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Scarborough eyes curbs on pesticides

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Posted: Wednesday, November 10, 2010 11:48 am

SCARBOROUGH - Scarborough has joined a push in Maine to restrict the use of synthetic pesticides on municipal land.

"We know it causes problems," Karen D'Andrea, chairwoman of the Town Council's Ordinance Committee, said of using synthetic pesticides. "We need to find ways to stop using it and relying on it."

The committee is reviewing a draft document, which D'Andrea said is a combination of ordinances from Brunswick and Ogunquit, two communities that already have such a measure on the books.

The purpose of the ordinance, according to a draft reviewed at an Oct. 26 meeting, is to "safeguard the health and welfare of residents in the Town of Scarborough and to conserve and protect the town's groundwater and other natural resources, while ensuring preservation and enhancement of town-owned lands."

According to D'Andrea, restrictions would only apply to outdoor municipal spaces, such as athletic fields, parks, and outside municipal buildings such as schools and Town Hall.

The restriction would essentially prevent use of pesticides not approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

A pesticide, as defined in the draft document, "is any substance or mixture of substances intended for preventing, destroying, repelling or mitigating any pest...Herbicides, fungicides, insecticides and rodenticides are considered pesticides."

The ordinance would not regulate indoor pesticide use, or bait traps for rodent control, nor does it apply to pest control on private properties.

D'Andrea said the idea of restricting pesticide use originated several years ago, when Eddie Woodin, a Scarborough resident and well-known birder, approached her about the idea.

"I had concerns with insecticides and pesticides, and with Karen on the ordinance committee, it made sense to ask the question," Woodin said.

His biggest concern about pesticide use is its effect on birds such as robins, which feed on worms in the grass, or wildlife, such as the brown bat, which feeds the insects that pesticides target.

D'Andrea said conversations about what the town could do about regulating pesticides picked up again this summer when another resident, Marla Zando, approached her with concerns about the effects of pesticide use on her son.

In voicing her concerns to D'Andrea, Zando alerted her about what other towns were doing in regulating pesticide use.

This, D'Andrea said, gave the committee a starting point.

Scarborough is using Brunswick and Ogunquit ordinances as a model. Nearly a dozen other Maine towns are looking into adopting pesticide restrictions.

Paul Tukey, a Cumberland resident who started the SafeLawns Foundation in 2004, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting organic lawn care practices, said a number of states have also taken a stance on pesticide use in an effort to make life healthier for children. New York, he said, passed a law in June that eliminated pesticide use around schools statewide. Connecticut passed a similar measure back in 2005 and New Hampshire has a bill pending to do so.

"What I am seeing," he said this week, "is a much greater awareness of the toxicity of pesticides. Today's generation of mothers are much more aware and they are very concerned about what their kids are being exposed to," he said. "Additionally, there are many more reports in the media linking pesticide exposure to childhood disorders like ADHD -- attention deficit hyperactive disorder - and childhood cancers."

Tukey said the "No. 1 benefit" of an organic approach to pesticides is a reduction in the municipal budget over time.

"The goal of organic is to create a self-sustainable system, where you don't have to go out and treat it as often," he said.

He estimates, based on previous examples, switching to organic lawn care could save as much as 20 to 25 percent through the course of a five-year period. Until the soil takes to the organic use, which he said could take up to three years, the cost of land care would increase.

Town Manager Tom Hall said most of the pesticides are used at the athletic fields.

In May, the Scarborough Town Council adopted a municipal budget that allocated $82,789 to athletic field maintenance.

According to estimates from Sports Field Inc., the Monmouth-based company contacted to do Scarborough's athletic field lawn care work, using organic products in lieu of synthetics would cost the town $118,810, some $36,000 more than what the town is currently spending, and $28,000 more than the $90,675 Sports Field has proposed the town spend for the 2011-2012 fiscal year.

The biggest cost increase is for fertilizer.

"The reason it costs more is it is not as effective and you have to do more applications," said Hall. "The cost is because you need more of it rather than the actual cost of the organic product being higher."

But, he said, "Science shows the effectiveness of organic products is becoming better and better, so we expect those price points to come down."

Hall said it is too early to determine whether using organic would be a better approach for the town, in part because the jury is still out in many of the communities that have already made the switch.

"As we have talked to other communities that have done this for the last few years, frankly, it is still too early to tell how effective it is," Hall said.

Peter Baecher, the Parks and Recreation manager for the town of Brunswick, said switching to organic pesticides, which the town opted to do through a citizen initiative four years ago, has been a success.

"It has worked out OK," Baecher said. "It's more expensive, but it has worked out pretty well."

One of the biggest challenges for Baecher's staff, which applies the organic pesticides on the town-owned property, has been the learning curve that is associated with a new system, or approach, to lawn care.

D'Andrea said the Ordinance Committee would take the topic up again at a forthcoming meeting, though a date has not been set yet.

"I think we are waiting for the new Town Council to be seated to decide who will be sitting on which committees," she said. "I hope to be back, of course, on the Ordinance Committee, but that remains to be seen until the new chair is named."

One of the most important ways to fight pesticide use, Woodin said, is to educate the public about the dangers of using them.

"[Restricting it in] town is just the tip of the iceberg. The rest of the iceberg is the residences. Do they really know what is in the applications, the chemicals that are being placed on their lawn?" he said.

D'Andrea said informing the public is important and something the ordinance committee is trying to do through its discussions on pesticides.

"I am a big believer in education," D'Andrea said. "Education, I think, far surpasses legislation in trying to solve problems and involving the public."

Welcome to the discussion.