Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
BPC – January 2009

Maine BPC Reports \ BPC – January 2009

Board of Pesticides Control Struggles with Aerial Spray Notification

The search for a resolution regarding aerial spraying operations in Maine continues. On November 21, 2008, the Maine Board of Pesticides Control (BPC) heard public comments on proposed rule changes to Chapters 10, 22 and 28, which relate to aerial spraying. Eighteen people testified at the hearing, with an additional 137 providing written comments.

Representatives, growers and land managers from the blueberry and potato industries provided the overwhelming majority of comments. Most people in these groups thought that the rules as written needed no changes.

Others, however, said they appreciated efforts of the BPC and urged it to take the rules and protections for citizens even further than the proposed changes. “MOFGA's goal in this process,” said MOFGA’s associate director, Heather Spalding, “is to encourage strong standards that will make Maine a state where citizens do not have to defend themselves against toxic chemicals that they never asked to breathe, eat or drink.

“Organic farmers and their customers,” Spalding continued, “absolutely require protection from pesticide spray drift. The incidences of contamination of organic farms in Maine by pesticide drift have been egregious, including the most notorious example of a pesticide application over the organic blueberry fields of a former chair of this board.”
Organic farmer Deborah Aldridge, speaking for her husband, Peter, and herself, said, “As farmers and both of us licensed pesticide applicators and pesticide users, it is easy for us to understand the agriculture lobby's desire to harvest every last ounce of yield to a piece of land, but as organic farmers, we also understand that maximizing private profit in this way should not be allowed to take precedence over the health, the well-being or piece of mind of not only the residents of this state but also the visitors who come to enjoy its reputation of being natural and wholesome, and, in fact, it's probably even worth noting that according to the Federal Bureau of Economic Analysis, the State of Maine in 2007 generated close to three times the revenue – 1.9 billion dollars – from tourism-related activities than agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting combined. That's 750 million.”

Many comments were responses to changes in Chapter 28, regarding notification of aerial spraying events. The rule change would require that land managers contact all neighbors within 1,000 feet of property to be sprayed and ask if they wanted notification 24 hours before spraying. Under the current rule, agricultural land managers need inform neighbors about pesticide spraying only when they live within 500 feet of the sprayed area and specifically request notification.

Many of the large growers who commented believe that the proposed changes would be too much of an administrative burden for them. Most thought that neighbors have a right to know about spraying, but did not want to be responsible for telling them. Many also said they already knew which neighbors wanted notification and were already notifying them as needed.

Liza Eager of Northport shared her experiences to the contrary, detailing two occasions when her neighbor sprayed without giving her enough notice, even though she had requested it.

Much of the debate about Chapter 10 related to the definition of a Sensitive Area Likely to be Occupied (SALO). A SALO provides protections from drift for sensitive areas, including schools, back yards, public rest areas, recreational trails and other areas where people are likely to be present. Many people took issue with public roads being considered a SALO and suggested that too much of their land would be taken out of production if they needed to provide a buffer around the SALO. Again, many commented that their pilots knew what they were doing and would not spray on a road if people were present.

These statements were countered by BPC chair Carol Eckert, who recalled an incident in which a car was sprayed with aerial pesticides while traveling on a main road and the driver knew his rights well enough to report the incident.

MOFGA urged that organic farms be included in the SALO category, but the board disagreed.

In follow-up meetings on Dec. 19 and Jan. 23, the BPC discussed comments received about the proposed rule changes and decided to move forward with Chapters 10 and 22 after removing public roads from the SALO category and changing some wording in Chapter 22 to relax rules for applicators.

Partly because of the volume of comments received from citizens who opposed changes to Chapter 28, the board decided to focus on a registry as a way for citizens to be notified of spraying events. Regarding Chapter 28, Spalding asked “why should we have one notification system for agricultural applications of pesticides, another for outdoor pesticide applications and a fairly lengthy list of exceptions. We feel we should move toward a simple system that requires all pesticide applicators to communicate with all local people who have expressed concern. Agricultural pesticide applications in particular should be removed from the exceptions to the Maine Pesticide Notification Registry.”

To comment on issues relating to aerial drift, visit or call Henry Jennings, director, Board of Pesticides Control at (207) 287-2731.

– Katy Green