Editorial: Pesticide rules do little to protect children and pregnant women from dangerous lawn care chemicals
More than two years after the Michigan Department of Agriculture (MDA) opened up the rulemaking process for pesticide use in Michigan, the verdict is in, and it’s not pretty.
Unfortunately, its advisory panel was stacked with pro-pesticide representatives and did not include a single public health expert before making decisions that involve the well-being of millions of Michiganders.
As a result, the pleas of children’s health advocates and environmentalists were ignored in favor of a “business as usual” approach with continued light-touch regulation on those applying toxic chemicals to lawns, day care facilities and schools.
The agency’s continued bias in favor of the chemical industry lobbyists, pesticide manufacturers and a lawn care industry that still relies too heavily on dangerous chemicals is disappointing. It is also further evidence that regulation of these chemicals—and rules regarding their use—needs to be spread among agencies, including the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH).
It was not a total sham. Due to environmental group involvement, a handful of positive changes—including more prominent “danger” signs required on treated lawns—were achieved.
But suggestions from the health and environmental communities, including the establishment of an open, voluntary registry of people who want to be notified when pesticides are applied near them, were rejected.
According to the Washington DC-based advocacy group Beyond Pesticides, of 30 commonly used lawn pesticides, 19 have studies pointing toward carcinogens; 13 are linked with birth defects; 21 with reproductive effects; 15 with neurotoxicity; 26 with liver or kidney damage; 27 are sensitizers and/or irritants; and 11 have the potential to disrupt the endocrine (hormonal) system.
Pregnant women, infants and children, the aged and the chronically ill are at greatest risk from pesticide exposure and chemically induced immune-suppression, which can increase susceptibility to cancer.
There are legislative proposals that would give Michigan residents needed information. State Rep. Ed Gaffney (R-Grosse Pointe) has introduced HB 4734. This bill opens up the notification registry to anyone, rather than requiring a doctor’s note in order to be included. This bill was referred to the Committee on Agriculture.
There is another bill waiting to be introduced that supports universal neighbor notification of pesticide applications within 100 feet of use. This bill has been introduced in the previous three legislative sessions. Such legislation might have been unnecessary had MDA taken a proactive stance on protecting the vulnerable, or had chemical experts with the DEQ or health experts with the MDCH had a bigger role in the process.
Here’s how the rule making proceeded: In April 2005, the MDA opened the rules for pesticide use in Michigan following passage of legislation focused on protecting children in schools and day care centers from the inherent toxic nature of pesticide exposures. The rules were last addressed in 1994, a time when we knew much less about their damaging effects on human health and the environment.
Environmental and other concerned organizations were invited to participate in the rulemaking process, including MEC, LocalMotion, Sierra Club, League of Women Voters and Junior League. Shortly after the initial meetings, the Sierra Club member moved away, and the committee continued without a replacement. Also on the committee were organizations and groups representing pro-pesticide views, including the Michigan Farm Bureau, Michigan Green Industry, Michigan AgriBusiness, Michigan Pest Control Association, Michigan Aerial Applicators Association, Michigan Aquatic Managers Association, Michigan Nursery and Landscape Association and the Michigan Mosquito Control Association.
Although pesticides are linked to multiple health problems, including birth defects, asthma, cancer and kidney disease, no health professionals or organizations were invited to join the committee.
The committee addressed issues, including: standards for pesticide use, pesticide notification registry, pesticide mixing and loading, off-target pesticide drift, integrated pest management in schools and daycare centers, and notification and posting of indoor and outdoor signs after pesticide applications.
In July 2006, rulemaking ended. The MDA followed the approval trajectory through the State Office of Administrative Hearings and Rules and finished on September 21, 2007 with a public hearing. MDA will decide if recommendations from the public hearing will be added to the rules.
Both MEC and LocalMotion testified at the public hearing, urging more protective rules and an open, voluntary notification registry. This would allow people to close windows, turn off air conditioning and bring children and pets indoors to protect them. Instead, only persons with doctor’s orders will be notified of pesticide applications near them. This makes it far more difficult for low-income residents and others to be on the registry.
Because of the lack of health and scientific-focused representation on the rulemaking committee, MEC recommended the rulemaking committee reconvene and re-review all rules.
MEC continues to partner with member groups LocalMotion and ACCESS to strengthen notification of pesticide use in and around schools through their School Pesticide Use Know-tification project.