Eight-year-old Jared Arminger, his voice wavering as he was called to speak to a crowded hearing room, got straight to the point: "I am interested in lawn-care chemicals because I get sick from them."
Jared said he must have tutors at home because he can't go to school, and he complained that he often can't even go outside and play on nice days."I get nasty when I am around lawn-care pesticides," the cowlicked boy said, fidgeting next to his mother as he read his testimony Thursday to the Senate Environment subcommittee on toxic substances.
"I can't think. I get depressed. A lot of other stuff happens to me like I don't listen, I salivate more, my nose runs, I get swollen glands and my ears hurt. When I am around pesticides, I do not eat, and I get diarrhea."
Jared, who is from Baltimore, was one of four witnesses at the hearing who described the misery that lawn chemicals have brought to their lives.
The panel also heard from a woman who had to give up her career as a concert pianist after being sprayed with pesticides; a college student who sometimes lives in her car to avoid pesticide spraying near her home; and a man whose health was ruined by the interaction of a lawn-care chemical with the prescription drug he was taking.
The subcommittee chairman, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he hoped the Environmental Protection Agency would work harder to assess the health risks of lawn chemicals and tighten restrictions.
"Too many of us fail to recognize that the chemicals that kill weeds and bugs are also powerful enough to threaten the environment and even human health," said Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn. "Are we doing enough to protect people from - or at least notify them of - these threats?"
Lieberman and Reid have introduced legislation that would require lawn-care companies to notify neighbors before they apply pesticides or herbicides.
Warren E. Stickle, president of the Chemical Producers and Distributors Association, urged the lawmakers to consider the "significant human health benefits" of lawn-care chemicals.
"Herbicides control ragweed, thus reducing suffering from hay fever," Stickle said. "Other herbicides control dandelions and clover, and discourage bees from recreational and home and lawn areas, thus reducing bee stings. Approximately 45 to 50 people each year die of bee stings."
Stickle said the Senate bill's notification system was so extensive it would be "unworkable, uneconomical and ineffective, and would be extremely burdensome" to businesses and local governments.
"For example, if the city of New York desired to spray the elm trees surrounding Central Park, it would have to provide written notification to somewhere between 100,000 and 250,000 people who live and work within 1,000 feet," he said.