Falmouth will test for fertilizers, pesticides, insecticides and herbicides in local bodies of water for the first time this spring to see if tighter restrictions are needed in town.

“Falmouth’s current pesticide and fertilizer ordinance does not restrict use at all except to say you can’t use fertilizers during the winter; it just requires professional applicators to register with the town and submit an annual report,” Falmouth Sustainability Coordinator Ashley Krulik said. “We want to better understand the impact of pesticides and fertilizers on Falmouth and from there we can determine if it makes sense to have further regulations around that use or if it doesn’t.”

This map shows water outfalls and drainage areas in Falmouth that may be tested for pollutants this spring. Contributed / FB Environmental.

The council voted last week to test for so-called non-source point pollution, which is caused when rainfall or snowmelt carries substances through the ground and deposits them in lakes, rivers and other bodies of water.  The pollutants can be harmful to marine life because they increase levels of nitrogen and phosphorus, which creates low oxygen conditions that are harmful to aquatic life. according to the EPA.

The project will cost around $20,000 over two years, according to Town Manager Nathan Poore, with $10,000 budgeted in the current fiscal year and the remainder of the funding from either this year’s contingency fund or next year’s budget. The highest expense is for the lab tests, which is $8,349.  Testing for pesticides is  costly, Krulik said,  because very few labs do it; Falmouth will send its samples to Montana.

FB Environmental of Portland will collect samples from three downstream waterbodies in Falmouth during a storm. The locations have not been chosen yet, but Underwood Road is one that’s being considered, Krulik said.

Prior to choosing the test sites, Krulik and the consultants will survey residents in neighborhoods of interest, either door-to-door or via email, to see how many are using pesticides, fertilizers and similar products and how often. Surveying will likely begin in spring or summer, with the report expected by fall.

“We’re looking for areas that have a lot of storm water runoff and where there’s larger lawns that are more apt to have people using pesticides and fertilizers,” Krulik said. “We want to see if there are more pollutants in one area than another, so we’re going to try to get samples in east Falmouth, central Falmouth and West Falmouth.”

Each of the three locations will be tested on three separate occasions to “get a deeper level of results and see any trends or inconsistencies,” said Krulik, who added that the process is called the “hot-spot approach.” The town and FB Environmental decided to go with this approach because it is more cost-effective than performing broad testing of dozens of areas in town.

Testing for these types of pollutants has not been done before in Falmouth, Krulik said. Friends of Casco Bay did test for pesticides in the bay around Portland between 2001 and 2009 and found nine different pesticides in the 14 locations, she said. Casco Bay encompasses 14 towns and cities from Cape Elizabeth up to Phippsburg, including Falmouth, and Krulik said she anticipates the study will find “some level” of pollution in Falmouth.

According to the EPA, non-source point pollution is “the leading remaining cause of water quality problems.”

“Nationwide, it’s pretty well seen that if you look, you’ll find them. They’re everywhere,” Krulik said.

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