With no formal ordinance proposed, Protect South Portland is campaigning for more organic approaches.
By Kelley Bouchard, Staff Writer
Portland Press Herald news story
SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council showed strong support Monday night for a new community campaign to ban the use of pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers in the city.
Protect South Portland, a nonprofit founded in 2013 to promote a controversial crude oil export ban that the council passed last year, has branched out to address pesticide use. The campaign is named “Bees, Bays and Backyards” for areas affected by controversial chemical applications.
While no formal ordinance has been proposed, all seven councilors voiced strong support for developing a citywide ban as soon as possible, including Maxine Beecher, a beekeeper who has witnessed the impact of pesticides in her yard.
“There is a reason for us to act fairly quickly,” Beecher said. “I do think that we as a city have to be an example. The perfect lawn is not our goal.”
Councilor Patti Smith, an organic gardener, said “we have a great opportunity here to do the right thing.”
The council is scheduled to further discuss a potential ban at a workshop on July 13.
Mary-Jane Ferrier, spokeswoman for Protect South Portland, said the group is ramping up a public education effort to win community support for a shift in thought and action that may face some opposition.
“South Portland is good at meeting challenges,” Ferrier said.
Citizens and councilors shared their thoughts following presentations by pesticide, organic gardening and environmental experts during the workshop meeting.
Federal and state laws are “woefully” inadequate to protect people, wildlife and the environment from chemicals known to cause cancer and other problems, said Jay Feldman, executive director of the nonprofit Beyond Pesticides in Washington, D.C.
Pesticides also have been shown to disrupt hormone production, cause birth defects, contaminate water and harm animals, birds, fish and bees, Feldman said.
Feldman pointed to Maryland’s Safe Grow Act, Ogunquit’s pesticide restriction ordinance and public information campaigns in other Maine communities. The council also heard support from several residents of Portland, which is considering a similar ban. Feldman noted that the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer made news in March when it classified glyphosate, the active ingredient in the Monsanto herbicide Roundup, as “probably carcinogenic” to humans.
Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company, and the U.S. government say glyphosate is considered “safe” when used correctly. However, it can cause kidney, lung and reproductive problems when breathed in or absorbed through the skin as a result of large or long-term exposures, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
In May, the EPA proposed a rule that would create temporary pesticide-free zones when certain plants are in bloom around bees that are trucked from farm to farm by professional beekeepers, which are the majority of honeybees in the U.S. The pesticide halt would only happen during the time the flower is in bloom and the bees are there, and only on the property where the bees are working, not neighboring land.
Mary Cerullo, associate director of Friends of Casco Bay, told councilors that her organization has found evidence that pesticides and nitrogen-rich chemical fertilizers are flowing into the bay.
Increased nitrogen in coastal waters can decrease oxygen and increases carbon dioxide, furthering ocean acidification, which disrupts the development of shellfish and other organisms, Cerullo said.
Rick Towle, South Portland’s parks director, said the city closely controls pesticide applications on municipal lawns and fields. He was among several speakers who urged councilors to make education part of any policy change.
“Make sure we know what we’re doing,” Towle said.
Robert Goldman was one of several city residents who spoke in favor of a ban.
“Be an example to Maine and the country,” Goldman said.