If the Legislature’s Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry members consider five pesticide bills carefully enough, they will realize that healthy people, a healthy environment and a healthy economy go hand in hand in hand.
One bill, LD 837, seeks to prohibit the cosmetic use of pesticides on school grounds, day care facilities and ball fields. Another, LD 975, would require pesticide applicator licensing for all people growing crops for commercial purposes. Two others, LD 228 and LD 16, would significantly roll back Maine citizens’ right to know about nearby pesticide spray activities. Finally, another bill, LD 1041, would broaden the scope of the existing spray notification registry from aerial and air-carrier spraying to all outdoor applications.
To avoid confusion among the different bills, committee members must keep three simple concepts in mind: Pesticides and kids don’t mix; if people are going to use pesticides, they should know what they’re doing; and with the privilege to spray toxic pesticides into the environment comes the responsibility to inform neighbors of potential exposures.
Protecting kids from pesticides where they learn and play should be a No. 1 priority for Maine lawmakers. The National Academy of Sciences reports that children are more susceptible to chemicals than adults are and estimates that 50 percent of lifetime pesticide exposure occurs during the first five years of life. A Columbia University study published in the medical journal Pediatrics shows that children more highly exposed to pyrethroid insecticides are three times as likely to have a mental delay compared with children with lower levels.
Two studies in the past year, conducted at Harvard, the University of Montreal and the University of California-Berkeley, conclude that exposure to organophosphate pesticides, or OPs, is associated with increased risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children. A study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute finds that household and garden pesticide use can increase the risk of childhood leukemia as much as sevenfold.
If the kids’ health concerns are not enough to convince ACF members, they should appreciate that natural land care is more cost-effective. According to Charles Osbourne, a renowned, professional turf consultant from Marblehead, Mass., total expenditures over five years show a cost savings of more than 7 percent using natural turf management, and, once established, this approach can have annual cost savings of greater than 25 percent.
People who spray pesticides outdoors as part of their business operations should, at a minimum, be trained and licensed to use the chemicals according to state law. That law should include extensive education about the significant threats to human health from pesticides. Such training would lead to better communication among land managers and their neighbors who seek advance notification about spraying.
For more than a decade, Maine’s Board of Pesticides Control has tried to develop an effective pesticide spray notification system. Maine is very close to having a simple, elegant system that maximizes the public’s right to know about all nearby outdoor pesticide spraying, while minimizing administrative and financial burdens on land managers who spray pesticides.
The ACF committee could turn this promising feasibility experiment into a reality for Maine just by supporting LD 1041 — An Act To Simplify and Enhance Pest Control Notification. Unfortunately, Maine’s pesticide spray notification registry is under attack by LD 228, An Act To Revise Notification Requirements for Pesticide Application, which would repeal the notification registry (a system with almost 2,000 registrants), and by LD 16, An Act To Revise Notification Requirements for Pesticides Applications Using Aircraft or Air-carrier Equipment, which would reduce the aerial spray notification distance from 1,320 feet to 100 feet, and reduce the air-carrier spray notification distance into crowns of fruit trees or Christmas trees from 500 feet to 50 feet.
Let’s not throw away years of effort to protect kids from pesticides and minimize conflict that arises from unintended pesticides exposure. Rejecting policies that protect kids’ health will not ease the legitimate concerns of Maine families.
Heather Spalding is the associate director of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association and a MOFGA representative to the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine and the Maine Environmental Priorities Coalition.