by Abby King, NRCM Toxics Policy Advocate
Good Afternoon Senator Jackson, Representative Dill, and distinguished members of the Committee. My name is Abby King and I am the Toxics Policy Advocate for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. NRCM is Maine’s largest environmental advocacy organization with over 16,000 members and supporters. I am testifying in support of LD 961 and I thank Representative Nelson for bringing it to the attention of the Committee.
We believe it’s critical that society transition away from the unnecessary use of hazardous chemicals, especially for uses that have the potential to expose vulnerable populations, such as pregnant mothers, the elderly, people with compromised immune systems, and our children.
In considering this bill, it seems that you are confronted with two questions: 1) Do the cosmetic benefits of using pesticides in schools clearly outweigh the risks associated with these chemicals for humans and the environment? and 2) Are there alternatives to using toxic chemicals that can provide the same cosmetic benefits?
Regarding the first question, a number of institutions and government jurisdictions in North America have already said no, the benefits do not outweigh the risks, including the State of Maine. In 2006, Governor Baldacci signed an Executive Order restricting the cosmetic use of herbicides in all state-owned buildings in Maine . Most prominently, the governments of Ontario and Quebec, representing 2/3 of Canada’s population, have restricted the sale and use of all cosmetic herbicides . Additionally, Connecticut and New York have already taken the step that you’re considering today. And countless colleges, commercial buildings and private institutions have done the same, not to the mention the towns of Camden, Ogunquit and Brunswick with regards to public spaces.
They have done this because of many reasons, but fundamentally, these actions were taken to protect the health of adults and children, working and playing in environments where pesticides had previously been used for cosmetic purposes. This trend has been driven by research demonstrating the impacts to human health and the environment from the cosmetic and other uses of pesticides. Much of the concern has focused on the carcinogenicity of many of these chemicals and/or their ability to interfere with the human endocrine system, the body’s hormonal messaging system which governs many of the body’s core functions such as growth, brain development, metabolism and reproductive ability.
We need to take action to implement cost-effective, preventative actions to avoid these negative effects to children’s health. The longer we allow children to be exposed to pesticides, the more expensive it will be for us as a society to deal with these health effects once they’ve already occurred. Asthma, for example, is the most prevalent illness in children and the most common cause of child¬hood hospitalizations . Maine Exposure to outdoor and indoor air pollutants, including household chemical products and pesticides, has been associated with the both the onset and severity of asthma in children . The prevalence of asthma in Maine children has been increasing in recent years and is currently estimated at 11.2%, one of the highest asthma rates in the nation. The cost for caring for children with asthma in Maine that is attributable to environmental causes (about 9,000 cases of about 30,000 children with asthma in Maine) is $8.8 million every year.
I’m citing these numbers from an article published in 2010 by University of Maine professor Mary Davis, titled “Economic Assessment of Children’s Health and the Environment in Maine.” I’ll include a copy of that study with my testimony today.
To get to the second question, about feasible alternatives to create beautiful school grounds, lawns and gardens without pesticides, one only has to go on a local garden tour where many of the gardens and lawns are managed without these toxic products. You can also check out safelawns.org where you’ll find all kinds of pictures from lawns and gardens all over the US that are managed without pesticides. These spaces are not only functional, beautiful and weed-free, they’re also completely safe places for all of us, and most importantly, the children, the future of Maine, to recreate.
I know one of the key questions is: shouldn’t we just wait for the feds to act? To that, I would pose another question – Do you know when the United States banned lead for use in paint? It was 1978. Do you know what year the first country in the world banned lead in paint? The country was France, and the year was 1909 and most of Europe followed shortly thereafter. In the United States, the legacy of seven decades of inaction, much of it directly caused by the paint, oil and chemical industries’s influence in Congress, led to millions and millions of children being lead poisoned and the systematic dumbing down of the American people.
Given the choice of your kids or grandkids playing on a school lawn that’s managed using natural methods or one that’s been treated with toxic chemicals, which one would you choose?
Thank you very much for your time. The written version of my testimony goes into more detail about what I’ve spoken about today. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.
 Executive Order on Safer Chemicals in Consumer Products and Services. Governor John Elias Baldacci. (updated link: http://www.maine.gov/bgs/propmanage/documents/ExecutiveOrder.pdf)
 Davis, Mary E. “Economic Assessment of Children’s Health and the Environment in Maine”. Maine Policy Review, Winter/Spring 2010. Volume 19, Number 1.