For activist Karen Blake, a state order Friday that the nation's largest lawn care company cannot claim that lawn spraying is safe is the climax of one campaign and lends new vigor to another.
She praised Attorney General Robert Abrams for pressing a case she says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Federal Trade Commission virtually ignored.
"I'm gratified that New York will restrict these claims, but I'm outraged that the federal government allows the lawn spray companies to continue to flagrantly violate the law that prohibits claims that pesticides are safe, harmless and non-toxic," said the Town of Boston activist.
Abrams announced Friday that ChemLawn Service Corp. of Columbus, Ohio, has paid $100,000 in costs and signed an order to end what he termed "false and misleading advertising."
"This is a landmark case, and I hope the days of foot dragging under the Reagan administration . . . are history," he added.
He charged that the company has implied falsely that it uses pesticides that have been fully tested and evaluated, that federal registration of pesticides means they are safe, and that the company uses no probable human carcinogens in its pesticide applications.
"The promise of a picture-perfect lawn must be balanced with one indisputable fact: Pesticide exposure poses a potential risk to all living things," said Abrams. A ChemLawn spokesman said "we are pleased with the agreement we have reached."
"It incorporates current ChemLawn communications practices in that when we discuss technical issues in any informational piece, we define technical terms in language that our customers can understand."
Ms. Blake said her severe reactions to lawn spraying started her on what has become a state and national campaign.
In the process, she first founded and still chairs Help Eliminate Lawn Pesticides and is on the national board of directors of the Washington based National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides.
Both Ms. Blake and Abrams criticized the FTC. They say the commission has failed to use its powers to "investigate, enjoin and fine companies that make deceptive pesticide safety claims."
The General Accounting Office, an investigative arm of Congress, said lawn companies have misrepresented the safety of chemicals and said the FTC has the power and responsibility to look into the matter.
Stephen A. Hardymon, vice president for Environmental Affairs and Media Relations, said ChemLawn recently sent EPA and the FTC copies of its written advertising guidelines "in support of initiatives within the two agencies to more closely regulate the lawn care industry."
Hardymon said it will propose that the Board of Directors of the Professional Lawn Care Association of America adopt the guidelines at its August meeting.
Chemlawn officials say the company is the largest lawn service company in North America. The company says its outlets in the Buffalo area do more than half the lawn care business in this area.
Terms of the agreement enjoin ChemLawn from:
Claiming that their applications do not contain cancer causing substances.
Stating that dioxins are not nor have ever been present in lawn care products.
Advertising that its applications are "safe, non-toxic or harmless."
Suggesting that its products are "practically non-toxic unless accompanied by appropriate disclaimers."
Claiming that because pesticides are "registered by EPA" the products are safe indicating that they have undergone appropriate testing for human exposure.
Stating that its applications are safer or less toxic than other non-lawn care consumer products such as aspirin.
Abrams said the order would bar ChemLawn from making claims such as one that states:
"A child would have to ingest almost 10 cupfuls of treated lawn clippings to equal the toxicity of one baby aspirin;" or another "Registration is granted only after EPA scientists have accepted scientific evidence which shows that the compound can be used safely when label directions are followed."