Follow the Leader: Pesticide use on town properties in question – Dec. 10, 2010

By Dan Aceto

Staff Writer


For Scarborough resident Marla Zando, removing a few weeds are not worth the risk of her child’s safety. 

Zando and other Scarborough residents are concerned over dangers of synthetic pesticide use in town and its potential impact on public health and the environment.

She said the issue first came to her attention after she read an article, “Say Yes to Beautiful Lawns, and No to Toxic Chemicals,” by former lawn care service provider Paul Tukey.

Tukey, of Cumberland, is founder and spokesman of SafeLawns, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting natural lawn care and grounds maintenance. He is an outspoken advocate against pesticide use.

“We used to think there was an acceptable level (of pesticide use), but what we have learned over time is that there really is not,” Tukey said.

Zando, the mother of a 2-year-old, said she quickly became alarmed when she learned about dangers of pesticide use and wants to restrict their use in Scarborough.

“As most people know, children love to run around in the dirt and play and sometimes they even eat the dirt. This is really just about preventing harm,” Zando said.


Zando and other residents first approached the Ordinance Committee in late October with their proposal to restrict pesticide use in Scarborough. 

The town currently has no restrictions in place concerning use of synthetic pesticides, which are applied on athletic fields and other municipal properties.

Councilor Karen D’Andrea, after hearing their concerns, helped draft an initial proposal that would ban use of synthetic pesticides on all municipal properties. 

The proposal, modeled after restrictions in Brunswick and Ogunquit, still faces committee approval. Camden, Rockport and Castine also have restricted use of synthetic pesticides.

D’Andrea said she expects the topic will be on the council’s Dec. 28 agenda.

Tukey, who has traveled worldwide to speak about dangers of synthetic pesticides, was keynote speaker for the Maine Pesticide Summit last month in Brunswick. 

The summit was presented by the Toxics Action Center, a nonprofit organization that helps residents throughout New England prevent pollution in their communities. He said more than 75 people, including Scarborough residents, attended the event.

The summit’s objective was to raise awareness about dangers of synthetic pesticide use and promote discussion of organic alternatives, Tukey said.

Tukey, who ran the pesticide company Tukey Home and Land for five years, first became concerned about dangers of synthetic products after he noticed a decline in his own health after daily exposure to pesticides.

“The average person who hires a lawn care service has no idea what is in these products and a lot of employees who work for these companies don’t know as well,” Tukey said. “It wasn’t until I got sick that I looked at the active ingredients.”

One of those ingredients is the component 2, 4-D. Tukey said 2, 4-D is the same ingredient that comprises nearly half the chemical makeup of Agent Orange. The military sprayed Agent Orange on trees and vegetation that provided cover for enemy forces during the Vietnam War.

This fall eligible Vietnam-era veterans exposed to herbicides such as Agent Orange and disabled by chronic b-cell leukemias, Parkinson’s disease, or ischemic heart disease may receive disability and health care benefits.

“Essentially it’s a nerve toxin. When I went to my doctor, he said ‘no wonder your eyes twitch and your nose bleeds,’” Tukey said.

Material safety data sheets released by the Environmental Protection Agency for 2, 4-D describe the chemical as a respiratory irritant that can cause irritation to skin and mucous membranes, chest burning, coughing, nausea and vomiting.


Tukey said he is concerned how readily available lawn care products that contain hazardous chemicals are to residents, not just experienced professionals.

One product, Weed and Feed, which combines weed killer with fertilizer, has been banned in Canada, yet is used in nearly 80 percent of home pesticide applications in the United States, Tukey said. 

“My real concern is ‘Joe Homeowner’ buying bags of Weed and Feed and distributing it,” Tukey said. “How safe can this be with the wind blowing and the ocean all around us? Ninety-eight percent of the product goes off target and in Scarborough that means into the marsh and other places as well.”

Cities and towns in Maine are not the first to restrict pesticide use. 

Tukey said the application of synthetic pesticides was banned on school grounds and playing fields in New York last May and towns in Connecticut and Canada also have passed similar ordinances. 

“Change happens because of A., demand, and B., legislative action,” Tukey said.


Some in the landscaping industry feel there is a need for synthetic pesticides.

Scarborough resident Al Lappin, who owns the landscaping business Al Lappin Co., agreed some products do more harm than good in the hands of unqualified users, but believes a widespread ban of all synthetic pesticides is not the right course to take. 

“There are certain times when you need to use chemicals,” Lappin said. 

Lappin said he and other professionals adhere to guidelines of integrated pest management. Those guidelines are defined by the Department of Environmental Protection to prevent unacceptable levels of pest damage with the most economical means and least hazard.

Although certain situations can be handled with organic products, others cannot and it is important to view each case independently, Lappin said. 

“Some pests are tough to get rid of and require stronger chemicals based upon how severe an infestation is,” Lappin said.

Tukey said companies around the world are developing natural pesticide products and it is a matter of time before they’re recognized. 

Other organic products such as fertilizers take longer than synthetics before they take effect. Lappin said organic fertilizers work by restructuring and repairing the composition of soil and can sometimes take up to five years before progress is made.

He said one organic alternative employs the use of vinegar to manage weeds.

“Vinegar is an acid; it’s more toxic than some pesticides. Would you take your hands and stick them in a vat of vinegar?” Lappin asked.

Synthetic fertilizers have a more immediate response, Lappin said. Although he supports the use of organic products, he doesn’t think the public is as informed as it should be on the topic.

“Just because something is listed as organic does not make it safe. It is a good marketing tool, though,” Lappin said.

Lappin said he feels the lawn care industry is not ready to quit using synthetic pesticides “cold turkey,” and is concerned a citywide restriction would impact business negatively.

Tukey thinks otherwise.

“Nowhere in our goals does it say we want to put people out of business. Education is an absolutely recurring theme here. Let’s take this opportunity to re-educate the landscaping community,” he said.


Jesse O’Brien, owner of Downeast Turf Farm in Kennebunk, agreed with Lappin and said the entire industry is concerned about the issue of safety and he only uses pesticides when needed as a last resort. 

“When people ask, ‘what is the best product?’ there is no one size fits all,” O’Brien said. 

O’Brien said use of organic pesticides is a knowledge-based practice and it is important to identify the state of a plant or pest before pesticides are used. He said both systems have advantages and disadvantages.

“I have no problem with organics, if you want to put organics in a field that’s fine, but sometimes a significant amount of pests come up and the best thing to use is a synthetic product,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien said all forms of fertilizers, including organics, contain phosphorous and if not applied properly can lead to algae blooms in lakes. 

Tukey said managing the general public’s aesthetic expectations of what a lawn or athletic field should look like also is a problem.

“Everyone thinks these fields should look like Fenway Park. If there are a couple of weeds on a field can a kid still play soccer? Across Canada, that answer would be a resounding yes. What can possibly be wrong with that, why take the risks with kids?” Tukey asked.

Tukey said he hopes to raise greater awareness about use of pesticides and would like to see their use restricted, if not entirely banned. He is particularly concerned about risks associated with their exposure to children’s exposure to pesticides.

Zando said she would like to see the use of pesticides restricted in Scarborough and thinks the public should know where they are being used so residents have the option to avoid areas with their children.

Tukey said he hopes passing a ban on synthetic pesticide use on municipal properties and distributing literature through schools will increase awareness of the issue.

“There are so many things in the environment that we cannot control, but what lawn care products we use is something we can and should be controlling,” he said. 


UncleAdolph Writes:

Tukey is not telling you the truth.  He is selling his wares.  He is a failed Landscape Exterminator.
If you want REAL FACTS, ASK HEALTH CANADA.  They are part of the CANADA (The Federal Health System) that “Turkey” Tukey talks about when saying pesticides are toxic.
Registered Pesticides whether they are registered in the USA or Canada are not carcinogenic and are perfectly safe.  Read the Health Canada Faq yourself if you don’t believe it.

A link to their FAQ and much more REAL AND SCIENTIFIC FACTS:

“We provide real FACTS with Associated Scientific References and let the reader decide.”

Attention Editor: Thank you for the opportunity.

Follow the Leader: Pesticide use on town properties in question – Dec. 10, 2010.