Cleveland Heights Pesticide Ban Serves As Model For The Nation
In 1995 Cleveland Heights became the first city in the nation to pass legislation banning the use of lawn pesticides on
all public turf including city, school, library and daycare center grounds. This was a revolutionary decision. Why did
they do it? What are its consequences? The why is easy: pesticides are poisons. Although they are approved by the
EPA, approval does not connote safety even when used as directed. Thus, Cleveland Heights became the first city to
formally recognize that people (especially children), pets and the environment should not be unnecessarily exposed to
these toxic materials. Indeed, some pesticides have been associated with an increased risk of acquiring asthma; also an
EPA report (1996) states that childrens’ developing organ systems make them more vulnerable and less able to detoxify
these chemicals. Moreover, in 2015 the World Health Organization announced that glyphosate, the active ingredient in
Roundup®, was ranked a class 2A carcinogen, the highest order carcinogen possible based on animal studies.
Consequences of the Cleveland Heights ordinance abound. In 2012, Cuyahoga County Council passed landmark county
legislation banning the use of pesticides (outdoor and indoor). This is a tremendous achievement. Some observers
even called it heroic given the chemical industry’s attempt to derail it. Also, at University Circle, all six acres of Wade
Oval are now managed organically as are the Cleveland Botanical Garden’s grounds. Other major University Circle
institutions are in the process of transitioning to natural lawn care. Furthermore, all 29 Cuyahoga County libraries are
using natural lawn care practices. Nationally, the ordinance continues to inspire action from the public health
community. Indeed, Connecticut (2009) and New York State (2010) banned pesticides from most school grounds and
playing fields; Harvard University (2009) adopted organic lawn care and last year, Montgomery County, Maryland with
over one million residents banned lawn pesticides on both public and private land within its jurisdiction.
The chemical approach to turf management is to rely on toxic, fossil fuel based synthetic weed killers and fertilizers
that destroy beneficial microorganisms in the soil and thus furthers the dependency for more synthetic pesticides and
fertilizers (the treadmill). In contrast, a natural systems approach to landscape management demonstrates that you can
create healthy soil and turf through organic fertilization, aeration, overseeding, and proper mowing and watering. The
key to a healthy lawn is to build up the soil through organic amendments that encourage the growth of beneficial
microorganisms. This creates grass roots and turf that are more resistant to weeds and disease.
The pesticide reform movement that started 21 years ago in Cleveland Heights continues to grow. This is similar to the
second hand smoke issue because when used, pesticides move through the air, water and land off the target site
potentially exposing people to harmful chemicals.
To help make your neighborhood safer educate yourself and your city and school officials about the hazards associated
with lawn pesticides and the availability of natural alternatives. Visit our website www.beyondpesticidesohio.org for
articles, research, factsheets and videos and learn how citizens can bring about real change. And for further inspiration
read biologist Rachel Carson’s classic book Silent Spring which gives us a lifelong guide to understanding the harmful
effects of chemical intensive practices and also a framework for creating a sustainable future.
Beyond Pesticides Ohio
Recently, Toledo, Ohio residents went through two days of a natural disaster: Lake Erie, their water source, was contaminated by vile green slime. It was a nightmare.
The culprit is toxic algae blooms fed primarily from agricultural runoff from synthetic phosphorus fertilizers farmers apply. Another less publicized contributor is synthetic phosphorus used on residential turf. Chances are you don’t own a corn or soybean farm; However, if you have a lawn or garden and are using synthetic fertilizers, you may be contributing to the proliferation of algae blooms in our water supply.
Phosphorus, the middle number listed in the N-P-K (Nitrogen - Phosphorus – Potassium) on the back of commercial fertilizer packages, is a critical nutrient for plant growth. However, it is also a major source of pollution. Indeed, the residential use of lawn fertilizers containing synthetic phosphorus is responsible for a significant amount of pollution of lakes, rivers and ground water. While many in turf management say natural sources of soil nutrients reduce hazardous runoff, the chemical industry claims that the source of phosphorus in a fertilizer is irrelevant, and phosphorus bans should apply to both synthetic and organic sources. However, the solution is often found not solely in a product replacement, but in the overall management system that protects and nurtures the soil.
Phosphorus is an “immobile” nutrient and is retained in the soil. Consequently, soil erosion and over-application of phosphorus result in a significant amount of phosphorus pollution. Preventing soil erosion and performing soil tests is crucial. The source of a fertilizer is relevant. While organic production methods build a lawn’s capacity to hold soil, synthetic systems weaken this ability. Applying synthetic fertilizers to a lawn pumps nutrients into the soil faster than the turf can absorb them, resulting in much of the groundwater leaching runoff detrimental to water sources. Excessive applications also cause microbes in the soil to go into a feeding frenzy, devouring all the available carbon material they can find. Continuous applications of these synthetic fertilizers exhaust soil life, leading to bare and sterile land.
Conversely, organic land management yields the optimum environmental safeguards and nurtures healthy turf. The goal of an organic turf program is to feed the soil by using methods that build organic matter and encourage beneficial microbial diversity. This is achieved through cultural practices such as mowing, aeration, proper watering, and over-seeding without the use of chemical fertilizers, insecticides, herbicides, or ungicides. Only fertilizers or soil amendments approved by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) are guaranteed to comply with the rigorous standards of the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA). Building organic matter with compost and other organic nutrients insures natural phosphorus is available to the plant. Beneficial microbes slowly break down organic fertilizer and provide turf and plants with nutrients throughout the growing season. Moreover, Gentle increases in the soil’s fertility enhance its ability to store nutrients, resulting in decreased runoff. Thus, Organic fertilizers create lush verdant lawns and gardens that require less overall maintenance and also help protect our drinking water.
How to Maintain a Sustainable Organic Lawn,
Develop healthy soil. Sample the soil with a “soil probe” – cut or dig a small hole about 10” deep. The lawn should have between 5”-6” of topsoil, which is the darkest soil layer. If needed, add topdressings of organic matter, such as compost to the topsoil. Avoid “natural” and “organic” products with the following components: biosolids (sewage sludge), synthetic chemical wetting agents or products with inert ingredients. Avoid any products that don’t list all of their ingredients. Unlike the USDA organic symbol that can be found on food, “organic” and “natural” claims on packaged lawn care fertilizers are not subject to the requirements of OFPA. These labels can be misleading because laws do not regulate these claims.
Test your soil. Adjust the pH if necessary. Low pH means high acid content – add lime to raise the pH. High pH means high alkaline – add sulphur to lower the pH (take care not to burn the lawn). Watch for hints of pH imbalance such as a dandelion infestation which love a 7.5pH (grasses prefer a pH of 6.7 - 7.0).
Choose suitable grass seeds. You can find out which grass is most suitable to your climate from your local cooperative extension. Also, Overseeding your established lawn can reduce weed problems.
Aerate the lawn twice a year. Soil compaction is one of the largest causes of weed problems. Aerating, allows air, water, and nutrients to reach the roots of the grass.
De-thatch. Thatch is a dense layer of grass stems and roots on the surface of the soil. When thatch layers become ½” or more grass roots become shallow and susceptible to insects, disease, and weather stress. Thatch is reduced by aeration and topdressing with organic matter.
Fertilize. Use a slow release fertilizer formulation once a year, usually in the fall, to increase the efficiency of nutrient uptake and reduce nutrient runoff and leaching. Fast-release fertilizers can induce pest outbreaks. Avoid synthetic chemical nitrogen-rich fertilizers that can kill valuable microorganisms in the soil. Determine your lawn's nutrient needs by a soil test.
Water properly. Over or under watering can induce pest outbreaks. Water should wet the soil to the depth of the grass root zone and be nearly dry before watered again. Avoid frequent, shallow waterings, which promote shallow root systems. Natural, organic fertilizers can increase the water-holding capacity of the soil.
Mow correctly. Mow with sharp blades set to 3”. Never cut more than 1/3 of the grass blades in a single mowing and leave a light layer of grass clippings on the grass. Mow frequently enough to ensure that weeds are unable to establish well. Weeds can also be pulled by hand. If you feel that an herbicide is necessary, use natural corn gluten or a fatty-acid soap.
Insects. Your control strategy will depend on your particular pest problem. You can control grubs by applying milky spore disease bacterium. Kill chinch bugs by drenching the thatch layer with an insecticidal soap. Sod webworms can be controlled by de-thatching and applying Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) when larvae are present, applying nematode parasites, or with insecticidal soap.
Disease. Disease problems are often the result of improper nutrient or moisture conditions. The key to preventing lawn disease is to use locally adapted, resistant varieties of grass.
For more information please visit : www.beyondpesticidesohio.org
To contact Maryam Ayoubi: email@example.com
Maryam is community educator with BPOhio, mother to her little "big" toddler, auntie to many nieces and nephews and currently enjoying her new obsession with gardening.