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Kennebunk, Maine: Movie, Popcorn & Politics Tonight

My ears will be burning tonight just after the dinner hour when five environmental groups join the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the town of Kennebunk for a viewing of our film, A Chemical Reaction. Since I’ve seen the film, it’s the forum afterward that will pique my curiosity.

Partners and presenters include the Kennebunk Coastal Association, the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve, the Kennebunk Land Trust, the University of New England and Lawns for Lobsters. The Maine Landscape & Nursery Association has put its membership on full alert to attend the film and forum, which is aimed at Kennebunk becoming the sixth town in Maine to ban certain synthetic pesticides on public property — joining Scarborough, which just adopted its policy Wednesday night.

The film starts at 7 and the 45-minute forum is slated to conclude at 9.

These types of events are always most interesting to me, since Maine was my personal residence for more than 50 years — and mostly because many of the men and women on the opposite side of the issue are great personal friends of mine. They fear for their livelihoods, and I feel for them, but the reality is the chemical lawn care providers are on the wrong side of history, of the environment and of human and animal health.

As natural lawn care providers in Connecticut, New Jersey, Canada and elsewhere have proven, there is business life after chemicals have been banned. More evidence piles up daily about the toxicity of weed killers such as Roundup, 2,4-D (see below) and so many of the other products upon which the lawn industry has relied on for far too long.

I urge the residents of Kennebunk to stand strong tonight in favor of doing the right thing. People I love and respect will stand there with a straight face, probably somewhat reddened, and declare that their products are “safe when used as directed” and “approved by the EPA” and therefore safe.

The truth is that ANY product that requires EPA approval is inherently NOT safe and that is expressly why the products need an EPA registration in the first place. The EPA gives exemptions to products presumed to be safe; these products don’t need a Caution, Warning or Danger label on the container. In EPA parlance truly safe products get a “25B Exemption” and they are the only ones allowed to make safety claims in their marketing.

The chemical lawn care industry will also stand there tonight and state that they’re trained, they’re licensed and they know what they’re doing. They’ll state that they’ll have to lay off workers and lose jobs if they lose their right to spread their profitable products. They’ll probably project that they will lose playing fields if they can’t utilize synthetic chemical grub controls.

The reality is that the natural lawn industry is coming up with new products to kill grubs and keep lawns green. And while I agree that many licensed professional members of MeLNA and other licensing bodies across North America typically do a good job that is safe as possible, the truth is that not all of them do. And in a place like Kennebunk, Maine, on the shoreline, I always ask this simple question: “How many days a year do you really have when at least a breeze isn’t blowing?” People always laugh, because the answer is damn few. That means that applications of fertilizers and pesticides in places like Kennebunk, Maine, are almost always drifting off target.

At least one member of the professional panel tonight will state that “Paul Tukey was the worst offender” of all when he was a professional landscaper (right, Jesse?). And that was true. I always freely admit that when I was a licensed pesticide applicator in Maine in the early 1990s, I coated thousands of lawns with weed and insect killers. I applied on windy days, and rainy days, or on sweltering hot July and August afternoons when thunderstorms would wash everything away hours later. I didn’t always wear the proper protective gear — like the vast majority of my brethren — because 16-hour days in moon suits are really, really uncomfortable.

I also put myself in the hospital in those days because the stuff I was using was toxic. Did I poison anyone else in the process?

The answer to that question is still what drives me today. Next week I’ll be in Delaware, Pennsylvania and Maryland. The week after that it will be in the District of Columbia and Virginia.

And though I won’t be in Kennebunk tonight, I’ll be there on screen and in spirit urging the town of Kennebunk to join the right side of history while the anti-pesticide movement has this much wind in its sails. You never know if the political conditions will be this favorable again.

* Here is a wikipedia rundown on 2,4-D health risks:

Different organizations have taken different stances on 2,4-D’s cancer risk. On August 8, 2007, the United States Environmental Protection Agency issued a ruling that stated that existing data does not support a conclusion that links human cancer to 2,4-D exposure.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified 2,4-D among the phenoxy acid herbicides MCPA and 2,4,5-T as a class 2B carcinogen – possibly carcinogenic to humans.

A 1995 panel of 13 scientists reviewing studies on the carcinogenicity of 2,4-D had divided opinions, but the predominant opinion was that it is possible that 2,4-D causes cancer in humans.

A 1990 study of farmers in Nebraska, even when adjusting for exposure to other chemicals, found that 2,4-D exposure substantially increased the risk of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL).

A 2000 study of 1517 former employees of Dow Chemical Company who had been exposed to the chemical in manufacturing or formulating 2,4-D found no significant increase in risk of mortality due to NHL following 2,4-D exposure, but did find an increase in risk of mortality due to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

The amine salt formulations can cause irreversible eye damage (blindness); ester formulations are considered non-irritating to the eyes.

One study found that occupational exposure to 2,4-D caused male reproductive problems, including dead and malformed sperm.

Concerns regarding neurotoxicity have been voiced with increased sensitivity to amphetamine and thus concerns of increased risk of drug addiction among those exposed.

Here is the MSDS warning label for 2,4-D

Exposure may cause liver, kidney, gastrointestinal and muscular effects. Signs and
symptoms of excessive exposure may be anxiety, eye-twitching, nausea and/or vomiting and abdominal cramps and/or diarrhea. Other symptoms of 2,4-D poisoning include weakness and fatigue, numbness and tingling, confusion, bleeding, and in some cases neurotoxic effects including inflammation of nerve endings and long-term chemical hypersensitivity. Some medical reports from practitioners who have treated victims of acute exposure to 2,4-D mention severe and sometimes long lasting or even permanent symptoms.

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.

Number of Entries : 1023
  • Alex Mendelsohn

    Thanks for your comments, Paul.

    Hey, you left out the group that spearheaded the movie and panelist forum. It’s us: the volunteers of the Kennebunk Conservation and Open Space Planning Commission!

    Have a fine weekend, and thanks for what you’re doing.

    == Alex

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