Residents say survey spreads misinformation about possible South Portland pesticide ban

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SOUTH PORTLAND — About a dozen residents have complained to city officials about pollsters who are reportedly providing misleading information about the city’s proposed ban on pesticides.

City Manager Jim Gailey said the city is not responsible for the phone surveys, and city officials don’t know who is or how the calls are being funded. 

According to Councilor Brad Fox, the activity is “certainly not illegal, it’s just annoying.”

City councilors last discussed a possible city-wide restriction on pesticides at a July 13 workshop, where they agreed to work with staff to craft a proposed ordinance by late November. 

Gailey said at the July workshop that most communities with pesticide restrictions use some variation of “integrated pest management programs” that rely on “prevention, monitoring and control.” 

IPM principles are also referred to as “common-sense” practices, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and require a management system tailored specifically to each location.

South Portland is expected to propose a restriction on most pesticide applications, with exceptions for items such as household products. 

Linden Thigpen, of Hillside Avenue, who was called by a pollster, said she is concerned that other residents who receive the calls would be misinformed about how a pesticide ban could affect them. 

Thigpen said she heard from about a dozen friends – also included in an email chain sent to Gailey’s office – who received the same call and same line of questions. Thigpen and resident Jayne Schiff-Verre contacted Fox about the phone calls.

The first questions were basic, Schiff-Verre said in an email. She was asked if she was aware that South Portland is exploring a ban on pesticides, if she would support that ban and at what level of government she felt the issue should be handled: local, state or by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Thigpen said the caller also listed specific household products commonly used to kill weeds, like Round-Up, and bug killers like Raid, before asking the resident if he or she used any of those products.

The caller, who told Thigpen that she was from a Colorado-based company called Net Research Today, then asked whether she knew Raid and Round-Up could be banned if a city ordinance is passed, an assertion Thigpin called “misleading.”

A search by The Forecaster of the Colorado Attorney General’s online database of regulatory agencies and business licenses uncovered no company registered as Net Research Today.

Schiff-Verre said, “The list of pesticide used and questions about how many products do you use can mislead the public into believing that all pesticides are going to be listed in the ordinance.”

“We need to get the word out to South Portland citizens, letting them know that there will be allowances for certain pesticides,” she said.

Thigpen said the caller even listed antibacterial soap as falling within the restricted uses if the city enacts a ban. 

One of the final questions, both women said, asked who they would trust on the issue: environmental experts, university professors, scientists, or a local city councilor. 

“Our concern was simply to put it out there that these calls were made,” Thigpen said, adding that the way some of the questions and concepts “were lumped together” could be misleading, especially to “uninformed citizens.” 

Alex Acquisto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow Alex on Twitter: @AcquistoA

Several South Portland residents have reported receiving phone survey calls asking questions about a proposed ban on pesticides that is expected to come before the City Council in November. The pollsters reportedly suggest incorrectly that household pesticides like Raid will be banned if the city ordinance is approved. 

South Portland and Scarborough reporter for The Forecaster. Graduate of Western Kentucky University and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Alex can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106.