Should your local government have the right to tell you what you can and cannot spray on your lawn and garden? Last month marked a milestone in that debate. Twenty years ago, Hudson, a town just outside Montreal, passed a law banning the use of synthetic pesticides on public and private lawns and gardens.

Pesticide-free garden

Should your local government have the right to tell you what you can and cannot spray on your lawn and garden?

Last month marked a milestone in that debate. Twenty years ago, Hudson, a town just outside Montreal, passed a law banning the use of synthetic pesticides on public and private lawns and gardens. The award-winning documentary film A Chemical Reaction tells the inspiring story behind the ban.

The story starts with one woman, Dr. June Irwin, who noticed a connection between her patients’ health conditions and their exposure to chemical pesticides and herbicides. She fervently and relentlessly warned her fellow citizens about the hazards posed by the chemicals they were using in their landscapes, spearheading the grassroots effort that led to the ban.

Shortly after the ban was enacted, two lawn care companies were fined for spraying pesticides in the town. They took the town to court, challenging the legality of the ban. The town of Hudson won the case in the Quebec court and, despite heavy lobbying by the pesticide industry, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the ruling in 2001, confirming the right of the town to ban the application of cosmetic lawn and garden chemicals within its borders. It’s a fascinating tale of how one person inspired a community, and the David-and-Goliath court battle between one small town and a huge and well-funded pesticide industry. View a trailer of A Chemical Reaction and learn more about the project.

In 2009 Gardener’s Supply sponsored a screening of A Chemical Reaction in Burlington, Vermont.

This bold action by one small town snowballed across Canada. Quebec passed the first province-wide ban on lawn pesticides in 2003; in 2009 Ontario passed regulations prohibiting the use of 96 active ingredients in cosmetic pesticides — pesticides used simply to maintain appearance — for public and private lawns and gardens. Other provinces have followed suit.

Could this kind of grassroots action take place in towns across the U.S.? Not in 41 states. In just nine states and the District of Columbia can towns pass pesticide laws that are more restrictive than the state laws. Will it happen in those few states? Not if the pesticide industry lobbyists have any say in it.

What do you think? Should individual towns have the right to enact stricter regulations than state and federal laws regarding pesticide use in home lawns and gardens?

Read More

  • A Chemical Reaction: Learn more about the film and about SafeLawns Foundation, and find out how you can get a copy of the film.
  • Ontario and Nova Scotia lead the way on pesticide bans: Includes link to May, 2011 progress report, Pesticide Free? Oui!
  • Myth vs. Fact On Pesticide Bylaws, The Coalition for a Healthy Ottawa: The city refutes some of the problems blamed on the ban.
  • DeBug the Myths: Published by RISE, a trade association of pesticide manufacturers and associated industries; they lobby against pesticide bans in the U.S. and encourage consumers to do likewise. (RISE stands for Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment.)
Suzanne DeJohn
Gardener’s Supply