Fines out of South Portland's proposed pesticides ban

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council moved ahead Monday on a revised pesticides ban that removes any fines for non-compliance.

Under the proposed ordinance, the ban would apply only to pesticides used for turf, landscape and outdoor pest management on both public and private property, including golf courses.

Julie Rosenbach, the city sustainability coordinator, acknowledged during the council workshop that enforcement of the ban would be difficult. But she said the goal of “greatly restricting or eliminating the use of pesticides” is worth the effort.

“Enforcement will be a challenge, especially on private property, so our goal is to work with people in a more positive way to bring them into compliance,” Rosenbach said.

To support that effort, the pesticide ban would include an extensive public outreach and education campaign, she said. It would be up to her and the new Pest Management Advisory Committee to resolve any issues that arise.

Talk about a pesticide ban began about a year ago. The City Council in April approved a first reading that called for fines of $200, $500 and $1,000 per offense following a warning. But in June, the council postponed the second reading. 

But now, “Our intention is not to approach implementation in a punitive way, but rather to use education and outreach to promote non-toxic land care practices and help the community to comply with this ordinance,” Rosenbach said in a memo to the council.

“Staff agree this is not an issue for the police department (and) also believe that the most practical approach to enforcement is to work with alleged violators to help bring them into compliance,” she added.

The City Council is expected to hold a first reading on the revised ban at 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 15.

Under the new ordinance, it would be up to the code enforcement officer “to provide investigative assistance and to enforce the provisions of this ordinance in collaboration with the city’s sustainability coordinator.”

The ordinance stipulates that the sustainability coordinator would work with alleged violators by providing them with “educational materials and advice on the use of less-toxic chemicals to achieve their desired results.”

If passed, the measure would be rolled out over three years. The prohibition on pesticide use on public land would take effect on May 1, 2017, on private property in 2018 and on golf courses in 2019.

Synthetic and non-synthetic substances would be prohibited “unless specifically listed as allowed on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National List (of Allowed and Prohibited Substances).”

Pesticides that are determined to be of minimum risk under the federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act are allowed, although no pesticide of any kind can be used within 75 feet of a body of water or wetland.

Exemptions and waivers for specific situations would be allowed.

Specifically exempted from the ban are commercial agriculture; pet shampoos and tick and flea treatments; disinfectants; insect repellents; rat and rodent control supplies; swimming pool supplies, and general-use paints, stains and sealants, as long as they’re used in the manner specified by the manufacturer.

Speaking in support of the pesticide ban Monday, Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides, a national nonprofit that wants to ban toxic pesticides everywhere, said there was no reason not to pass the measure because it only applies to what he called the “cosmetic use of pesticides.”

“These chemicals are not needed to have (beautiful) playing fields or home lawns or gardens,” Feldman said.

He said peer-reviewed scientific studies have linked the use of such pesticides to negative impacts on human health, from cancer to birth defects to asthma.

As for South Portland’s local effort to ban pesticides for certain uses, Feldman added, “the data is clear, these policies do make a difference.”

Rachel Burger, a founding member of the citizen advocacy group Protect South Portland, also supported the ban.

“Pesticides are designed to kill,” she said. “Let’s take care of each other and our environment.”

Paul Cunningham, another resident, said, “I’m very excited about this proposal. It only makes sense. We have far too many chemicals in our ecosystem, and we all know it.”

Meg Brailey, who described herself as an avid organic gardener, said, “We can have completely beautiful landscaping without all these toxins. This (ban) is a critical thing to do. Why not pass it?”

But several others argued against the ordinance, including resident Charles McNutt, who urged councilors to “look at these things with a critical eye.”

He argued, for instance, that the concern about one of the most commonly used lawn pesticides being linked to cancer carries the same risk as cell phones, red meat and coffee.

“I agree that on some level pesticides are not safe, but if handled correctly they are,” he said.

Jessie O’Brien, a foreman at Downeast Turf Farms in Kennebunk, said, “We need all the tools we have” to fight “troublesome, unsightly pests.” He urged the council to adopt integrated pest management techniques instead of an outright ban.

Mary Tomlinson, of the Board of Pesticide Control, addresses the South Portland City Council Monday, Aug. 8. The crowd on hand mostly consisted of supporters of a proposed pesticides ban in the city.