ASPEN - Instead of an ordinance with strict requirements that homeowners and businesses notify their neighbors before using outdoor pesticides, the city of Aspen has opted for a gentler approach that raises awareness of the potential dangers of such chemicals and encourages less toxic alternatives for lawn and tree care.
Jannette Whitcomb, environmental health program coordinator for the city, unveiled a multi-pronged approach to the issue during Tuesday's City Council work session. The program she introduced represented a departure from the direction the council suggested in November 2011, when it sought the creation of a "pesticide pre-notification ordinance" that would regulate community use of the chemicals.
A potential ordinance was prompted by a group of local residents who voiced concerns about pesticide use more than a year ago after a local man, Chris Wurtele, was exposed to the pesticide bifenthrin after it had been applied to a neighbor's yard in September 2010.
Wurtele is still recovering from the harmful effects of the toxic exposure, former Mayor Bill Stirling told council members during Tuesday's meeting. In mid-2011, Wurtele was said to be suffering from headaches and fatigue.
Stirling wondered aloud why the city couldn't take a stronger stance on pesticide regulation.
But Whitcomb said her research showed that the state law prevents local governments from regulating pesticide use by landowners and private contractors, and the council agreed to proceed in a less stringent manner.
"We can only regulate homeowners," Whitcomb said. "A large portion of our homeowners who are hiring pesticide applicators are seasonal. A lot of times they're not in town when applications are done.
"Another challenge is that a significant portion of Aspenites are unaware of the need for pre-notification to protect themselves against pesticides. And another one is that a failure to pre-notify a neighbor of a pesticide application would be difficult to prove and would require record-keeping by a homeowner."
Therefore, putting all of the responsibility on the homeowner doesn't make for an effective ordinance, she said.
"You would be giving the community a false sense of protection," Whitcomb said. "We feel that the approach that we're proposing - building community awareness as well as using state resources to handle enforcement of the licensed and unlicensed applicators - can make a real difference."
Under the new program, which won't create an added expense to the city, information about safe and legal pesticide use will be added to the city's website. Environmental Health Department staff also will promote the option of the pesticide-sensitive registry for those who desire pre-notification.
A future aspect of the program could involve getting applicators to agree voluntarily to certain standards.