The Coastal Post - December, 1998

Pesticide Ordinance A Joke

By Jim Bramell

Although the second hearing for the pesticide ordinance for Marin looked like a solid front of support, the words of John Madden ring true, "There are two things you do not want to see made, sausages and politics."

At issue are several problematic aspects of the final writing of the ordinance. First of all the original document was to take effect by 2001, making a reduction of 75% of pesticide use. Now it reads 2004. Secondly, the head of the commission outlined in the ordinance is to be Commissioner of Agriculture. Thirdly, the ordinance's wording allows the County many loopholes to avoid implementation. Finally , there are two sections dedicated to nonliability, non-responsibility.

The three years delay in 75% reduction means that potentially toxic/carcinogenic materials will be used in public areas. Some of these materials have life spans of well over 900 days in damp-cool climates. (Sound familiar?) Research indicates that many of these products used in pest and weed control are either carcinogenic or elements within the product are such. To allow departments within County government to continue to use these products is to prolong exposure and possibly endanger certain segments of the population. Why the extended date? Open Space complained that they needed $450,000, for a tractor and more weed whackers r a true drop in the bucket when compared to prolonged treatment of single cancer cases which can range from $300,000 to $800,000. A false sense of economy. During the full year of posturing no one from the County was seeking grants to help defray the cost.

The second issue of placing the Agricultural Commissioner in charge of the Commission to administrate the Integrated Pest Management. (IPM) program. In the year that the Citizen's Pesticide group worked putting the ordinance together, Stacey Carlson, Marin County Agricultural Commissioner was at times philosophically in disagreement with the Citizen's position. After much discussion and submitting their proposals to the Commissioner, they received it back with changes and deletions which significantly changed the thrust of the ordinance. One area where there was apparent disagreement was where the Commission members would come from occupations which were significantly oriented toward pesticide use, i.e. The Farm Bureau, pesticide applicator there was no position for an organic farmer or gardener. At this point of disagreement, Supervisors Annette Rose and John Kress stepped in to get the process back on line. A portion of the citizen's group will now be a part of the commission. It should be interesting to see the workings within the Commission. It has been said by Stacey repeatedly, "I want the best science."

The wording of the ordinance is shaky at best. One example is Section IV, subsection 23.19.130, article C, "by January 1, 2004, the County of Marin, should reduce its total yearly pesticide use by (75%) by weight, as compared to total pesticide use in 1997, except as directed by approved county IPM plans." Just this segment has problems with it. One of course was moving the date from 2001 to 2004. The word should replaced the word shall. Shall makes it a law. Should makes it tenuous. As an aside, 75% by weight does not talk to the issue of potency or content , but is an issue not easily addressed. By allowing such ambiguous wording and lengthening the time element, it makes this statute almost meaningless. Section VII, Subsection 23.19.160, article a, #l, With regards to notification of the public of impending or past use of pesticides at treated sites. That section uses the word "should" four times. In other wards, if someone fails to place a warning sign, he/she is not responsible. In agriculture there are heavy fines for farmers who fail to post their fields, yet the county is not responsible to notify persons entering county buildings, jogging the trails, or entering a soccer field. The idea that the law is so strong on agriculture, but allows the county to "should" is beyond comprehension.

The final segment of this "ordinance" deals with responsibility. Section XIII, Subsection 23.19.220 and 23.19.230 "No criminal penalties or sanctions and no civil liability for violations of this chapter. They read nor shall any person, or government official, board, commission, or agency, be responsible for any criminal penalties for any violation of this Chapter."

The Commission will be made up of eleven members total, The Ag Commissioner, Three from county departments, representative of Health Council, one pesticide applicator, one from the University of California, Five from the community appointed by each Supervisor. These individuals will be responsible to see that the ordinance is implemented.

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