CH pesticide ban is a model for the nation

In 1995, Cleveland Heights became the first city in the nation to pass legislation banning the use of lawn pesticides on all public turf, including city, school, library and day care center grounds. This was a revolutionary decision.

The “why” is easy: pesticides are poisons. Although they are approved by the EPA, approval does not connote safety, even when used as directed. Thus, Cleveland Heights became the first city to formally recognize that people (especially children), pets and the environment should not be unnecessarily exposed to these toxic materials. Indeed, some pesticides have been associated with an increased risk of acquiring asthma, and an EPA report (1996) states that childrens’ developing organ systems make them more vulnerable and less able to detoxify these chemicals. In 2015, the World Health Organization announced that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup®, was a class 2A carcinogen—the highest-order carcinogen possible based on animal studies. Pesticides are similar to second-hand smoke because, when used, they move off the target site, through the air, water and land, potentially exposing others to harmful chemicals.

The pesticide reform movement that started 21 years ago in Cleveland Heights continues to grow. In 2012, Cuyahoga County Council passed landmark county legislation banning the use of pesticides (outdoor and indoor) on all county-owned property. Some observers called the decision heroic, given the chemical industry’s attempt to derail it. In University Circle, all six acres of Wade Oval are now managed organically, as are the Cleveland Botanical Garden’s grounds. Other major University Circle institutions are in the process of transitioning to natural lawn care, and all 29 Cuyahoga County libraries are using organic lawn-care practices.

Nationally, the Cleveland Heights ordinance continues to inspire action from the public health community. The states of Connecticut (2009) and New York (2010) banned pesticides from most school grounds and playing fields; Harvard University (2009) adopted organic lawn care; and, last year, Montgomery County, Maryland—with more than one million residents—banned lawn pesticides on both public and private land within its jurisdiction, allowing time for transition, training and public education.

The chemical approach to turf management relies on toxic, fossil-fuel-based synthetic weed killers and fertilizers that destroy beneficial microorganisms in the soil and thus further a dependency on more synthetic pesticides and fertilizers (a treadmill). In contrast, a natural-systems approach to landscape management demonstrates that one can create healthy soil and turf through organic fertilization, aeration, overseeding, and proper mowing and watering. The key to a healthy lawn is to build up the soil through organic amendments that encourage the growth of beneficial microorganisms. This creates grass roots and turf that are more resistant to weeds and disease.

Visit for articles, research, factsheets and videos about the hazards associated with lawn pesticides, and natural alternatives that are available. For further inspiration and insight, read biologist Rachel Carson’s classic book Silent Spring, which provides a guide to understanding the harmful effects of chemical-intensive practices and also a framework for creating a sustainable future.

Barry Zucker

Barry Zucker is a University Heights resident and executive director for Beyond Pesticides Ohio. He regularly receives inquiries from cities and school districts across the country wanting to learn more about what Cleveland Heights has done to implement safer pest-control practices for its lawns and playing fields.

Read More on Sustainability
Volume 9, Issue 9, Posted 10:39 AM, 09.01.2016