Portland should encourage organic land care, not toxic pesticides.

Why I support a South Portland-style pesticide ordinance that requires organic land care.

Public comment presented to the Sustainability & Transportation Committee of the Portland City Council, June 21, 2017.

Last fall, to make a few extra bucks I worked on a commercial apple orchard in Springvale that has been in the same family since the 19th century.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved working on this orchard and I loved working for this fantastic family, but that orchard was not organic — they use chemical pesticides for pest control.

What that meant was that a few times in a season they would spray all the trees with toxic chemicals. After they sprayed, they would lock the gates to the orchard and post signs to make sure that no humans accessed the area until the pesticides had dissipated. All orchard employees were required to receive training in what to do if exposed to these pesticides.

Now I know that agricultural operations on that scale are not happening in the City of Portland, and I know that the chemicals being sprayed on this farm could be somewhat different than the ones that people spray on their back yard gardens in Portland — but they’re not that different.

If these pesticides are toxic enough that this farm has to lock their gate to keep out humans, I have to wonder whether they’re safe enough to spray — in smaller quantities, I grant you — in our backyards, playing fields and golf courses.

In 2015 the Maine Board of Pesticides Control conducted a study of the stormwater runoff from a number of coastal Maine communities, to determine what pesticides were being carried by stormwater into the sea, into the Maine’s valuable marine fisheries.

The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association or MOFGA released partial results from this study.

  • Of all the communities tested, the highest number of different pesticides were detected in Portland.
  • One pesticide they found in Portland’s runoff, called 2,4-D is listed as a probable human carcinogen by the UN.
  • The lobster industry is particularly concerned about two pesticides they found — one called bifenthrin and another called cis/trans-permethrin — which are both considered extremely toxic to aquatic organisms.

South Portland thought that pesticides were enough of a threat to human health, soil health and ocean health that they passed their very restrictive ordinance.

And if it’s good enough for our neighbors across the bridge, it’s good enough for us.

The Pesticide and Fertilizer Task Force worked long and hard — and especially long — on this issue, and having that discussion was worthwhile. But I wonder, given what we know about the dangers of pesticides and what South Portland and other communities perceive to be the dangers, whether the resulting ordinance of that Task Force is insufficient. Many of us in the community believe it to be insufficient, and we hope you decide to support the stronger South Portland ordinance to restrict pesticides in our city. For the sake of our soil, our fisheries, and our kids.

I applaud the City for its work to reduce its own use of pesticides and to create pollinator habitats around the city. I am thankful for our neighborhood organizations which have started organic gardens and food forests, like the planned Fox Field Food Forest in Bayside and the Harborview Park Food Forest in the West End.

But let’s codify our good intentions, let put our responsible, proactive behavior into an ordinance. Let’s be brave, let’s be ambitious.