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BPC Continues Work on Indoor Pesticide Application Regulations

At its Sept. 8 meeting, the Maine Board of Pesticides Control (BPC) reviewed the Northern New England Poison Center's data on pesticide-related calls, considered public input on proposed standards for indoor pesticide application, approved consent agreements negotiated by BPC staff, and discussed the use of AquaShade in home ponds.

The Northern New England Poison Center (formerly the Maine Poison Center) has received 5,510 pesticide-related calls from the general public over the past 10 years. Fewer than one-fifth sought only general information; the remainder called about exposures, two-thirds involving humans and one-third, pets or livestock. The Poison Center shares data with the BPC so that the Board can focus its educational efforts on pesticides that cause most of the acute exposures. (The data do not account for chronic exposure to pesticides.)

More than half of human exposures and two-thirds of animal exposures were insecticide-related, mostly to organophosphates, pyrethrins and pyrethroids. Other exposure incidents generally involved children or pets getting into D-Con, a rodenticide formulated with brodifacoum. The BPC staff plans to analyze the Poison Center data to see whether exposed people required medical treatment and to classify exposure by age group. Because the Center received most of its pesticide-related calls in the summer; the BPC will focus its educational efforts in March or April, right before the use season.

Indoor Pesticide Applications

After years of public meetings and consensus committees, the BPC had attempted to apply to all public buildings the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) standards developed for K-12 schools, but it received vociferous protest from many sectors. Seventeen people wrote in support of the proposed rule – some suggesting that it be made stricter by requiring notice of pesticide application to customers and other casual occupants as well as to employees. Twenty-nine wrote in opposition to some or all of the provisions; many had been alerted to the rule by Dick Stevenson of Modern Pest Services, one of the most adamant opponents of the rule. Opponents complained that the Board had not convened another consensus committee; that following the BPC standard would prevent food processing facilities from meeting DHS standards for cleanliness and lack of pests; that requiring 24-hour notice would increase operating costs; and that emptying a building before applying pesticides would be impractical for operations that ran 24-7. Those favoring the rule emphasized consumers’ and workers’ right to know about and choose their level of exposure to pesticides, rather than the right of business owners to operate cheaply and conveniently, and pointed to human health costs incurred by chronic pesticide exposure.

The opposition somewhat dismayed Board members, but they agreed unanimously not to drop their efforts. Most, especially chair Dr. Carol Eckert, did not wish to convene another consensus committee, as the BPC’s experience with the committee convened for the school standards had been frustrating. Board member Clyde Walton felt that a consensus committee was the only way to represent the diversity of people impacted by the standards, “everyone from nursing homes to 7-Eleven,” but Eckert feared that the committee process did not sufficiently represent the general public, who compose the majority of those affected by the rule. The Board officially rejected the current formulation of the standard but will use it as a template and to begin public information-gathering sessions at its next several meetings, each focusing on a different sector (e.g. health care facilities or the food industry).

At its October 8 meeting, the BPC heard from hospitals, nursing homes and correctional facilities simultaneously, because all have food service areas and a large number of people who can be difficult to move. The proposed standards would require that commercial applicators use IPM in all public facilities, would forbid spraying pesticides in occupied rooms, and would require 24-hour notice to employees and other routine building occupants (e.g., nursing home residents), or to their parents or guardians, before applying pesticides.

Ted St. Amaud, representing the industry in general and the Atlantic Exterminating Company, proposed convening a consensus committee like that used to formulate standards for pesticide application in schools. Richard Varney of Advantage Pest Control agreed that this would help the Board understand the industry’s practices and interests. “The pest control industry lives and breathes IPM,” he said, adding that a codified requirement for IPM insulted the industry members. “It's like asking a teacher to sign a contract saying that every time they entered the classroom they’d teach. That’s what they do. We do IPM — this isn’t 30 years ago when that would have been new and fascinating — and if we over-regulate, IPM may become Ineffective Pest Management.” Eckert recognized Varney’s knowledge and application of IPM techniques, but doubted that all pest control operators were equally conscientious.

Rick Erb, CEO of the Maine Health Care Association, enumerated the difficulties of relocating bedridden or wheelchair-bound residents when a room needs to be sprayed. He claimed that this problem would be even worse in Maine than in other states, because the state’s high standards for qualification for nursing home entrance through Medicaid meant that Maine nursing home residents tended to be older and sicker than those elsewhere in the country. He added that residents suffering dementia could not give consent, and those with power of attorney were sometimes difficult to contact. Eckert, a doctor at the Sheepscott Valley Medical Center, pointed out that since nursing homes were required to contact those responsible for a nursing home resident every time the resident fell down, the homes had a system in place already for contacting family members as quickly and cheaply as possible. Assistant Attorney General Mark Randlett asked Erb, who professed the healthcare industry’s interest in the wellbeing of its patients, how immobile residents could be protected from pesticide exposure if the evacuation method required by the proposed standards were unsatisfactory; Erb referred the question to the pest control industry representatives, but no one could answer the question.

Rick Meinking of the Seventy-Five State Street residential care facility in Portland insisted that acute, unexpected pest problems in kitchens must be treated immediately; otherwise the kitchen would have to shut down and residents would go hungry. He also said that the EPA-approved label on many pesticides claims the substance may be safely sprayed in an occupied room.

Tammy Butts, representing the Maine Hospital Association, said that because of fast turnover rates, giving 24-hour notice to all occupants in a hospital would be impossible. She also feared that the “arbitrary” reentry requirements in the rule would delay necessary medical treatment.

Karen Carroll, representing the Maine State Prison, highlighted security issues: “Moving prisoners in full facilities with no empty rooms is impossible.” She told the Board that in the previous building used by the Maine State Prison, employees had fallen ill after a contractor had sprayed for rats; after that, the prison changed to traps. In the new facility staff are notified when pesticides are to be applied, but inmates are not, because officials fear that some prisoners may try to acquire some of the poisonous substances for harmful purposes. Jody Breton of the Maine Department of Corrections thought inmates would cause legal hassles if they were notified every time spraying was considered; “They’ll sue just to cause trouble,” she said.

Board member Dan Simonds thanked the participants for their input but reminded them that the Board would hear from others before making decisions. “Your industry may not want to be burdened with more regulation, but it’s demanded by the public — you’re not our only constituency.”

Although most attendants of the informational session forcefully recommended that the Board convene a consensus committee, many Board members were reluctant to do so. They will continue gathering information from other affected sectors, then decide whether to reformulate the standards themselves or convene a committee.

Aquatic Herbicide Questioned

On Sept. 8, the Board considered a letter from a woman in Patten who objected to a new regulation that required a professional applicator for the use of any aquatic herbicide. The woman had a small landlocked pond on which she used AquaShade, an inert dye, to prevent the growth of algae and aquatic plants. Before regulation, the treatment cost $50 per year for materials, but hiring a professional applicator cost $275. The general consensus among the Board was that the product was probably harmless to the environment, that label requirements prevented applications to “any body of water not under total control of the user,” and that it would not be economically or practically feasible for anyone to purchase and apply enough dye to treat a large public body of water. However, BPC permission to apply AquaShade to private ponds would mean little, as the Department of Environmental Protection requires a permit for any aquatic application of herbicides; AquaShade, although a preventive treatment, is considered an herbicide because it is intended to control the growth of photosynthetic organisms. As Board member John Jemison, a water quality and soils specialist with Cooperative Extension, reported receiving three calls per week through the summer from homeowners asking about AquaShade, the Board decided to pursue the issue. Toxicologist Lebelle Hicks agreed to research the environmental impacts of AquaShade so that the Board could make a recommendation to the DEP. (Ed. note: People with private ponds may be interested in reading about potential effects of barley straw on algae. See http://ohioline.osu.edu/a-fact/0012.html for the pros and cons of this method.)

Consent Agreements

On Sept. 8, the Board heard several consent agreements negotiated by BPC staff with businesses that had violated Maine pesticide rules. Pro-Turf, in Saco, was fined $75 for applying pesticides in 2003 without renewing its commercial spray contracting firm license, and because its master applicator had failed to renew his license. (After notification the company renewed both licenses.)

Emerald Farms in Caribou was fined $350 for applying herbicides to a broccoli field when wind speeds slightly exceeded the legal maximum of 15 miles per hour. Chief of Compliance Henry Jennings noted that most farms do not have a reliable method of measuring wind speed, so pesticide application records invariably read “Wind Speed: 0-5 mph.” He also noted that the applicator was Mexican and did not appear to understand the inspector’s warning that he should stop applying the herbicide. Despite the common presence of Hispanic migrant workers on Maine farms, BPC inspectors are not expected to have any skill in Spanish.

Scotts Lawn Service in Scarborough initially was fined $3000 for applying lawn pesticides at the wrong address three times. All but $200 of the fine was suspended, because the company immediately reported each incident to the Board and to owners of the accidentally sprayed properties, and because none of the owners complained to the Board.

The Cottage Greenhouse in Greenville was fined $50 for failure to maintain pesticide application records after two warnings. Although the Board considers procedural violations of little concern, especially in small businesses like this one, it wanted to emphasize that applicators must respond to inspectors’ suggestions for improvement.

Consent agreements considered on Oct. 8 included a fine of $250 assessed to Richardson’s True Value in Patten for offering products containing chlorpyrifos, an organophosphate that was removed from the General Use list by the EPA in 2001 because of the dangers of exposure to children. The store was warned in 2002 and 2003 that sale of these products was illegal. In May 2004, the inspector found chlorpyrifos products still available for sale, and found pesticides displayed in outdoor, unprotected areas and within 10 feet of food and animal feed.

Porter’s Farm and Greenhouse in Lincoln failed to keep adequate records two years in a row. The first year, the inspector had provided the owner with a state-designed records book to facilitate the process. When no improvement resulted the following year, the owner was fined $50. He signed the consent agreement with the note “under protest”; Chief of Compliance Henry Jennings suggested that Director Bob Batteese sign the agreement “with glee.”

RWC Inc. of Westfield, Mass., failed to alter its spray pattern in time to avoid damaging the lawn at a private residence while spraying a segment of the Rockland Railroad. The company, when advised of its mistake, spent several thousand dollars to hire a contractor to remove contaminated soil and replace damaged turf and ornamentals, so the Board fined the company only $500.

JBI Helicopter of Pembroke, N.H., was found responsible for the drift of Orbit fungicide (propiconazole) onto private property. Cherryfield Foods had hired the company to spray a blueberry field in Charlotte; the Board received a call from a neighboring property owner, who reported that the drifting spray had excited his asthma and forced him to go inside. A sample collected from the man’s lawn contained 2.12 ppm propiconazole, while one from the target field had 4.0 ppm; BPC rules state that “pesticide residues in any off-target sensitive area in the vicinity of an application site which exceed 20% of the residues found – within the target area” constitute prima facie evidence of drift. The company was fined $1500.

Changing Definitions

At its Oct. 8 meeting, the Board amended some definitions in its regulations. The definition of “pesticide” was changed to agree with the definition provided by the EPA: “Pesticide means any substance or mixture of substances intended for preventing, destroying, repelling, or mitigating any pest; any substance or mixture of substances intended for use as a plant regulator, defoliant, or desiccant; and any nitrogen stabilizer. It does not include multicellular biological controls such as mites, nematodes, parasitic wasps, snails, or other biological agents not regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.” Previously the BPC’s definition of pesticide had not included nitrogen stabilizers, which are substances used to slow the conversion of ammonium to nitrite in the soil so that the nitrogen in synthetic fertilizers may be available to plants longer. No one on the BPC board or staff was sure why nitrogen stabilizers were considered a pesticide, and when staff members called the EPA for information they were unable to obtain an explanation. (Ed. note: Nitrification inhibitors, or “stabilizers,” inhibit the growth of the Nitrosomonas bacteria that convert ammonium to nitrite in the soil. Some, such as N-Serve (nitrapyrin), resemble the herbicides picloram and pyriclor, and can have herbicide-like effects on plants.) The Board also considered changing the definition of “volatile” substances to depend on the chemical formulation of the product’s solvent instead of on the product’s vapor pressure, since this information is not available for all substances and is difficult to determine quickly.

– Alice Torbert


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