The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Let’s get pesticides out of Montgomery’s parks

Great Seneca Stream Valley Park.
Great Seneca Stream Valley Park. (Jennifer Heffner/For The Washington Post)

Lorne Garrettson is a pediatrician.

Amid a pandemic, protecting people’s health has become a value and priority. Since the Maryland Court of Special Appeals ruling that affirmed Montgomery County’s 2015 law restricting the use of harmful pesticides on lawns, time continues to confirm that the county took the right steps to protect people’s health from exposure to these chemicals. Yet, as residents find renewed respite in our parks and children return to public playgrounds and playing fields, a major county agency — Montgomery Parks — is still applying these harmful pesticides regularly.

Unsuspecting residents and pets using the county parks can be exposed to these chemicals that pose a threat to health. The time is now for Montgomery Parks to manage all parks pesticide-free, because there is urgency in protecting the health of all park visitors. Landscaping pesticides, which include insecticides, weed killers and fungicides, are all potentially toxic chemicals to humans. Exposure to pesticides is associated with an increased risk of asthma, cancers, cognitive and behavioral problems, and reproductive and birth defects — and some of these conditions can make people more susceptible to the coronavirus. Children may be at increased risk for pesticide exposures because of their increased respiration and more intimate contact with soil. Recently, the manufacturer of the weed killer Roundup, whose active ingredient is glyphosate, agreed to pay $10 billion to settle tens of thousands of cancer claims. Because of the link to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the World Health Organization has labeled glyphosate a probable human carcinogen. This has led to a significant reduction in its use.

Glyphosate has been a widely used and useful weed killer for more than 40 years. The compound gets into us both through our proximity to its use as a weed killer and indirectly through our food, such as oats and other grains grown in fields that had been sprayed. The exposure to pesticides is widespread and continual.

Back during the legislative process, Montgomery Parks testified against the pesticide bill, successfully weakening the section that applies to the parks. And although Montgomery Parks has transitioned some 45 parks to be pesticide-free, nearly 380 county parks can still use pesticide in the course of routine management.

On one hand, Montgomery Parks tapes off playgrounds for months because of health concerns related to the coronavirus. It forbids smoking and vaping in parks because of toxic secondhand exposure to cigarette smoke and vaping condensation that can harm lungs. On the other hand, Montgomery Parks still applies glyphosate-based and other pesticides linked to serious health harms directly on fields specifically dedicated for children’s play and throughout acres of park areas that people and pets use.

Numerous incorporated municipalities have now voted to opt in to the county’s pesticide law: Gaithersburg, Somerset, Washington Grove and others. We need to begin a program of complete cessation of the use of glyphosate and its analogues. Our children and grandchildren deserve no less.

Read more:

Letter: To bee or not to bee? That is the question pesticides pose for many colonies

Letter: EPA Administrator Pruitt made the wrong call on a toxic pesticide

Letter: Protecting the public from exposure to pesticides

Letter: Should Montgomery County be banning ‘cosmetic’ pesticides?

Letter: Pesticide ban shows the peril of Montgomery’s one-party governance