The Future of Lawn Care Pesticides

The focus of pesticide regulators has shifted from people to environment in recent years, making for a potentially bumpier road ahead for lawn care contractors.

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An historical look at pesticide regulation in the U.S. reminds lawn care contractors that now is not the time to play the role of passive observer with respect to the development of rules, regulations and restrictions which govern pesticide use.

"Don't allow the 'risk cup' to get filled with non-existent, high-risk scenarios," said Steve Dwinell of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. You also don't want that risk cup to get filled up by an industry plagued with untrained applicators, excessive use rates, and so on. "The industry must make sure that EPA understands and has accurate information on how pesticides are being used, along with alternatives that can help reduce risk," Dwinell adds.

Dwinell was a featured speaker at the 2013 Lawn Care Summit in Orlando, co-hosted by PLANET and the National Pest Management Association (NPMA). He walked attendees through more than 50 years of pesticide regulations in the U.S. to help offer a perspective on what the future could hold.

It started in the '50s. In the early days, the goal of pesticide regulation was to simply make products safe for consumers. For instance, The Delaney Clause of 1958 said the FDA could not approve for use in food any chemical additive found to induce cancer in man, or, after tests, found to induce cancer in animals.

Then the EPA was created in the 1970s in the wake of elevated concern about environmental pollution. The next big event was the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) of 1996, which changed the way EPA regulates pesticides while requiring a complete reassessment of all existing pesticide tolerances. Post-FQPA, several popular insecticides, for example, were no longer available for use, including diazinon and oftanol.

Now it's the Eco Era. More recently, the "Eco Era" has been ushered in with the creation of the FQPA's Registration Review process. Pesticides distributed and sold in the U.S. must be registered by EPA, based on scientific data showing that they will not cause unreasonable risks to human health, workers, or the environment when used as directed on product labeling.

Pesticides must also undergo re-evaluation every 15 years.

There are 72 pesticides under review in 2013. They include:

  • 2,4-D
  • chlorsulfuron
  • trifloxysulfuron-sodium

There are 73 pesticides under review in 2014. They include:

  • dithiopyr
  • mesotrione
  • imazaquin

There are 73 pesticides under review in 2015. They include:

  • triticonazole
  • propanil
  • diuron

Download the complete list: EPA Pesticide Review 2012-2015.

Ecological Risk Brings More Scrutiny. First emerging in 1998, an EPA Ecological Risk Assessment evaluates how likely it is that the environment may be impacted as a result of exposure to one or more environmental stressors such as chemicals or land change. These assessments have brought about increased scrutiny to pesticide use.

Questions asked could include:

  • Can the residential or agricultural application of an insecticide end up harming an endangered bird species?
  • How does fertilizer runoff reduce oxygen levels in water bodies such as bays?

Dwinell reminds that these assessments extend beyond people. We're talking about assessing risk to things like fish, birds, bees, endangered plants, and even endangered insects. As a result, a variety of eco risk-mitigating tools have been put into place for some pesticides, including revised Environmental Hazard Statements and restricted use declarations (sites, rates, times, applicators, application methods, etc.).

The best thing lawn care contractors can do is remain engaged in local, state and national associations so the lawn care industry can play a role in educating the EPA and other regulators on matters such as responsible pesticide use.