During these holiday months, it hardly comes to mind to think about lawn care and the chemical sprays neighbors and businesses use to kill weeds on their properties.

Many people are not aware of their right to be notified before spraying, either by a neighbor or their pesticide application company, within 500 feet of their property or within 250 feet for people on Maine’s Pesticide Notification Registry.

The most important aspect of registering with the Maine Board of Pesticides Control is that your family and pets will not be caught unaware and unknowingly exposed to the toxins used in these applications, as we were this year.

We have an organic gardening area and many windows facing our neighbor, who had never sprayed before. One day when our windows were open, a strong chemical smell permeated our house, coming from the neighbor’s lawn after it had been sprayed.

That day and the following week we found numerous dead bees in the driveway on the side of the house that had been sprayed.

Concerned about the toxicity of the lawn spray, we contacted the company that had done the application and asked for the material safety data sheet to check the ingredients used.

After much research, the one of most concern was the dimethylamine salt of 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D for short), shockingly a major ingredient in Agent Orange.

This chemical is listed as highly and acutely toxic, a known carcinogen, known groundwater pollutant and known reproductive or development toxicant. Even the smell of 2,4-D can be toxic to the liver in small doses.

It is also very toxic to several breeds of dogs, particularly golden retrievers, German shepherds, Scottish terriers, West Highland terriers and several others (two of them breeds that we own). Chemical exposure for these breeds from vapor drift, eating grass or walking on sprayed lawns is linked to causing higher than normal incidences of bladder cancer and certain lymphomas.

After contacting our neighbor about our concerns, we were assured there would be no more spraying.

Four weeks later we again smelled the spray and saw the pesticide application sign on the lawn.

We then contacted the pesticide company indicated on the lawn sign and asked to be put on their notification list for any further spraying.

Lawn pesticides are sprayed from spring until November, and in our neighborhood, it meant a lawn was being sprayed every couple of weeks.

This past summer, pesticide warning signs were posted at churches, schools, museums, retail strip malls, railroad trails, veterinarian offices and many business and public spaces.

At a school, children and pets were walking by while the median was being sprayed, and at a cemetery, children were sitting on a brick walkway before the required drying time of 48 hours.

Many times the spray on neighbors’ lawns was applied the day before torrential rains or on days that were windy.

All the people I spoke to who applied these chemicals denied health concerns and insisted that the chemicals had been tested for safety.

However, they did agree the testing was under certain conditions and for people wearing shoes. Not for children and dogs rolling in the grass, or eating it.

Chemical residues that run off after rainfall are still toxic, as is the vapor drift during application.

Unfortunately, the Environmental Protection Agency makes no claims to protect us from these harmful chemicals.

Our families, pets and wildlife are under an unprecedented assault from chemicals in our food and environment. Why add to the toxic burden for purely cosmetic reasons, when the same results can be achieved naturally for a healthy, safe and beautiful lawn?

To protect your family and pets, apply with the Maine Board of Pesticides Control for spray notification.

The very short 61-day enrollment period began Nov. 1 and ends Dec. 31 of this year in order to be eligible for next year’s spraying notifications. They require a form to be completed, on which all abutters within 250 feet must be listed, and a $20 annual fee included. This form can be obtained online at www.maine.gov/agriculture/pesticides/index.htm.

Click on “pesticide notification” and then scroll down to the bottom and click on Pesticide Notification Registry Application (PDF) or call the Maine Board of Pesticides Control at 287-2731 to have a form mailed to you.

If you miss the enrollment period, you can directly request a call before a scheduled spray application from the company your neighbors use.

Donna Herczeg is a resident of Portland.


This opinion piece was updated at 4:02 pm Dec. 21 to correct the website URL in the next-to-last paragraph; the correct address is www.maine.gov/agriculture/pesticides/index.htm