SOUTH PORTLAND — Property owners here may soon be limited in the chemicals they can use to control lawn and garden pests and weeds under a partial pesticide ban that the City Council is set to review Monday.

The proposed ordinance would prohibit the use of synthetic pesticides and herbicides on city-owned and private property, but it wouldn’t apply to pesticides permitted in organic farming or exempted from federal regulation.

The ordinance would be phased in over two years, promoted by a Pest Management Advisory Committee and enforced with fines levied by the city’s code enforcement officer.

“The draft ordinance represents an earnest attempt by (municipal) staff to balance public health and environmental protection with aesthetic expectations for public and private landscape management,” said Julie Rosenbach, the city’s sustainability coordinator, in a memo that accompanies the proposed ordinance.

The council is scheduled to review the ordinance during a 6:30 p.m. workshop at City Hall.

The ordinance was drafted at the council’s direction by Rosenbach, Sarah Neuts, the city’s director of parks, recreation and waterfront, and Fred Dillon, the city’s stormwater program coordinator. They studied a wide variety of research and regulations and interviewed many officials and stakeholders, including private landscaping contractors.


“We focused on drafting an ordinance that is bold but realistic,” Rosenbach wrote.

The ordinance doesn’t specifically name pesticides that would be allowed or prohibited; it would prohibit the use of synthetic pesticides other than products allowed by the Organic Materials Review Institute or exempt from regulation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

It would, for instance, prohibit most property owners from using glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer. While the EPA says glyphosate is “safe” when used correctly, the International Agency for Research on Cancer last year classified it as “probably carcinogenic.”


The ordinance wouldn’t apply to the sale of pesticides or their use in commercial agriculture, on golf courses or to kill poisonous plants and biting, destructive or disease-carrying insects. Exempted pesticides would include pet flea and tick treatments, disinfectants and germicides, insect repellents, rodent control supplies, swimming pool chemicals, aerosol products, and paints, stains and sealants.

The proposed ordinance doesn’t address fertilizers, which environmentalists say are flowing into Casco Bay and harming valuable ecosystems. City officials plan to address fertilizer use in a future ordinance.


“We’re not letting go on that,” said Rachel Burger, founder and president of Protect South Portland, a group that has been pushing for environmental action on several fronts.

“The pesticides ordinance is just step one,” Burger said. “I’m very pleased with it. It’s beautifully written, well thought out and very positive.”

Twenty-six Maine communities, including Ogunquit, Brunswick, Rockland, Wells, Lebanon and Waterboro, have pesticide-control ordinances that ban or regulate the type or method of pesticides used in municipal, agricultural and forestry applications, and near drinking-water supplies.

Ogunquit is the only town to extend its ordinance broadly to include all private property owners. However, like South Portland’s proposed ordinance, it’s not an outright ban. It allows restricted pesticides to be used to kill noxious or invasive plants, such as poison ivy, and to address health and safety threats, such as disease-carrying insects.

Last fall, the Montgomery County Council in Maryland restricted the use of “cosmetic pesticides” on private lawns, on certain county land, and at child-care facilities and playgrounds. Some provinces and hundreds of municipalities across Canada have taken similar steps, along with anti-pesticide measures in France, Germany and the Netherlands.



Released Friday, South Portland’s proposed ordinance drew immediate opposition from Mainers for Greener Communities, a coalition of nurseries, landscapers, turf companies, arborists, golf course managers and pesticide applicators.

“This proposal is not based in science and would make South Portland only the third community in the nation to regulate what people put on their own lawns,” coalition leader Jesse O’Brien, owner of Down East Turf Farm in Kennebunk, said in a prepared statement. “Communities with similar policies for city property found a significant degradation in the quality of athletic fields and a two- to threefold increase in maintenance costs.”

The ordinance would apply to city property during the first year and broaden to private property during the second year. It would be reviewed during the third year for possible revision. Following an initial warning, violators would face escalating fines of $200, $500 and $1,000 per offense.

Property owners could apply to the city for waivers to use pesticides when public health or safety is threatened. If a waiver were approved, the property owner would have to post signs notifying neighbors of the date, time and type of pesticide applied. Licensed applicators would have to submit annual reports to the city providing detailed information on each use of synthetic pesticides.

The ordinance would call for a broad public education campaign including notices, posters, brochures, workshops and training sessions for homeowners, retail employees and others.

“It’s a cultural change,” Burger acknowledged. “It’s going to be a big learning curve, but it’s an exciting one.”


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