Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
Maine Board of Pesticides Control September 2006

Maine BPC Reports \ BPC September 2006

Board of Pesticides Control Addresses Aerial Spraying

Drift and aerial spraying are high priority items for the Maine Board of Pesticides Control (BPC), largely in response to last winter’s petitions on aerial spraying and a proposed ban on organophosphates. Much of the September 2006 BPC meeting focused on how to move forward on this issue.

Based partly on staff recommendations, the board moved to establish two committees: one to focus on technical issues regarding drift, a second to bring together people, including farmers, to address some of the challenging issues regarding pesticides applications, ranging from drift to neighbor notification.

The BPC originally was focusing the technical discussion on aerial spraying, but the committee’s mandate quickly broadened to related issues. If aerial spraying is restricted, will more ground spraying occur? What are the ramifications of that change? Will growers stop farming some land where groundspray equipment doesn’t work due to topography?

A lot of interest exists in considering at least first level alternatives – the “what happens if” questions. The committee will start by examining whether new developments in spray equipment could minimize drift, and whether current regulations are up-to-date. Addressing aerial spraying becomes even more complex when considering such issues as spraying forests or coastal spraying for browntail moths.

Board staff observed that the basic alternatives to aerial spraying are airblast and boom sprayers. Unlike orchards, where the goal is to direct the spray into the foliage, the goal for a crop such as blueberries may be targeted to take advantage of air movement across the field. Henry Jennings, acting director of the board, observed that many more calls are received about aerial spraying than any other uses, and that many of the issues may have as much to do with the equipment being used and the noise as with the spraying itself.

Board member Clyde Walton observed that many different systems, commodities and locations are involved. This committee needs to assess available technologies and the economics of alternatives. Board member Lee Humphries suggested that the stakeholders’ committee should include someone who has been sprayed, as well as women: “Women provide the environment for the first nine months.”

The stakeholders committee will evaluate information conveyed by the technical committee and figure out what to do with that knowledge. The board picked possible members of the technical committee and decided to delay starting the stakeholders committee until later in the fall so that they can get some information from the technical committee.

Eric Sideman from MOFGA will be on the technical committee. We are working to make sure representatives of the organic blueberry sector and people affected by spraying are part of the stakeholders’ committee.

Draft Language on Unauthorized Pesticide Applications

Staff developed changes to Chapter 20, regarding unauthorized application of pesticides, to clarify that applicators need to defer to consumers’ wishes if they decide to stop having pesticides applied to their properties. A long discussion occurred about contract law versus the board’s ability to do anything that provides proper protection to the general public. The board voted to send proposed changes forward for public hearing.

Waiver Provisions for Notification

The board approved rulemaking at a future date that would make it easier for people who can’t pay the $20 fee for notification of pesticide applications to apply for a fee waiver, with the staff making determinations.

Hexazinone (Velpar) Monitoring

The board reviewed a draft water monitoring report for hexazinone (Velpar), an herbicide that has been widely used in the blueberry industry. As board member John Jemison observed, despite changes in application rates, timing and form, major decreases in concentrations of hexazinone in the water do not seem to be occurring over time. The concentrations seem to be similar to the last round of monitoring four years ago.

Debate continued over whether low concentrations of hexazinone even matter. Lebelle Hicks, BPC toxicologist, said no evidence links the herbicide with any human health problem. Even though it’s a triazine, like atrazine, the herbicide lacks a chemical bond that would put it in the same high-risk group. “From risk assessment perspective, is less than 5 ppb an issue? If we keep doing it, then we should change sampling to better assess this.”

David Bell from the Maine Wild Blueberry Commission emphasized that research on alternatives has been happening for over a decade. Materials are rotated somewhat, but so far options are limited.

Hicks said that from a risk perspective, energy should probably focus on Guthion. Bell agreed that the industry should be moving forward and said that University of Maine blueberry specialist David Yarborough is always looking for alternative materials but hasn’t found much yet. Because blueberries are a minor crop, not many materials are being developed.

Board Planning Priorities

The staff is working through a few other issues from the BPC’s priority list, including how to deal with baits in food handling operations. They agreed to work on making Material Safety Data Sheets more available to the public.

The only major priority the BPC hasn’t addressed directly is organophosphate use. It will wait to see what the EPA decides to do before returning to this issue.

Public Comment

A letter from a member of the public to the BPC raised concerns about the lack of monitoring, publicity and radio advertising regarding spraying Down East. Henry Jennings responded that this has always been a part of the BPC’s activity, but they are not monitoring on salmon streams, partly because no aerial spraying occurs there, and salmon streams are posted.

– Russell Libby