CHATHAM, NJ - The Chatham Township Committee put off awarding any contracts for lawn maintenance on Thursday after hearing from a number of residents about the health risks associated with using pesticides in lawn maintenance.

Robert Hoffmann, the township administrator, had notified members of the Chatham Township Environmental Commission of the vote on the agenda to award the lawn-maintenance contract so that the issue could be discussed in public.

In February, the Chatham Township Committee was in favor of organic non-pesticide treatment but voted to seek bids for both organic and traditional treatment for comparison. A pilot program to use organic treatment has been in use for more than a year.

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But when Hoffmann discovered that the low bid was for traditional treatment, he decided it should be discussed before the vote. Initial reports were that the cost of $17,400 for lawn maintenance, about $5,000 more than traditional. But Hoffmann said he received a revised estimate that includes other services and is much higher in cost.

Robert Hoffmann speaks on the issue after hearing from citizens 

Cara Feeser, vice president of the environmental commission, has researched the health risks and was one of the proponents for the non-pesticide pilot program. She came to the meeting armed with a letter from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which urges New Jersey legislators to back "Safe Playing Fields" legislation.

Excerpts from the letter:

Children encounter pesticides daily in air, food, dust and soil and they have unique susceptibilities to potential toxicities. The low, but often repetitive and combined exposures or "chronic low-level" exposure encountered routinely by children are an ongoing focus of concern and inquiry for scientists, regulators, and parents. Factors that influence chronic exposure include the use of insecticides and rodenticides in the home and school, and herbicide and fungicide use on lawns. Children frequently come into contact with pesticide residue on pets and directly after lawn, garden, or household pesticide applications.

We advocate that children be adequately protected from exposures, and we acknowledge the current shortfalls in medical training, public health tracking, and regulatory action on pesticides. We are urging government to set a goal of reducing overall exposure.

Chatham Township resident Jessica Romeo was one of number of mothers to advocate for the non-pesticide treatment (see the video below).

Hoffmann said the decision needs to be looked at objectively and see what makes sense in the video below.