Pesticides are not used at any of Montclair‘s parks and ball fields, according to municipal officials.
But that isn’t stopping a local citizens group from trying to ensure that the use of chemicals is forever banned here, and anywhere else in New Jersey where children might play.
Safe Yards Montclair wants the Township Council to pass a resolution to support banning the use of synthetic lawn-care pesticides at schools, playgrounds, and recreational fields in parks, except in emergency situations, Suzanne Aptman, co-chair of the group that promotes nontoxic lawn care, said at a meeting of the Montclair Environmental Commission last week.
During the meeting, which was attended by Montclair Mayor Jerry Fried, Aptman said that New Jersey Senate Bill S-2610 would protect kids, in daycare through 12th grade, from “unnecessary” lawn chemicals that she believes are mostly used for aesthetic purposes, and could pose health risks.
The state Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee is slated to hear the bill today, Aptman said.
“There’s just too much evidence linking it to lots of serious problems,” she said.
Aptman added that current school regulations are not solving the problem.
New Jersey’s Integrated Pest Management Act [IPM], which was enacted in 2002, requires that all public, private, and charter schools take steps to decrease pesticide exposure, said Lawrence Hajna, spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection.
The DEP does not monitor all schools, said Hajna. But four years ago, compliance with the IPM law among many schools that were surveyed was “not good,” Hajna said.
A DEP survey of 84 schools in Essex, Monmouth, Salem, and Camden counties found that 67 percent of the institutions were considered “substantially out of compliance,” Hajna said. These schools either didn’t have an IPM plan in place, or didn’t know that there are IPM requirements, Hajna said.
“That’s how I know there is a problem,” said Jane Nogaki, recently retired pesticide program coordinator of the New Jersey Environmental Federation. “Many schools don’t even know that they have to do this,” Nogaki said. “If you don’t know about the prevention, you rely on the chemicals to rescue the problem when it occurs.”
While the DEP has not conducted a survey since 2007, Hajna said there have been substantial improvements, and school districts have been better about complying.
There is no fine for failure to comply, Hajna said. “It’s a law designed to be proactive … steering the districts toward understanding the issue,” he said. “The law is aimed at doing the right things for kids, but at the same time, it doesn’t really have teeth to it.”
In 2006, the DEP issued a notice of violation to The Montclair Kimberley Academy because according to DEP data, it did not have an IPM plan in place, Hajna said.
Deborah Kozak, MKA’s director of communications and marketing, said that the school had been unaware of the IPM requirements, and that upon receiving the notice, an IPM plan was immediately developed and implemented, even though, at the time, organic lawn treatments were already being used. No pesticides have been used since at least 2006, and the school continues to use organic treatments, Kozak said.
While in 2007, Hajna said, the DEP issued a notice of violation to Glenfield Middle School for not having an IPM plan in place, Montclair Public School District Business Administrator Dana Sullivan said that the school did have it, but that the then new principal was unaware of it at the time. Pesticides have not been used at any schools within the district for at least three years, Sullivan said.
According to the district’s website, the Montclair Board of Education has an IPM policy and an implemented IPM plan to comply with the law.
Pesticides and herbicides are not used on any of the township’s 18 parks, ball fields, and green areas, according to Steve Wood, director of the Department of Community Services.
“There was the economics of it, but you have your own convictions that you’d rather not do it if you don’t need to,” Wood said.
Safe Yards Montclair, which is in the process of becoming a nonprofit to be named The Northern New Jersey Safe Yards Alliance, is fueled by its own convictions.
Next week, the group will kick off its Pesticide Free Zone campaign, asking people to take a pledge to not use synthetic pesticides on their properties, and place Pesticide Free Zone yard signs on front lawns, Aptman said.
To order a sign, email Info@SafeYardsMontclair.org.
“Those posting these signs will be serving as champions for safer yards for children, pets and the environment,” Aptman said.
“Their yards will serve as a breath of fresh air among the many pesticide poison warning signs that we see around town in the spring, summer and fall.”
Aptman is hopeful the bill will soon pass.
“Even if it doesn’t pass,” Aptman said, “we will always know that we supported it.”
To get involved in getting the legislation passed, sign the petition at www.SafeYardsMontclair.org.
Contact Tanya Drobness at email@example.com.