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First Maine pesticide summit aims to answer questions

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First Maine pesticide summit aims to answer questions

BRUNSWICK — With several Maine towns already discussing banning pesticides and a few with ordinances in place, the Maine Pesticide Summit on Nov. 20 will mark the first time there has been a gathering to discuss their use in the state.

The summit at the Unitarian Universalist Church Nov. 20 will feature Paul Tukey, who has spent years speaking about the hazards of pesticide application and encouraging use of organic alternatives.

"What makes my presentation effective is I understand these products and what they do," Tukey said.

Scarborough town councilors addressed the issue last week.

"The hearing in Scarborough (Nov. 1) was one of the most highly attended. Three-quarters of the people were concerned," Tukey said, adding most lawn care professionals feel because pesticides are approved for use by the Environmental Protection Agency, they should be able to use them. "I used to be one of them and I applied this stuff and made myself sick. That's what gave me my initial motivation."

Tukey calls pesticides "poison" and said the hazards are well known. He said children, at the very least, should be protected. He said some studies have linked pesticide exposure to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism in children.

"At a minimum, let's protect kids. There's no reason to use (pesticides)," Tukey said, "because you're worried about a few dandelions."

Concerns about ridding school properties of flowering weeds come from parents of children allergic to bees, he said, adding there are "other steps you can take."

Pesticides can be inhaled or absorbed through the skin and eyes, Tukey said. When pesticides are used, less than 1 percent of the active ingredient goes to the target; the rest ends up in ground and surface water.

Tukey said the goal of the summit is to gather activists, town officials and citizens for networking and sharing information.

"I think what we really want to do is frame the issues for people and ultimately make it statewide," he said.

Several communities already have ordinances in place, including Brunswick, Ogunquit, Castine, Rockport and Camden, Tukey said, while others are in discussions to create ordinances regarding pesticide use.

"Cumberland and Falmouth are in the conversation and they are sending people to the summit," he said.

Falmouth resident Barbara DiBiase said as a private land owner, she tries not to use chemical treatments when possible, opting instead for organic alternatives. She said as a master gardener, she has used pesticides in the past but has since "tried to learn ways to manage yards without using chemicals."

DiBiase said Falmouth schools use a corn gluten fertilizer, but she said it's her understanding it will take up to three years for all the chemicals already in the ground to break down and the schools to see a change.

"Nothing is really going to give us a perfect green golf course lawn without chemicals," DiBiase said. "I personally am not supportive of banning all pesticide use."

She said some chemicals are needed to maintain crop levels so food crops such as apples are not destroyed by pests. However, she added she is very concerned about run-off into bodies of water. DiBiase said she anticipates a change in what products are available in stores if enough people are educated about pesticides.

"I'd like to see us become more educated," DiBiase said. "I'm not looking to ban anything in Falmouth. But I would say it's on people's radar here."

Some municipalities restrict pesticide use near bodies of water while others are more comprehensive. Brunswick's ordinance allows application of only organic products on town-owned land, which is defined as "all land owned or leased by the Town of Brunswick and managed by the Town of Brunswick Parks and Recreation Department, including outdoor grounds such as parks, playing fields, conservation and open space."

However, the ordinance allows a waiver in case of "an immediate threat to human health or environmental quality, or an immediate threat of substantial property damage or loss."

Tukey said for a long time, it has been accepted that organic alternatives cost more than chemicals. He said organic applications result in the need to mow less and water less and lawns don't require dethatching because the grass doesn't grow as quickly or as thick. 

"You have to take in the whole equation," he said.

DiBiase noted organic options are often less concentrated than chemical treatments and may take more time to show results.

DiBiase said she hopes the summit will help educate people as to what each town has already done as well as open a discussion on how to create awareness. She said she would like to see action taken at the state level rather then each municipality creating its own set of rules.

"But legislation won't go through unless there are benefits for both sides," DiBiase said.

The Maine Pesticide Summit takes place Nov. 20 at Unitarian Universalist Church, 15 Pleasant St., from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. RSVP by calling 871-1810. The event is open to the public.

Stephanie Grinnell can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or sgrinnell@theforecaster.net