Reducing Our Use of Harmful Pesticides

While the monumental challenge of addressing climate change — quite understandably and necessarily — dominates most current discussion concerning environmental issues, many other public policy issues relating to our environment also need careful attention and action. One such issue is the law and regulation governing pesticides and their use. The 1962 book Silent Spring by Rachel Carson — which alerted the world to the dangers of the pesticide DDT — is credited with nothing short of galvanizing the public opinion that launched the modern environmental movement. Closer to home, here in Belmont, we are fortunate to share our community with Frances Moore Lappé, an internationally renowned activist, who wrote Diet for a Small Planet and also co-founded Food First. The book Circle of Poison published by Food First in 1981, ultimately led to the creation of the Pesticide Action Network, an internationally active non-governmental organization working to ban hazardous pesticides, reduce overall use of pesticides and advocate for environmentally sound options to the use of chemicals for controlling pests. These pioneering women have shown that concerted action relating to pesticides has been a key component of the environmental movement. While progress has been made on these issues, much important work remains ahead. 

So let’s be clear and start with the obvious: scientific evidence has shown that certain pesticides pose a danger to the health of our people, the environment, and wildlife. To look at one specific class of pesticides, glyphosate-based herbicides commonly known for their use in Monsanto’s Roundup products, are an area of particular concern. The herbicides are intended to eliminate weeds and regulate plant growth. However, the University of Washington recently conducted a study that examined existing research that tested the chemical and found that our use of glyphosate will significantly increase the risk of non-Hodgkins lymphoma, which is cancer that develops in the immune system. In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer decided to classify the chemical as a probable human carcinogen. Over 40,000 people have lawsuits filed against Monsanto, claiming the use of glyphosate was a leading cause of their non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In 2017, California became the first state to issue a warning on glyphosate by adding the pesticide to a list of chemicals known to cause cancer. By banning pesticides such as glyphosate, which poses a danger to our public health, we can become a leader in our nation. And that is whatH.792 – An Act relative to the prohibition of the transfer or use of glyphosate in the Commonwealth is intended to do and why I am a strong supporter and co-sponsor of this legislation. The bill puts an outright ban on glyphosate statewide, prohibiting the distribution, sale, or use of glyphosate or any products containing glyphosate.

Worth noting is that it is common for legislation to be filed that comes at a problem from different angles. So if we cannot outright ban glyphosate statewide, I believe we must find a way to protect children from exposure to this harmful pesticide. There is legislation filed to prohibit the use of glyphosate near playgrounds, H.791 – An Act Relative to Improving Pesticide Protections for Massachusetts Schoolchildren. The bill also brings the list of pesticides eligible for outdoor use around schools up-to-date with the most recent scientific evidence on the hazards pesticides pose to children. Cities and towns around the state have already begun taking action, such as in Chatham, Massachusetts, where they have passed an order that bans the use of glyphosate use in parks, athletic fields, mulch beds, and walkways. In Dennis, there was an ordinance passed that bans the use of glyphosate on town-owned land unless an exemption is granted. About five other municipalities in Massachusetts have laws that regulate glyphosate in similar ways. While action by local governments is useful and important, it is time for the state to take action. 

On another front, neonicotinoid pesticides have damaged a significant amount of our wildlife, most notably contributing to the bee population decreasing at an alarming rate. Massachusetts beekeepers reported a 64.9% annual loss in colony numbers in 2017. Neonicotinoid pesticides are a “super insecticide,” which is a chemical people use for killing insects. However, when applied as a spray, the chemical impacts bees when they come into contact with pollen and nectar. For several years, I have met with bee advocates that have visited my office and expressed deep concern about how we are damaging our bee population given that bees play such an essential role in the ecosystem. H.763 – An Act to Protect Massachusetts Pollinators will restrict the sale of neonicotinoid pesticide products to certified commercial and private applicators and licensed applicators. This would limit use to those professionals who are trained to use these pesticides and significantly reduce the number of neonicotinoid pesticides being used in our environment. The bill also requires pesticide applicators to obtain permission from a client to apply neonicotinoid pesticides on their property before use. Due to heightened awareness and activism, Home Depot and Lowes have already begun phasing out neonicotinoid pesticides in their products. A few organizations that support the bill include the Sierra ClubNOFA-Mass, and the Mass Beekeepers Association. Those who oppose the bill have argued that there aren’t any substantial alternatives, but the organization Smart on Pesticides Maryland recently released a list of alternative pesticides that can be used to treat 30 of the most common home & garden pests.

With the spring season approaching, many people will start to plan their gardens, and it is timely to remember that how we manage insects, weeds, and other problems relating to our lawns, gardens, and public greenspaces is a critically important consideration. Out of habit or convenience, it has been common to care for green spaces using pesticides, but we must pay attention to the products we use to care for these areas. I am happy to inform you that the three bills referenced above were all reported favorably out of the Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture. I applaud the many of you who have written, called, and otherwise advocated on these issues. Constituents throughout Arlington, Belmont, and Cambridge have been advocating passionately this session for policies that would reduce our use of harmful pesticides. These toxic pesticides have proven to cause harm to our health, environment, and wildlife. The risk of more people being diagnosed with cancer or losing another million bees will continue to increase if we do not end these harmful practices. We must take action to regulate and limit the use of glyphosate-based herbicides and neonicotinoid pesticides.

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Please never hesitate to contact me for any reason.

Phone: 617-722-2263
Mail: State House Room 473B, Boston, MA 02133