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Guest Blog: A Maine Call to Arms: Act Now to Protect Children From Pesticides

This is a report filed by Ellen Fine, an anti-pesticide activist from New Hampshire, who has consulted across North America on legislative issues related to lawn pesticides. She is also founder of the Leah Collective that has compiled a massive report on scientific reports linking pesticides to myriad health risks. If you are interested, email Paul@SafeLawns.org and we’ll send it along.

To Our Friends in Maine_

Monday is a crucial day for Maine’s children. We need you to write or call your state representative or senator to get him/her to fight for the original language of LD 837. (Click here to find out your Senator and Representative and how to contact them)

Original language of LD 837 was introduced by Rep. Mary Nelson of Falmouth- a fantastic protection of kids health by limiting the use of pesticides and herbicides at schools in Maine. On, hearing day we packed the room with moms, kids, concerned citizens from all over Maine giving testimony in support of the bill.

Schools in Maine use pesticides for their maintenance and school playing fields. Pesticides are linked to the increase of asthma, ADD/ADHD, autism, brain tumors and cancer, especially non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

The majority played a trick: it kept the title and number of the original bill as introduced by Rep. Nelson and threw out the protective language which was replaced by Integrated Pest Management IPM policy.

Original language

Allowed uses of pesticides on school grounds. Pesticides, including lawn care pesticides, may be used on school grounds only:
A. To control, repel or eliminate stinging or biting insects when there is an urgent threat to the health or safety of a student or staff member; or
B. In response to the presence of animals or insects, including mosquitoes and ticks, identified as a public health nuisance by the Department of Health and Human Services, Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention or a local public health officer.

A training program is suggested to retrain applicators on organic practice.

In the ammended language these are the flaws as we see them

1.No reporting or accountability about the actual pesticides and herbicides used on school properties. According to the Director of Pesticide Control, “there is no reporting that occurs of what applicators are actually using.” and with the passage of ammendment would not necessarily hapen either

2. No incentive to decrease the application of toxic pesticides and herbicides…

3. Best practices does not mean organic it means IPM Integrated Pest Management that definition varies widely and often means… “IPM is business as usual for most lawncare applicators…” (Tom Kelly, former owner of one of New England’s largest chemical lawn care companies)

4. additional funding required for studies amending IPM practices, while the original bill does not require funding from the government

(Please view fact sheet, below, by Jodi Spear on LD-837 and IPM)

So it is now your turn to call or email your state Rep and Senator, Let them know how you feel, vote in favor of only the original language of LD 837, for the health and well being of Maine’s Children.

Click here to read the original bill. Click here to read the amended bill, keeping in place Maine’s flawed IPM laws.

FACT SHEET FOR LEGISLATORS

Dear Legislators:

Please support the unamended version of LD 837: An Act to Protect Children’s Health and Promote Safe Schools and Day Care Centers by Limiting the Use of Pesticides

What LD 837 does to safeguard school children

This bill prohibits pesticides on public school playgrounds, athletic fields, and lawns (including those of child-care facilities and nursery schools) except in cases of demonstrable human-health emergency. By implication, the legislation calls for organic pest management (OPM) rather than “integrated pest management” (IPM) as defined by the Agriculture Department, which makes allowance for spraying insects and unwanted vegetation with poisons for cosmetic and economic reasons. The current policy is not compatible with providing a safe learning environment for children.

Why LD 837 is necessary

Scores of epidemiological studies show significantly increased risk of childhood cancer, learning disabilities, and behavioral disorders after exposure to herbicides and insecticides. Childhood cancer has increased markedly over the last twenty years and is the leading cause of death by disease among U.S. children under fourteen. Maine’s pesticide-control board has found that most schools in the state use pesticides, and that pesticides are often applied by unlicensed staff — a violation of state law. There is no reason to believe that the board’s implementation of an IPM policy in recent years has changed the practices of school personnel and contractors who spray pesticides. We do know that the use of lawn-care chemicals has increased seven-fold over the past decade (see thinkfirstspraylast.gov).

Why LD 837 as amended by the Agriculture Committee does not protect children

As defined by the Maine statute (Chapter 27) governing pesticide applications on school grounds, the IPM policy leaves to school employees or outside applicators (pest-control companies with an obvious vested interest) the decision as to whether dandelions and other “weeds” are unsightly and must therefore be exterminated. A school’s designated IPM coordinator could also, for example, evaluate the potential costs from a grub infestation (possibly with subsequent damage from grub predators like crows or skunks) and opt for a quick chemical fix. A typical impulsive reaction to a perceived threat, this poses unacceptable risks to human health as well as to the environment. In light of the toxicity of weed and insect killers, the assertion that weeds on playing fields pose a safety hazard fails to pass the straight-face test.

Changing LD 837 to a resolve, the action recommended by the Agriculture Committee — authorizing the pesticide-control board to draft Best Management Practices to reinforce its IPM policy — is not a satisfactory outcome. With passage of LD 837 in its original form, we can hold the pesticide-control board to a higher standard in implementing IPM, without any further BMP window dressing. Its role as enforcement authority will remain unchanged, though over time the board should be required to improve oversight by collecting records of emergency pesticide purchases by schools as well as formalizing schools’ reporting of all chemical use. Obviously there are savings to be realized: Limiting pesticides will reduce the time required for enforcement along with the expense of paying for chemicals and applicators.

How safer alternatives to toxic chemicals save money

Chip Osborne, a prominent horticulturalist who manages playing fields organically, finds that chemical-intensive turf maintenance depletes beneficial microorganisms and causes soil to be hard and compacted. His methods of improving the quality of soil and aerating it have been shown to be cost effective over time, and he points to the cost of not following organic practices: “… the cost of exposing children to cancer-causing, endocrine-disrupting, and asthma-triggering chemicals [in places] where they play for long hours.” (See also safelawns.org.)

Statements from the University of Maine Co-Op Extension’s own manual: “Outdoor IPM for Maine Schools”

“Considering the health concerns to children surrounding pesticide use, schools may want to rule out any use of pesticides for purely aesthetic [cosmetic] reasons.”

“If children regularly gather at the site, chemical pesticides will not be used (from a Sample Site Plan for a School Lawn).”

These sensible prescriptions, put forward as recommendations only, need the force of law. On school grounds the only justification ever to apply toxic chemicals is the one stipulated in LD 837: emergency control of stinging insects when designated experts agree that they could threaten public health.

We call on legislators to pass LD 837 in its original language, supporting the minority report submitted by Rep. O’Brien and Rep. Kent.

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LD 837 is endorsed by Environmental Health Strategy Center, Maine Labor Group on Health, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, Maine People’s Resource Center, Maine Women’s Policy Center, Natural Resources Council of Maine, Physicians for Social Responsibility of Maine, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, Toxics Action Center, Friends of Casco Bay, Environment Maine, and more than forty other public-interest organizations in the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine.

This fact sheet is distributed on behalf of Rep. Mary Nelson.

About The Author

Paul Tukey

An international leader of the green movement, Mr. Tukey is a journalist, author, filmmaker, TV host, activist and award-winning public speaker, who is widely recognized as North America's leading advocate for landscape sustainability and toxic pesticide reduction strategies.

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