A movement to limit the use of synthetic pesticides on ornamental lawns and landscapes has begun to take root in Maine.

A pesticides summit in Brunswick last month brought together people from inside and outside the state who have successfully instituted pesticide limits and people who are working toward such limits.

Laura Stevens, Maine coordinator for the national Toxics Action Center (www.toxicsaction.org), said a lot of people from different backgrounds attended the summit and came away with a clear direction.

“It was pretty much clear,” Stevens said, “that the thing that needs to stop right away is the spraying of herbicides for cosmetic purposes on public lawns and playing fields, because that is where children play.”

She said attendees agreed that children are most susceptible to everything from hyperactivity to certain cancers, which have been linked to pesticide use.

Many attendees are looking to what Camden has done about pesticide use as a model of what could be done in other Maine communities. In 2008, Camden approved a policy prohibiting the use of pesticides on all town-owned property.

“This includes Harbor Park, the library grounds, the Camden Snow Bowl and all playing fields,” said Marsha Smith, who led the effort in Camden and spoke at the pesticide summit.

Smith launched the effort after seeing a warning sign saying that the town library lawn had been treated. Her efforts resulted in the creation of a policy that was approved by the town selectmen on Earth Day 2007.

Camden’s policy was then taken to Rockport, the next town over, where it was passed three weeks later.

Once the town ordinance passed, the group started getting bed and breakfasts and other businesses in town to commit to keeping their lawns and gardens pesticide-free.

“We right now have a campaign going lawn by lawn, trying to get the owner of every lawn in Camden to sign a pledge that they won’t use pesticides,” Smith said. “We are sticking with cosmetic lawn-care chemicals, because they are definitely not needed.”

The group’s website, www.citizensforagreencamden.org, includes a map showing the location of properties covered by the pledge.

Asked if her group would consider approaching selectmen to pass an ordinance banning lawn pesticides, Smith noted, “I don’t think Camden is ready for that yet.”

Paul Tukey of New Gloucester was keynote speaker at the summit. Tukey is founder of Safelawns.org, a national leader in the movement toward organic lawns, and publisher of the now-defunct People Places & Plants magazine.

“It is a pet peeve of mine,” Tukey said, “that I go all around the country to speak on safe lawns, to California and New York and other places, but I can’t get people to listen to me in my home state. Maine is far behind even New Jersey in this.”

But Tukey was pleased with the turnout at the pesticide summit.

“We had people from New York and Connecticut on the panel who have had success at the state level,” he said, “and they painted a road map, if you will, that can be emulated here.”

Tukey said Connecticut in 2005 banned the application of pesticides on school grounds and at daycare centers, and that New York passed similar legislation last year.

He would be pleased if Maine passed similar limits, but he doesn’t expect to see national limits on the use of lawn chemicals in the United States similar to what they now have in Canada.

Tukey was a force behind “A Chemical Reaction,” a documentary about how a doctor in Canada took on the lawn-chemical industry and got her town, and much of the nation, to ban lawn pesticides.

“Canada is light-years ahead of the United States,” Tukey said. “They have a different system up there where lobbying is not allowed.”

But he does think if activists can get towns to ban the use of lawn pesticides on school properties, it will have a wider effect.

“If a young mother sees that they are banned at school,” he said, “she will be taking the message home that she doesn’t want them put on her lawn, either.”

The Maine Landscape and Nursery Association, whose members include lawn-care professionals, is taking a close interest in the move to limit pesticide use.

Mark Faunce of Limington, association president, said some MeLNA members attended the pesticide summit, but were not there as representatives of MeLNA.

“What MeLNA promotes is best management practice,” Faunce said, “and that includes such things as integrated pest management. We believe that the safe use of pesticides, whether synthetic or organic, is what is important. Our members are professional people, and are not out spraying willy- nilly. Our kids play on those spaces too, and we don’t want anyone getting sick.”

Jesse O’Brien, proprietor of Downeast Turf Farm in Kennebunk and a past president of MeLNA, said the companies are glad to be part of the discussion, and that their goal is to grow healthy plants safely.

“We feel we have more in common than differences with those concerned with this issue,” O’Brien said. “We feel continued education and forums where we can share knowledge will help create the desired result for the state of Maine.”

Tukey, who has had a working relationship with MeLNA over several decades and showed “A Chemical Reaction” at a MeLNA annual meeting, understands the landscapers’ position.

“I don’t think those people are the bad guys,” he said. “The real core problem is the homeowner who is not licensed and not educated, going to Home Depot or Walmart and buying three or four 40-pound bags of poison on a windy day. The instructions say to apply on a calm day. How many calm days do you get in Scarborough in the summer?”

Tukey and Stevens said there are movements in several Maine communities, including Scarborough and Gorham, to institute ordinances to limit lawn chemicals in some way.

They also said there were some state legislators at the pesticide summit, and they are going to try to see if some of them will introduce pesticide legislation.

“It’s the children who are most susceptible to these chemicals,” Stevens said. “We are working to protect them.”

Tom Atwell can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

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