Maine’s Own Erin Brokovitch
By Marada Cook
For Leslie Poole, being a good grandmother goes beyond making cookies and chicken soup for an ailing granddaughter. In 1999, when the spraying of neighboring blueberry barrens either led to or worsened 15-year-old Codey Brown’s chemical sensitivity, her family (including Grandma) began a two-year process with the Board of Pesticides Control to establish a Critical Pesticide Control Area around their Hope, Maine, home.
“Leslie became my Erin Brokovitch,” said Sharon Tisher. Tisher, chair of MOFGA’s Public Policy Committee, also represented the Brown family to the Board of Pesticides Control. “She was my assistant, and was invaluable. She looked up medical records, investigated spray reports, she even wrote thank you letters to all the people who submitted comments on the Brown family’s behalf.”
Although the Brown’s petition ended in compromise, Poole did not give up her campaign for public awareness. The Brown’s former neighbors continue to spray pesticides, but are required to minimize drift. The Browns have since moved to Jefferson, where Codey goes to high school via the Internet. Poole is now a member of MOFGA’s Public Policy Committee, and currently works on issues ranging from pesticides in school to whether Copeland Plantation has the right to pass its own ordinance banning aerial spraying.
“People like Leslie are the eyes and ears of MOFGA,” says Tisher. “Without them it would be impossible to keep track of what is going on.”
“I asked my co-workers if they knew pesticides were being sprayed in schools. Most said they hadn’t thought of it before, but felt they should have the right to know,” says Poole. “People in general don’t know of the dangers of pesticides. Everyone is getting sick and no one seems to know why, while a conservative estimate puts Maine pesticide use at 3 million pounds per year!
“If Debbie and Codey hadn’t gone through their terrible ordeal, then I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today,” she added, “I wish there were some way people could understand the issue without a loved one becoming ill.”
Poole has always cared deeply about the environment. As an organic gardener, she “never had a use for chemicals” and has been a MOFGA member for “years and years.” She holds Bachelor’s Degrees in both Business Administration and Environmental Studies. “Leslie is a self educating person,” says Tisher. “She is alert, and investigates anything that makes her ask questions. She is a citizen who takes caring about public issues one step further, and I only wish we had more of her!”
“You get angry when you see what harm is being done, and that those in charge won’t take action,” says Poole, “but I see things changing. Groups of kids are so much more aware than we were at their age – I see it as the start of a movement.”
It’s a movement that will shape the course of Maine’s future. Although Poole gives credit to the kids of the next generation, you can bet we won’t find her sitting on the sidelines. More likely we’ll find her mailing packets of information, contributing to a MOFGA Public Policy meeting, or calling our state legislators to find out exactly why we haven’t banned pesticides in schools yet.