Stories from the NFCCA Newsletter, the “Northwood News”

Northwood News ♦ June 2020

County Pesticide Law Aims to Protect Public Health

By Karen A. Williams

Montgomery County has recently taken steps to reduce the environmental impact from chemicals found in lawn care products.  The County’s pesticide law restricts the use of most synthetic pesticides and herbicides — including “weed and feed” and pre-emergent products — on private lawns, playgrounds, mulched recreation areas, and childcare facilities.  Most products with a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registration number on the label cannot be used on these areas.  Only organic and minimum risk products are now allowed.

An ARS agronomist displays test-plot-grown broccoli that will be used to determine pesticide residue levels.

Exposure to certain pesticides and herbicides has been linked to serious health conditions in children, including pediatric cancers, decreased cognitive functioning, and behavioral problems.  Exposure for adults contributes to Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, leukemia, lymphoma, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and a variety of cancers.  Impacts on the environment include destruction of pollinators, aquatic wildlife, and bird and mammal birth defects and mortality.  The purpose of the law is to protect public health by minimizing these potential hazards to people and the environment.

There are non- and less-toxic alternatives to harmful pesticides and management tools for growing a healthy, green lawn that do not pose a threat to public health.  County residents who must use a pesticide to control weeds, insects, or diseases in their lawns can look for any one of the following designations on product labels to be compliant with the County law:

  1. “OMRI” — Certified by the Organic Material Review Institute for use in organic crop production.  Most of these have an OMRI logo.  See a list at
  2. “For Organic Gardening” — Listed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for use in organic crop production.
  3. Products that have been designated as a minimum risk by the EPA, without an EPA registration number on the label.

Using organic management methods and avoiding the use of chemicals on lawns are not only better for people and the environment, but also healthier for the grass.  The focus is on encouraging healthy, lush lawns that can resist weeds, insects, and diseases naturally.  Organic lawn care creates favorable conditions for important soil microorganisms to thrive, aerates the soil, and encourages deep roots.  In addition, lawns that are treated only with organic pesticides and herbicides help to store climate warming carbon in the soil, soak up more storm water, and provide more oxygen.

Restrictions in the new law do not apply to control of tree pests, household pests, biting insects, and certain invasive plant species and noxious weeds.

The law does not ban the sale of any pesticides.  Retailers will be required to display signs where prohibited pesticides are sold, informing buyers about the County law and identifying pest control options that are allowed for lawn applications.  The County is currently developing signs for use by retailers.  Previously purchased products that are no longer allowed under the law may be disposed of by taking them to the Household Hazardous Waste in the Recycling Area of the Shady Grove Processing Facility and Transfer Station in Derwood, Maryland (


[Williams, a botanist specializing in crop diversity with the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS), has lived on Snowy Owl Drive for 20 years.]   ■

   © 2020 NFCCA  [Source:]