Local, County Officials Note Pesticides' Hazards
Bernards Township Environmental Commission member offers some links for organic lawncare program.
Spring is just around the corner and with that comes the desire to get lawns back in shape after the winter freeze. Did you know that close to 477,000 pounds of pesticides are applied to lawns in New Jersey each year?
Pesticides pose serious health problems to adults and children and environmental problems due to contamination of private wells and the public water supply if they are washed away by rain or applied in close proximity, noted a news release this week from Somerset County.
“It’s important that homeowners and business owners understand the dangers of applying pesticides themselves, since pesticides are poison and often are used in areas where children and pets play and walk,” said Freeholder Mark Caliguire, public health and safety division liaison.
Pesticide is a general term used to describe any substance designed specifically to kill unwanted insects, rodents and plant life. Products designed to kill weeds in a lawn or unwanted grass in cracks on a driveway or sidewalk are categorized as pesticides. The most common pesticides are herbicides.
Exposure to pesticides over long periods of time can cause serious health problems, such as cancer and birth defects, the county releae said. Being exposed to even small amounts of pesticides over time also may be harmful, and the effects on young children are not well known.
“It’s also important that residents know that commercial landscapers must be licensed by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), since using pesticides properly requires proper training and extreme care,” Caliguire said.
With this in mind, the Somerset County Health Department urges residents and business owners to be careful when using common brand pesticides such as Roundup, Preen and QuikPro — or any store-brand equivalents, and to read the directions carefully.
The law prohibits homeowners from buying pesticide products for a landscaper to apply around their home. Also, landscapers and anyone not working on their own home property require training and licensing before they can legally apply these or any type of pesticide.
The county urged residents to confirm that any landscaping service they hire that will be applying pesticides has a Pesticide Applicator’s License issued by the NJDEP. If the service does not have the license with them, they should provide the license number, which can be confirmed by calling the NJDEP Pesticide Control Program at (609) 984-6507. Additionally, all employees are required to be licensed individually, and the license number should be on their vehicles.
Joseph Speeney, this year's vice-chairman of the Bernards Township Environmental Commission who has actively promoted the use of alternatives to pesticides, urges residents to go a step further.
"While it is certainly a good idea to protect yourself from improper pesticide usage and make sure that your landscaper is NJDEP [New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection] licensed, it is important to recognize that even 'proper' usage is not a risk-free proposition," Speeney said.
Speeney said the DEP's database is filled with pesticide violations against licensed landscapers, "It really becomes difficult to have a level of assurance when it comes to pesticides. The good news is that pesticides are not a necessity for lawns if people have the right education, and we are fortunate to live in an area with a very competitive organic lawn care and landscaping industry."
Speeney noted that this year Rutgers University partnered with NJDEP and the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey to launch the Rutgers Organic Landcare Certification Program, which graduated 27 landscapers in January. NOFA also has an accreditation program, Speeney said. Information on the Rutgers Organic Landcare Certification Program and some of its participants can be found at http://sebsnjaesnews.rutgers.edu/2013/02/breaking-new-ground-with-rutgers-organic-land-care-program/.
Educational information on organic lawn care and a link to NOFA-NJ’s list of landscapers can be found at http://www.bernards.org/boards_commissions/environmental/ec_organic_lawn_care.aspx
Township Committeeman John Malay, liasion to the Environmental Commission, said he would let the commission members comment specifically, but he noted that one of the major problems with the application of any lawn chemical is over-use.
"People tend to err on the side of using more, rather than less, figuring they want to see a noticeable effect," Malay observed. "Homeowners are often guilty of this and, of course, a professional lawn service wants you to see results of their efforts so you will continue to hire them.
New Jersey has 4,000 licensed landscapers, which means that they have attended classes and have passed a licensing exam demonstrating that they understand how to apply pesticides safely, according to the release from Somerset County.
“Unfortunately, there are far too many landscapers that provide pesticide services who are not properly licensed. Unlicensed pesticide applicators pose a serious risk to you and your family because they do not have the level of training required to ensure that these potentially dangerous substances are applied properly,” said Caliguire. “In addition, many of them do not have the proper level of insurance to cover a pesticide-related accident, should one occur.”
Further information is at the Somerset County Health Department at (908) 231-7155.