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  You are here:  ProgramsPublic Policy InitiativesMaine Board of Pesticides Control ReportsBPC – July 2002   
 Maine BPC Reports – July 2002 Minimize


BPC Rejects Mandatory Universal Notification
Machias Public Water Supply Contaminated with Blueberry Herbicide
Organic Blueberry Producer Victim of Spray Violation
BPC and DEP Act on Clopyralid Compost Contamination



BPC Rejects Mandatory Universal Notification

Although public response to the proposed rule on pesticide use in schools overwhelmingly favored universal parental notification (notice sent home every time a pesticide is applied in a school), the BPC agreed at its July 26, 2002, regular meeting not to mandate this form of notice. Instead, the board will proceed with rulemaking that gives local school districts the option of either having a registry system of notification or of giving universal notification. In either event the rule requires at least an annual written notification to parents advising them that pesticides may be applied, and giving them the option of being on a registry for notification if the school district does not give universal notice.

Of the 98 written letters and E-mail messages received by the BPC before the comment deadline on the school rule, 89 (including 42 form letters from the Action Network web site, http://actionnetwork.org/) supported adoption of the rule and requested that it be strengthened by making universal notification mandatory. The Maine School Management Association opposed universal notification as did four commercial pesticide applicators. The other nine written comments either opposed universal notification or identified specific sections of the rule that may need minor modification.

The only member of the BPC to support universal notification was certified organic farmer Lee Humphreys. Humphreys said that in the hearings and written comments, the "people really spoke and the vast majority were asking for universal notification." She indicated she was persuaded by the argument that "if the schools can let us know what kids are eating for lunch, they can let us know when they’re going to spray." Notice did not, she noted, have to be by first class mail; it could go home in backpacks.

Carol Eckert, M.D., who serves on her local school board, said she felt that "there’s about a 50% hit rate with backpack notices," and she thought "once a year notification and a registry is easier." Michael Dann, a forester, argued that the most important statement in all of the letters was that "parents don’t know that pesticides are being applied." The annual notification to all parents would "handle that problem." "After that point, I believe in a little personal responsibility. If a parent is interested, they can contact the school and find out what is being applied." Dann also said that he was "in favor of local school boards deciding their fate whenever possible …. If parents want universal notification they can go to their local board to ask for it."

The board will continue to consider technical revisions to the rule at its meeting on September 6, 2002, in Augusta. It must finalize action on the rule by November.

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Machias Public Water Supply Contaminated with Blueberry Herbicide

In response to a concern expressed by Machias resident and former BPC Chairman Allan Lewis, on May 28, 2002, the BPC tested a sample of water, after treatment, of the Machias Water Company, the public water supply for the town of Machias. The sample tested positive for the widely used and highly soluble blueberry herbicide hexazinone, involved in a history of private and school well contamination reports in Washington and Hancock counties. The contamination level was low (1.1 parts per billion), compared with the EPA’s Lifetime Drinking Water Health Advisory Level of 400 parts per billion.

Because of the low level of contamination, BPC Director Bob Batteese advised the Machias Water Company in a July 1, 2002, letter that "I do not feel this current reading is sufficient to justify seeking a critical pesticide control area at this time." (The BPC can impose special restrictions on pesticide use in "critical pesticide control areas," where use of pesticides "is likely to significantly risk the quality of surface or groundwater supplies used for human consumption.") The findings, however, gave rise to a number of expressions of concern at the board’s July 26, 2002, meeting.

Batteese reported to the board that the Machias Water Company’s well is "very close … within two to three hundred feet" of two large blueberry fields. The fields are managed by Dale Whitney and Lincoln Senate. Batteese has notified Nancy Beardsley, Director of the Drinking Water Program at the Department of Human Services, and Peter Mosher, who heads the Right to Farm issues for the Department of Agriculture. In his letter to the Water Company, Batteese indicated that "hopefully one or both may have some recommendations for reducing or phasing out the use of hexazinone on abutting blueberry fields." Acting board chair Andrew Berry, a commercial agricultural pesticide applicator, expressed strong disapproval of the application this close to a public water supply: "With a blueberry field that close to a water supply, it’s a no brainer. I’m amazed something hasn’t been done about it earlier." Board member Carol Eckert, M.D., commented, "If this becomes public, then there will be people who will be very upset about it …. people don’t want chemicals in their drinking water." Lee Humphreys agreed that "it doesn’t seem to make sense for watershed protection to have blueberry fields spraying so close." For the present, however, the BPC proposes to take no further action. BPC toxicologist Lebelle Hicks suggested inviting the Water Company and the Department of Human Services to the BPC’s next meeting to "get a discussion going," but board member Michael Dann counseled against that: "We’ve reacted appropriately and let everyone with responsibility know what’s happening. To invite them here seems to direct a conclusion. It’s not up to us to direct a conclusion."

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Organic Blueberry Producer Victim of Spray Violation

For a second time in the past year, organic blueberry growers have been the victims of spray drift of pesticides from a neighboring farm. (See "Former BPC Chair Victim of Pesticide Trespass," June-Aug. 2002 MOF&G). This time, fortunately, the drift contaminated only the buffer zone that the organic growers, Gramp’s Farm in Orland, set aside on their property to protect against just this possibility. The enforcement case was considered at the July 26, 2002, meeting of the BPC, where it was referred to the Attorney General for pursuit of sanctions against the applicators, Maine Helicopters of Whitefield. Maine Helicopters’ principal Andrew Berry is a member of the BPC and recused himself from the discussions of this incident.

On the morning of July 15, 2001, Tom and Holly Taylor-Lash of Gramp’s Farm, producers of organic wild Maine blueberries (see June-Aug. 2002 MOF&G), were on their property and noticed a low flying helicopter passing along their property boundary, which borders a blueberry field owned by G.M. Allen & Son of Orland. A slight breeze blew in the direction of their property; both Tom and Holly smelled a strong odor; and Holly felt ill for the entire day. The Taylor-Lashes had previously notified Maine Helicopters of their organic operation. They promptly notified the BPC of their concerns about contamination and complained to G.M. Allen. A BPC inspector took residue samples the following day. The samples tested positively for the organophosphate pesticide guthion at 11.82 parts per million on foliage in the Taylor-Lashes’ 50-foot non-producing buffer zone, but a sample taken on the organic blueberry production field tested negative.

Somewhat surprisingly, the contamination level on the buffer zone was twice as high as the guthion residue on the Allens’ field that was supposed to have been sprayed. Since BPC rules require drift residues to be at least 20% of the residues on the target site, and these residues were more than 200%, BPC staff concluded that there was "prima facie evidence of a violation."

In commenting on the case to the board, enforcement director Henry Jennings said that this is "a kind of deja vue to the Allen Lewis case. There’s a pattern of landowners not communicating and being cooperative with the people they’re hiring to do the [spray] work." An employee of Allen’s was riding in the helicopter with the Maine Helicopter pilot, who was new in that part of the state. He did not, however, tell the pilot that the adjoining field was an organic operation until after the pilot made the first pass right along the property boundary. Board member Neil Crane, a potato grower, commented that he "couldn’t comprehend why the discussion didn’t take place before the first pass was made." Training Specialist Gary Fish noted that the applicator has an obligation under BPC regulations to identify all sensitive areas before making the application. Because of Andrew Berry’s position in the matter, the BPC voted to refer this enforcement action directly to the Attorney General’s office to pursue enforcement.

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BPC and DEP Act on Clopyralid Compost Contamination

In response to reports that the persistent herbicide clopyralid has contaminated compost in other states (see June-Aug. 2002 MOF&G), the DEP in cooperation with the BPC has developed a fact sheet on Persistent Herbicides in Leaf and Yard Compost (available by calling David Wright, DEP, 287-2651, or at www.maine.gov/dep/rwm/residuals/).

The BPC has contacted all licensed pesticide applicators at lawncare companies and golf courses to remind them that grass clippings from turf treated with clopyralid should be diverted to licensed landfills and not composted. The DEP is working with compost facilities to establish procedures to prevent contaminated grass clippings from entering their facilities and to establish appropriate sampling protocols. The BPC has been advised by clopyralid’s manufacturer, Dow AgroSciences, that the company will soon amend its label to remove the use of clopyralid on residential turf areas. If this does not happen, BPC director Bob Batteese stated that the board "will initiate rulemaking to initially restrict the use of products containing clopyralid as well as any others with active ingredients that may be detected in subsequent analyses."

– Sharon Tisher

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