Opponents of a proposed Montgomery County bill that would ban lawn chemicals say it will interfere with lawn maintenance, which is crucial to sustaining the area's property value. (WUSA9)

Montgomery County’s debate over where and how to ban cosmetic lawn pesticides heats up again next week as Council President George Leventhal (D-At Large) defends his far-reaching bill against a more narrowly drawn alternative.

Leventhal’s bill, scheduled for a committee mark-up on Sept. 17, bars what he calls “non-essential” pesticides from private lawns and most county-owned land, including parks and athletic fields. He cites the body of research linking pesticide exposure to childhood cancer and other health issues.

The measure, which would exempt agricultural acreage and golf courses, has drawn the wrath of homeowner associations, soccer leagues and the lawn care industry. It is supported by a coalition of environmental activists, public health experts and concerned parents.

Council member Roger Berliner (D-Bethesda), who chairs the transportation, energy and environment committee that will consider the Leventhal bill, calls it “a bridge too far” that would be difficult to enforce and vulnerable to court challenge. He argues that while the scientific evidence is worrisome, it has established no clear causal connection between pesticide exposure and cancer.

On Tuesday, he unveiled a substitute version that drops the ban for private lawns and nearly all playing fields, establishing instead a five-field “organic pilot” to test the impact of minimal pesticide use. County park playgrounds would still be covered by the prohibition. Private playgrounds and day-care facilities would have to give 48 hours’ notice to users before applying any pesticides. It also provides condo and homeowner associations with a mechanism for voting on pesticide application in common areas. Individual residents could also decline use of the chemicals on their units.

Berliner said the bill approaches the issue in a “responsible and phased way” without ruling out more stringent measures in the future. Moving too quickly, he said in a letter to council colleagues, “runs the risk of a significant citizen rebellion, an expensive uphill legal fight and millions in additional costs to maintain our playing fields — if they can be maintained at all.”

Leventhal said Tuesday he remains “very optimistic” that he has the votes for passing a strong bill. He said he would be offering amendments of his own, including a possible compromise on the athletic fields ban and clarification of exactly what chemicals would be prohibited.

He said the full council will likely take up the issue for final action on Oct. 6.