TRENTON - A bill that would make New Jersey a national leader in limiting children's pesticide exposure was released with unanimous support of members of a state Senate environment panel Monday.
The measure, dubbed "The Child Safe Playing Field Act," would prohibit the use of most lawn pesticides on public and private school playgrounds, recreational fields and day care centers. Low-impact organic pesticide applications would be allowed, and there is an exception that allows stronger pesticides during emergencies, such as insect infestations.
"This is a bill that would indeed protect our children, particularly in their most vulnerable stages of life," said Sen. Shirley Turner, D-Mercer, the prime sponsor.
The proposal would be the most far-reaching in the nation, said Jane Nogaki, spokeswoman for the New Jersey Environmental Federation. A similar law in New York state covers just the grounds of K-12 schools, she said, while Connecticut's version is limited to K-8 schools.
If New Jersey's proposal were to become law, all but a small class of lawn pesticides would be banned from public and private school grounds, including high schools; at municipal, county and state-owned recreation fields; and at all day care centers.
Only Canada has a more extensive prohibition. No cosmetic pesticide use would be allowed, said John Boechner of the New Jersey Green Industry Council, which represents the lawn care and pest management industries and opposes the measure.
The New Jersey bill expands a 2002 law requiring schools to develop Integrated Pest Management plans that combine pest control, building maintenance and sanitation practices. That law encourages the use of low-impact pesticides and requires notification before applications.
Jeff Tittel of the New Jersey Sierra Club, who testified in support of the bill, said the new proposal strengthens the existing law, which was groundbreaking at the time.
"Children are our most vulnerable population as far as pesticides go," Tittel said. "Our first goal should be ‘do no harm,' and this bill does that."
Dr. Robert Laumbach, an environmental researcher and assistant professor at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick, Middlesex County, agreed.
"Although we cannot precisely estimate the risks of cancer, asthma, developmental disorders or other diseases from the application of lawn pesticides where children play, we know enough to act now to protect children from these risks," he said.
The measure advanced with affirmative votes from three Democrats and two Republicans, although Sen. Kip Bateman, R-Somerset, Morris, urged more input from industry representatives as the bill moves forward.
Nancy Sadlon, executive director of the Green Industry Council, said the bill was drafted without consultation from her trade group, which includes representatives from Lawn Doctor, TruGreen, the New Jersey Pest Management Association and others.
Sadlon testified that untreated playing fields would become weed-choked, hard-packed and bug-infested in time.
Turner, however, said she had a letter from a public works administrator in Basking Ridge, Somerset County, saying that the playing fields were in fine shape two years after pesticides were banned.
The measure has not been heard in the Assembly environment committee.
A related proposed law encourages businesses and residents to voluntarily limit pesticide use and develop pest management plans.