Last week we received an email from a summer resident on Little Diamond Island who asked, “Is there any information Friends of Casco Bay can provide that I could share with islanders about the potential harm from using the weed killer Round Up?” This may seem like strange question to ask a marine conservation organization. But for the past 15 years we have been advocating for lawn care practices that reduce or eliminate the need for pesticides and fertilizers.
Our water quality sampling shows that heavy rains can flush pesticides into Casco Bay. Even more concerning is the impact of nitrogen – from fertilizers, as well as from sewage and air pollution. Too much nitrogen leads to more acidic water, lower oxygen levels, and slime-covered coves, all threats to marine life such as clams and mussels. Weed and feed products, some of the most widely-used lawn chemicals, are a combination of pesticides (“weed”) and fertilizers (“feed”).
Several communities are considering a range of actions to get residents to reduce their use of lawn chemicals. What is the best approach? Education? Enforcement? Or both?
Ogunquit was the first town in the nation where voters banned pesticides on private property, as well as public. Other communities are considering similar restraints. Fortunately for Maine, we are one of nine states and the District of Columbia that still allows municipal voters to decide this issue. Elsewhere, chemical company lobbyists have convinced legislatures to take away local control.
In South Portland, a citizens’ group called Bees, Bays, and Backyards has lobbied for an ordinance to ban the use of pesticides. On July 13, City Manager Jim Gailey presented South Portland City Councilors with several examples of pesticide ordinances to solicit feedback. More than 70 concerned citizens spoke both for and against strict regulations.
Friends’ Associate Director Mary Cerullo urged the City Council to broaden the ordinance to include restricting the use of another lawn chemical – fertilizer. After nearly three hours of discussion, the City Council directed City Staff to draft language that would restrict pesticides on both public property and private residences. A draft ordinance will be presented in November.
The Town of Harpswell, at the other end of Casco Bay, is comprised of narrow peninsulas with over 200 miles of coastline. Every part of town is close to the water. Rather than implementing an outright ban on pesticides, in 2004, the town banned Insect Growth Regulators (diflubenzuron and tebufenozide), insecticides that adversely affect aquatic invertebrates, especially molting lobsters and crabs. This ban was in response to spraying to eradicate the browntail moth caterpillar, whose toxic hairs can cause blistery rashes and respiratory distress.
In the summer, the focus is on “green garden practices” such as BayScaping, which teaches natural yard care practices that don’t rely on the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. They are educating residents about Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and their right to be notified before a pesticide is applied in the neighborhood.
Whatever approach communities choose, it is part of a trend to find local solutions to global challenges.