Montgomery told WTOP she expects Judge McGann to issue a decision sometime in a month or two.

The outcome of the court case could impact all local jurisdictions in Maryland and whether they are allowed to implement local pesticide regulations that are stricter than the state’s.

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