garden beds
Residents' raised garden beds at the Motherhouse on Stevens Avenue, next to where Japanese knotweed was sprayed with pesticides, taken Aug. 8, 2022. (Courtesy Board of Pesticides Control.)
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A maximum fine of $500 was issued to Seabreeze Property Services, a local landscaping company, by the Sustainability Office after officials found it had violated Portland’s pesticide ordinance in August at the Motherhouse, a 55+ apartment complex on Stevens Ave.

It’s the first ever fine issued under the city’s organic landcare law since it went into effect in 2019. The violation involved the use of a synthetic pesticide, glyphosate, which is banned in Portland. 

“Because Seabreeze has long operated in Portland and is well-aware of the rules governing pesticide use [in Portland] the City will seek the maximum penalty of $500 for this violation,” the notice reads.

Portland’s Landcare Management Advisory Committee (LMAC) was scheduled to meet on Tuesday, Nov. 1 after the Phoenix’s press time. The agenda listed an update on the Motherhouse violation. 

Portland has more stringent pesticide regulations that ban synthetic pesticides while encouraging natural ones, but the effectiveness of the ordinance depends on the awareness and compliance of applicators, since the city doesn’t have the resources to actively investigate violations. 

The ordinance requires that applicators provide an annual report to the LMAC with pesticide treatments, but past years have shown the Sustainability Office has no reliable way of managing that requirement or knowing how many reports they should be receiving. They received 44 reports in 2021 — 32 of which were not in compliance — compared to a total of 22 in 2019, according to the LMAC’s report from March.

Waltham Pest Services, for example, sprayed 121 distinct pesticides in 2021, and went without submitting a usage report throughout 2019 and 2020. They did so in 2021 at the city’s request, following a complaint.

“This is a really good example of how the city of Portland has no way of knowing how many companies actually applied pesticides in Portland,” the report states.

Maine is one of six states where municipalities can adjust their “home rules” when regulating pesticides. 31 municipalities in Maine currently do — but that right hasn’t gone without opposition throughout the years.

Heather Spalding, Deputy Director of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners (MOFGA) organization, said there’s hesitancy at the state level to support organic landcare over synthetic pesticides.

“Using chemical pest control [should be used] as a last resort,” Spalding said. “You have to identify that there’s a problem, look for safer methods of treatment, and if nothing else is available, then you use it.”

Former Board of Pesticides Control member says board is slow to regulate

While Portland and 30 other municipalities in Maine have taken their own actions to limit and regulate the use of synthetic pesticides like glyphosate, commonly found in “Roundup,” state entities have hesitated, says one former board member.

Dr. Jack Waterman, a retired family physician out of Waldoboro, said there was pushback from other members of the state’s Board of Pesticides Control when he endorsed stronger statewide regulations of pesticides on school grounds.

“My position encountered tremendous resistance from the BPC’s director, from the BPC’s staff toxicologist, and the Medical Advisory Committee’s toxicologist member,” Waterman wrote in an email.

He advocated against the health hazards that pesticides pose in 2021 when preparing a report to the Agriculture, Forestry and Conservation subcommittee to make an official recommendation for banning all pesticides on school grounds in Maine. It was decided by other board members that more studies were needed before taking such action.

Research for the Medical Advisory Committee found there were around 450 applications of pesticides on Maine school grounds in 2019 and 2020, Waterman added.

— Evan Edmonds

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