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Baltimore County News

Stay informed of what's happening in Baltimore County.
Date: Mar 2013

lawn chemicalsErin Wisnieski, Natural Resource Specialist
Baltimore County Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability

It’s the eternal suburban dilemma — how to have a nice lawn but not damage the environment. I think that a lot of people assume that they need to apply chemical fertilizers to their lawn, but that’s not necessarily so.

Lawn Fertilizer and the Chesapeake Bay

If not properly applied, lawn fertilizer can wash off lawns when it rains. Once this polluted runoff enters the storm drain system through a street or yard inlet, it flows quickly to the local stream and down to the bay.

The Problem

Nitrogen and phosphorus are the primary nutrients in lawn fertilizer and are essential for plant growth, but too much of a good thing makes the bay sick … and, in part, dead. Excess nutrients create the bay’s “dead zone.”

In response to high nutrient levels in the water, algae growth takes off. Masses of slimy algae coat beneficial aquatic plants (SAVs), blocking the sunlight and inhibiting SAV growth. As an algal bloom dies and decays, oxygen is robbed from the water, depleting the amount of dissolved oxygen available to fish, crabs, clams and oysters. At times, large fish kills result as fish suffocate. 

According to the Chesapeake Bay Commission, 14% of the nitrogen and 8% of the phosphorus entering the bay comes from urban and suburban lawns. To help address strict new water quality standards for the bay, Maryland passed the Fertilizer Use Act of 2011, which restricts use of lawn fertilizer by homeowners and commercial applicators. The law changes the nutrient composition of lawn fertilizers and provides for enforcement, labeling, and education.

You Can Help

Either “just say no” to fertilizing or strictly limit the addition of fertilizer and other chemicals on your lawn — it will be safer for you, your kids, pets, and the bay. Leave grass clippings on your lawn to recycle the nutrients back to the lawn (a.k.a. grasscycling). Start a compost pile. Topdressing with compost will increase the health of your lawn without using chemicals. Keep your neighborhood storm drains free of grass clippings, leaves, dirt, and trash.

Planting native trees to expand a forested area or converting some of your turf grass to native plant beds helps, too. Once the bed is established, little maintenance is needed. The natural space created will be appealing to the eye, helps protect water quality, and provides food and shelter to native hummingbirds and butterflies.

If you apply fertilizer to your lawn, please carefully read the label for instructions. If you hire someone to do lawn care, find out if they fertilize, what they use and how the spread rate is determined. If fertilizer gets on sidewalks, driveways or other hard surfaces, sweep it back on the grass.

photo of proud parents on prom nightDave Goldman
Chief, Baltimore County Bureau of Behavioral Health

There is nothing like prom with its promise of glamour, fun with friends and lifelong memories. There’s also nothing like prom to entice young people to engage in risky behaviors – alcohol, drugs, fast driving, unprotected sexual activity. As much as we parents want our kids to have a lifetime of wonderful prom memories, now is the time to talk with them again about smart choices so they don’t end up with a lifetime of negative consequences instead.

Prom brings a flurry of activity as teens prepare for the big night. Parents enjoy sharing the excitement, but also have good reason to worry about the safety of their children.

Research has shown that the area of the brain that helps teens assess short and long term consequences is not fully developed until the mid-twenties. Therefore, prom season presents an opportunity for parents to talk with their teens about their expectations and rules. Teens need parents to be approachable and well-informed and to bring up issues such as alcohol and other drug use. In fact, parental disapproval has been shown to be a significant reason why some youth choose not to drink. The time to begin this “heart-to-heart” conversation is long before prom night. 

A common concern of parents on prom night is the risk of impaired driving and the possibility of fatal outcomes. Car crashes continue to be the number one cause of death among teens. Yet, in a survey conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Association only 29% of 11th and 12th graders felt that driving impaired on prom night was highly dangerous. Students who attend after prom parties are assured an alcohol and drug free evening. Adult support is essential in planning after prom parties that successfully keep students entertained throughout the night and off the roads!

If you are the parent/guardian of a high school student that plans to attend prom this year, please use the Department of Health’s Safe & Sober Prom Season 2013 Parent Guide and Pledge Book. This valuable tool is a “must-have” for parents to use when selecting prom transportation services for their teens.

metal trash can imageTim Dunn
Solid Waste Superintendent, Bureau of Solid Waste Management

We all have busy lives. We devote our precious time to work, kids, community service, hobbies, and any number of other daily activities. For many of us, the last thing we want to think about is trash! In fact, for most of us, all we really want is to place our trash out for collection at the curb or alley and have it disappear.

Unfortunately, there may come a time when the trash doesn’t disappear. In most cases, there is a perfectly logical reason why trash collection does not occur. Following are some of the most common causes of missed trash collection.

Oversize/Overweight Trashcans

Baltimore County regulations require that trashcans are limited to a maximum capacity of 34 gallons and a maximum filled weight of 40 pounds. These regulations are in place to protect the hard-working men and women on the back of the collection trucks. It is not uncommon for a single truck to collect trash from more than 1,500 homes in a day, with many homes placing two or three trashcans out for collection. It’s not hard to imagine the risk of repetitive motion injuries that could result from lifting oversize or overweight cans. Also, the County does not recommend using trashcans with hinged lids or wheels due to difficulty in handling by the collectors and the wheels/lids being prone to breakage.

Late Set-Out

Baltimore County regulations state that trash should be set out after 6:00 p.m. the night before a scheduled collection. Although some collectors arrive at a certain time each week, there are any number of factors (e.g., weather, traffic, holidays) that could cause them to arrive earlier or later than “normal.” It’s never a good idea to “set your clock” by the collector and the best way to ensure collection is to have your trash out the night before.

Unacceptable Materials

Although the collectors make every effort to collect the household trash people set out, there are items that should not be set out at the curb or alley. Bulk items (e.g., mattresses, furniture, appliances, building materials) are too large to be collected. Dangerous items (e.g., chemicals, paint, explosives) can create hazardous conditions for the workers and should never be placed out for collection. Additionally, it is illegal in Baltimore County to dispose of most household electronics (e.g., TVs, computer equipment, VCRs) as trash. For more information on how to properly dispose of all of the aforementioned materials, visit

Blocked Alleys

Baltimore County Code requires that vehicles parked in alleys must allow at least 12 feet clearance. You can report parked vehicles that prevent access to an alley by trash collection and/or emergency vehicles using the Baltimore County Police Department’s non-emergency line, 410-887-2222.

It’s important to remember the hard-working crews that collect trash from the nearly 330,000 homes in Baltimore County each week. If you get a chance, I hope you join me in thanking these folks for a job well done. Or, better yet, thank them on collection day by following the rules and regulations detailed here and you’ll also be helping ensure that your trash disappears on collection day!


Revised April 6, 2016