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Maryland State House dome in Annapolis Maryland State House dome in Annapolis

There’s a saying in Maryland’s state capital that to kill a bill, you send it to summer study. Well, last week the Maryland Pesticide Reporting and Information Workgroup met for the first time in Annapolis – and we’re here to make sure these summer students turn their homework in on time. Nothing less than the health of our kids, and our Chesapeake Bay, is at stake.

The pesticide workgroup was created with the help of MomsRising and hundreds of Marylanders, and with leadership from bill sponsors state Senator Roger Manno and Delegate Steve Lafferty.

Even though strong advocates for public health and clean water sit on the workgroup, at every turn we can expect pushback from the powerful agriculture and chemical industries.

Earlier this year, Marylanders advocated for a bill creating a pesticides reporting database that would be accessible to public health and environmental officials.    When it became clear that the bill would not pass, due to enormous opposition from the Maryland Farm Bureau (an industry shill, which made killing this bill its number one priority) and the chemical industry, we supported an amendment creating a workgroup to study the issue.

One of the more nerve-wracking moments in the fight for final passage of the legislation came as opponents on the Senate floor tried time and again to tip the workgroup math in their favor, by adding more and more industry representatives. Thankfully, they did not succeed.

Flash forward to a Tuesday morning after a long July 4th weekend. The near-empty halls in the legislative buildings and a hearing room full of insiders seemed to give some truth to that old saying about sending bills to summer study.

At the workgroup’s first meeting, members learned about existing federal and state pesticide regulations.  What became clear after a few hours of presentations was that, among the myriad regulations out there, none go anywhere near far enough to protect public health and the environment – or even to provide the basic transparency that one would expect when it comes to possibly dangerous chemicals.

We know that pesticides pose a threat to public health – particularly to our children. Pesticide exposure is linked to a host of chronic illnesses, such as asthma, cancer, and Parkinson’s disease, as well as to birth defects and fertility problems. Some wreak havoc with the reproductive system, as they disrupt normal hormone function. After all, these chemicals are designed to kill! Last year the American Academy of Pediatrics issued its first policy statement aimed to minimize pesticide exposure in children and identify the need for public health tracking.

But what was being discussed in a quiet hearing room this summer morning was that public health and environmental officials have no access to information about when and where these chemicals are being used – except in the case of a serious pesticide poisoning or spill.

Such pesticide incident reporting does not help identify trends, said one government official, and when it comes to public health protection, incident reports represent just the “tip of the iceberg” in efforts to learn more about pesticide exposure.

Experts testified about the lack of water sampling unless there is evidence of harm to humans or aquatic life. Other officials talked about the lack of information agencies have about pesticides sampling, and how funding for toxics monitoring has dropped off.

A discussion about the increase in the occurrence of intersex fish in Maryland rivers, and how a host of potential contaminants could be causing this problem, drove home the point about a lack of information. Without data, researchers can’t even begin to identify this problem, which could wipe out an entire species, or rule out which chemicals are NOT causing problems -- let alone find a solution.

Time and again, industry representatives on the workgroup sought to draw conclusions that pesticides regulations are working just fine and the status quo is good enough. Thankfully the workgroup co-chairs steered the conversation back on track: what do we really know about pesticides – and what don’t we know? That’s the topic of the workgroup’s August 12th meeting.

But back to the delay tactics.

This workgroup has been charged with completing its report to the General Assembly by the summer of 2014 and – more importantly – providing preliminary recommendations by December of this year so we can introduce stronger legislation in January. But opponents will want to continue to deliberate and delay – as they’ve done over the past four years during which we’ve been talking about mandatory pesticide reporting.

We can all take a clue from moms and help this group get their homework done in time, before it’s too late for another generation of kids or more polluted rivers and streams.

Whether you are a mom from Maryland or Michigan, whether you have kids or once were a kid, getting more information about pesticides can only be good for our health. But if no one is paying attention this summer, we could lose again.

So please stay tuned!


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