Fine Print: Safe Playing Field Act

John Mooney | December 21, 2012 | Education
Proposed measure restricts the use of pesticides and other poisons where kids play

What it is: The proposed Safe Playing Field Act places new restrictions on the use of pesticides on elementary school and childcare center playgrounds and fields. Sponsored by state Sens. Shirley Turner (D-Mercer) and Robert Gordon (D-Bergen), the Senate Bill S-1143 was unanimously endorsed by the Senate environmental committee this week.

What it means: The bill has been supported through a loud and active public campaign, with supporters lobbying hard in the Statehouse and canvassers going door to door in some communities to urge residents to press its passage. But despite the apparent political support, the measure has had a tough time reaching final passage.

Voting record: A version of this bill passed once in the Senate last year, but not the Assembly. And while a compromise version was introduced and approved in the Senate committee this week, some supporters say the Senate’s Democratic leadership has yet to agree to post for final vote.

Turner’s prediction: “I’m hoping we’ll get it posted in January when we come back. We have gotten this out of committee before, so we have had to start over. But I hope we can get it done in January.”

What’s in the way: Most of the opposition has come from the chemical, pesticide, and landscaping industries, which maintain that there are misconceptions as to the health hazards and applications of pesticides in such settings.

Industry perspective: “Perceptions being put forward by very concerned mothers who are not aware of the very strict guidelines that are set by the EPA,” said Nancy Sadlon, executive director of the NJ Green Industry Council. “Nobody is arguing that these aren’t toxic substances, but what we don’t agree on is that there is, in fact, a lot of testing and training with these products.”

Turner’s retort: “We don’t need the chemicals to accomplish what we want. And the most important of course is to protect the health and safety of our children, and we can do that with alternative methods. We heard that over and over in testimony.”

Compromise: The latest version of the bill did step back on the scope of the measure, removing nonschool public recreation fields and playgrounds from those areas where pesticides would be banned.

More compromise? Sadlon said that her organization is pressing for some flexibility on the outright ban of pesticides, saying that industry practice of “integrated pest management” now uses a combination of different remedies and minimizes the use of pesticides.

Medical evidence: The American Academy of Pediatrics New Jersey chapter wrote a letter of support for the bill, saying a recent AAP report found an adverse effect to chronic pesticide exposure. “We commend you for your efforts in New Jersey. You have a wonderful opportunity to reduce pesticide use where children play,” the letter read.