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Posted at 03:56 PM ET, 06/25/2012

Mary Cheh aims to protect people from pesticides

First, D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) made it a bit easier for small animals to avoid a death sentence when they wander into a District residents’ homes or back yards.

Now, Cheh is asking council colleagues to make it bit harder to kill pesky bugs, arguing there should be more regulation of potentially harmful pesticides.


What's under your kitchen sink? Hopefully not these guys! At the Maryland Science Center exhibit, "Harry's Big Adventure: My Bug World," pretend to be a terminator and find the bugs, like these cockroaches, living in the house. (Courtesy Maryland Science Center)
The council will vote Tuesday on a bill that instructs the D.C. Department of the Environment to identify classes of pesticides that may pose a health risk and are deemed not-essential for protecting public health or property.

Those chemicals would then be banned from use in city schools, District government buildings, child care centers and within 25 feet of any body of water. When certain pesticides are used at a home or business, nearby residents would have to be notified prior to application.

And to try to wean District residents and pest-control specialists off all sorts of pesticides, the bill requires the University of the District of Columbia to hold classes and neighborhood meetings to inform residents how they can control insects without relying solely on chemicals.

The classes will be funded by increasing registration fees for licensed applicators from $130 to $200 per year.

“Pesticides are dangerous and they cause illnesses,” said Cheh. “They affect our health seriously.”

But some residents and chemical manufactures warn the bill could make it harder to control roaches, ants, bed bugs and other insects. And like most major cities, the battle against the bug in the District rarely subsides.

“The proposed measure would take away U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved pest control products that I rely on to protect my family from pests such as rats, mice, cockroaches and bed bugs,” said Kate Shenk, a Van Ness resident who advises the pesticides industry. “These pests can carry diseases and cause unsafe living and working conditions.”

But Cheh notes that her proposal does not apply to private homes or businesses. She also notes that the bill includes a process under which the Department of the Environment can issue a waiver if a certain pesticide is needed to control insect infestation.

“It has nothing to do with an individual who goes to the hardware store and buys a can of bug spray,” said Cheh, noting local pest-control companies are not opposing the legislation.

Cheh said the measure is a result of the “very, real concerns”expressed by physicians and environmentalists about potential short-term and long-term health risks associated with some pesticides.

“There is a growing body of information based upon animal studies and human epidemiologic research that long-term, low-dose exposure of children to pesticides is associated with a wide range of adverse outcomes,”Jerome A. Paulson, director of the Mid-Atlantic Center for Children’s Health and the Environment at the Children’s National Medical Center, testified. “By allowing the city to limit access to hazardous pesticides, this legislation should decrease children’s exposure to those toxic chemicals and encourage the increased use of integrated pest management.”

Cheh is asking the District government to assume a responsibility already performed by the EPA, expanding the authority of the city environmental agency. She said she doesn’t trust the EPA to do a thorough vetting of potential health risks from pesticides.

“The EPA relies on information supplied by the industry, and it’s often quite old,” Cheh said.

Cheh is wading into the pest-control debate even though her last pest-control bill made headlines across the country and touched off a diplomatic row between the District and some lawmakers in Virginia and Maryland.

In October 2010, the council approved legislation requiring animal-control operators to take “all reasonable steps” to guarantee the use of humane and non-lethal force in the capture of nuisance and unwanted animals. It also outlawed the use of glue, leg hold and “body-gripping” or body crushing traps or snares to catch nuisance animals such as raccoons and foxes.

Earlier this year, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and some GOP lawmakers on both sides of the Potomac River ridiculed the bill, claiming it would prevent the killing of rats and force them to be released outside the city.

Cheh’s legislation, however, exempted rats and mice.

Still, Cheh said the motives behind that bill and her pesticide proposal are far different.

“I have no regard for the insects whatsoever. This is entirely a human health bill,” Cheh said. “What you want to do is protect people from harsh chemicals that can harm them, and that is a not minor thing.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed the following quote to toxicologist Robert K Simon: “The proposed measure would take away U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved pest control products that I rely on to protect my family from pests such as rats, mice, cockroaches and bed bugs.” The comment was made by Kate Shenk, an advisor to the pesticide industry. This story also has been updated to note that the D.C. Department of the Environment can only ban “non-essential” pesticides from schools, government buildings and near waterways.

By  |  03:56 PM ET, 06/25/2012

 
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