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In 1990, when I lived in Los Angeles, my 4-year old son and I were both poisoned by the aerial spraying of malathion. The state had sprayed vast residential areas in an attempt to eradicate the Mediterranean fruit fly—a devastating pest that threatened California’s multi-billion dollar agriculture industry. That terrifying experience led me to where I am today: leading the charge for smart pesticide reporting in Maryland.

A few years after the spraying incident, we moved to Annapolis, the capital of Maryland, in the heart of the beautiful Chesapeake Bay watershed.  To my horror I discovered that malathion—recently linked, along with other organophosphates, with ADHD—was in wide use here, too.  I organized a town meeting and began my first advocacy campaign which resulted in the state of Maryland ending the use of malathion and other organophosphates as the primary tool for mosquito control in 1993.

Success, right?

Yet just one year later, my son went into anaphylactic shock at his elementary school - as a direct result of a pesticide being sprayed--while school was in session!

I quickly realized that the war was far from won. Children throughout Maryland—and indeed, the U.S.—were unknowingly being exposed to potentially severe and life-threatening poisons. So in 1994, I founded the Maryland Pesticide Network, a grassroots coalition dedicated to protecting the public and the environment from toxic pesticides and promoting healthy alternatives. We’ve had several successes over the years, including getting groundbreaking legislation passed to prohibit such pesticide use in schools.

We all know that pesticides pose serious risks to our health. And certain pesticides can be “weaponized,” posing serious risks to our national security. In Maryland, we’re also concerned about the ever-present threat they pose to the health of the Chesapeake Bay--the nation’s largest natural estuary—and its local waterways.

That’s why we’re pushing Gov. Martin O’Malley and the 2013 Maryland legislature to pass the Maryland Pesticide Information Act. The law would mandate establishment of an online reporting system to collect basic information on potentially toxic chemicals applied by pesticide applicators—information that pesticide applicators, as well as sellers of restricted use pesticides, are already required to maintain.

Such a system would go a long way toward helping public health and environmental experts identify which of the hundreds of pesticides in use they should zero in on when assessing pesticide impact on health and water. Knowledge is power, and only when we have information about when and where pesticides are used will we be able to fully protect our families and our waterways.

This is the third time this “cost-neutral” bill has been introduced. It has failed the past three times due to well-funded industry opposition from chemical manufacturers and the Farm Bureau.

We can’t let them win this time. Please help us safeguard our children’s and our nation’s future. Sign our petition to pass the Maryland Pesticide Information Act.

Knowledge is indeed power. This bill is the first most essential step to understanding what we’re doing to our land and water. We need your signature to get it passed.

Ruth Berlin, L.C.S.W.-C.,  is founder and Executive Director of the Maryland Pesticide Network. She is also a practicing psychotherapist. She can be reached at mpnberlin@gmail.com.


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