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 Maine BPC Report – Spring 2003 Minimize


Blueberry Herbicide Hexazinone Still Contaminating Maine Wells
Former BPC Chair Questions Drinking Water Safety
Enforcement, New Regulation, Target Illegal Lake Herbicide Use
New Chairman Appointed
Replacement of Public Information Officer’s Position Discussed




Blueberry Herbicide Hexazinone Still Contaminating Maine Wells


Nine years of tests continue to show that wells and surface waters in commercial blueberry regions are contaminated by the herbicide hexazinone (brand names Velpar and Pronone), widely used in the non-organic blueberry industry. The contamination is well below the EPA health advisory limit of 400 parts per billion (ppb), but for those who object to such chemical trespass on their property and want assurance that the problem is being addressed, reports to the Board of Pesticides Control (BPC) on January 17 in Bangor were perplexingly inconsistent. University of Maine Cooperative Extension blueberry specialist David Yarborough portrayed a consistently declining trend in concentrations, whereas the BPC staff’s groundwater monitoring showed the opposite.

Yarborough’s report covered five drilled wells, three test wells, one dug well and six adjacent surface water samples, and compared contamination in most wells with the original spring of 1994 results. Hexazinone levels for 2002 ranged up to 21.5 ppb. Yarborough’s written report to the Board did not claim any overall reduction in contamination, but stated, “These data further substantiate that the current use patterns are not resulting in any increase in hexazinone levels in the groundwater.” (Emphasis added.) Orally, however, Yarborough argued that a declining trend in contamination exists and is related to grower practices, including a significant reduction in hexazinone use in 2002, from an average of 1 lb./acre in recent previous years, to 0.4 lb./acre in 2002. These figures were based on Yarborough’s voluntary survey of major growers. Yarborough explained that growers are alternating use of other herbicides, including diuron and terbacil, which tend to persist less in groundwater. In one of the graphs Yarborough presented, the decline in hexazinone contamination was apparent – a test well where hexazinone was applied last in 1994, but where detectable levels persisted in 2002. In other graphs evidence of an overall decline was less obvious. Yarborough admitted upon questioning that his summary of surface water contamination levels looked about the same in 2002 as in 1994, but argued that it was a significant reduction from peak contaminant levels in 1996 to 1998.

This writer asked Yarborough whether he had performed a regression analysis to substantiate his claim of a trend of reduced contamination over the years. [Yarborough had been criticized by UMM Professor Brian Beal regarding a similar presentation in Machias in September 2002, for his failure to provide statistical analyses to back up claims of declining trends. (The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener, Dec.-Feb. 2003, p. 27)] Yarborough said that he had not done the analyses, but that Brian Perkins at the University of Maine had, that his report was publicly available and confirmed the conclusion of declining trends of contamination. Perkins, a Laboratory Manager and Research Chemist at the Department of Food Sciences and Human Nutrition, was contacted following the meeting. Perkins stated that he had not yet done analyses to determine whether a statistically significant trend exists, but that he was working on this with faculty in the Mathematics Department.

The BPC staff’s draft 2002 Ground Water Monitoring of Hexazinone report, presented at the same January 17 meeting, covered private drinking water wells at 49 sites within one-quarter mile of an active blueberry field and at an elevation equal to or less than the field. Results were compared with those from 1994 and 1998, although comparisons were not always possible, as 10 new sampling sites were added in 2002. The highest concentration in 2002 was 11.41 ppb, up from 2.15 ppb in 1998 and 5.97 ppb in 1994. The mean concentration of all sampled sites was up in 2002, to 1.45 ppb, versus 0.41 ppb in 1998 and 1.08 ppb in 1994, and the percentage of sites with positive detections was up from 1998: 59.2% in 2002, 42.8% in 1998, 75% in 1994.

When this writer asked Yarborough whether the BPC report was inconsistent with his report of declining contamination trends, he replied, “yes,” but attributed the discrepancy to the addition of the new sites in the BPC study, stating that “three out of four of the highest [contaminated] wells were not previously sampled” in the BPC study. [In fact, Yarborough’s characterization of the BPC report was incorrect, as BPC Water Quality Specialist Heather Jackson confirmed following the meeting. The seven most contaminated wells (ranging from 11.41 ppb to 3.81 ppb) in the BPC study had each been sampled in one or both of the previous sampling years. In each instance, 2002 concentrations were significantly higher than in previous years.]

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Former BPC Chair Questions Drinking Water Safety

In packets for their Dec. 6, 2002, meeting, Board members received an article published in the Downeast Coastal Press (Oct. 22) by University of Maine at Machias Professor of Marine Biology Brian Beal and Professor of Ecology Alan Lewis. Lewis served for 12 years on the BPC and retired as its Chairman in November 2000. The article noted that Machias town water had recently tested positively for hexazinone and questioned why the Maine State Drinking Water Program had granted the Machias Water Company waivers from testing for pesticides for the past nine years. It also noted that after contamination was found in the Gouldsboro (1990) and Aurora (1993) elementary school water supplies and in the Franklin (1994) town water supply, charcoal filters were installed to remove the contamination, despite the fact that contamination levels were low compared with the EPA health advisory level. The article argued that Machias citizens had a right to have their water tested regularly and to be informed of the results, that the BPC “is operating on the basis of ignorance in this area,” and that “up to this point, the State of Maine and the Town of Machias have not, in our opinion, met their fundamental obligation to ensure that adequate testing of our public drinking water is occurring.”

Contamination below EPA health advisory levels, Beal and Lewis argued, may still cause serious concern: “One of the first lessons we instill in our students at UMM is that there is no such thing as absolute proof in science. All that we have at any one moment in time is our best approximation of truth. When it comes to pesticides and other synthetic chemicals, we have a long list of examples where scientists initially thought that a given chemical was safe and later discovered that they were wrong. As a case in point, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley have recently found that atrazine, the most commonly used weed killer in the U.S., disrupts the sexual development of frogs at doses as small as .1 ppb. The EPA health advisory limit permits up to 3 ppb of atrazine in drinking water (Bangor Daily News, 4/16/02). Of additional interest in this case is the fact that atrazine and hexazinone are both types of triazine herbicides.”

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Enforcement, New Regulation, Target Illegal Lake Herbicide Use

Tracey Walls, a vernal pools biologist, asked the BPC in July 2001 to respond to the problem of illegal aquatic herbicide use in Maine’s lakes and ponds. Her concern was in response to a Maine Public Radio report that Aquacide Pellets containing the herbicide 2,4-D had been applied to Grondin Pond by a lakefront owner, although the product was not registered in Maine and the owner had not obtained the required permit from the Department of Environmental Protection, mandated for all pesticide applications to public water bodies in the state. Subsequent investigation revealed that the manufacturer, Aquacide, of White Bear Lake, Minnesota, which advertises on the Internet under www.killlakeweeds.com, had distributed 17 catalogs in Scarborough alone and had made 12 sales to Maine addresses in each of 2000 and 2001. Of those 24 purchasers, BPC investigators determined that six individuals had applied the product to public lakes, without obtaining a DEP permit.

The Journal of Pesticide Reform toxicology report on 2,4-D (Spring, 1999) states: “2,4-D is unusual among herbicides in that it causes an array of adverse effects to the nervous system: myotonia (inability of muscles to relax), disruption of the activity of nervous system chemicals, and behavioral changes. Maturing nervous systems may be particularly vulnerable: in laboratory tests juvenile rats exposed to 2,4-D developed smaller brains than unexposed rats…. 2,4-D has also caused genetic damage in tests using both cell cultures and laboratory animals.”

The Aquacide website urges potential customers to “Improve your water quality, restore water oriented activities and increase the value of your property by controlling aquatic nuisance weeds this year” and states, “Our products are environmentally sound. Where required each product is registered for its specific use by the U.S.EPA. In addition, our products are certified and approved for use by state agencies. Those are good reasons to buy with confidence.”

In enforcement actions approved on December 6 and January 17, the BPC imposed sanctions on the manufacturer and on five of the six alleged illegal users of Aquacide (one investigation is pending). The enforcement staff had also sent warning letters to nine individuals who applied the product to private ponds that connect to state waters. Aquacide Company entered into a consent agreement, approved by the BPC on December 6, calling for a $6,000 fine, but suspending all but $1,500 of that fine “so long as the Company complies fully with all terms of this Agreement.” The agreement mandates that the Company obtain a valid pesticide dealer’s license before distributing any pesticides in Maine, that the Company not distribute pesticides in Maine before ascertaining that they are registered in Maine, and that the “Company will add a statement to its brochure notifying prospective purchasers that the application of aquatic pesticides may require a permit issued by an appropriate state environmental agency. The statement shall be placed in a location reasonably likely to be seen by prospective purchasers, such as next to the table of Water Use Restrictions.”

When this writer asked the Board on January 17 whether Aquacide had complied with the conditions for the reduced fine, Mark Randlett, Assistant Attorney General representing the Board, replied that he did not know, but that it was “worth checking.” I was subsequently advised that, as of January 21, Aquacide had not been licensed as a general use pesticide dealer in Maine, and hence could not legally sell its products here (although it had registered its Aquacide Pellets in Maine for 2002 and 2003). Although the terms of the consent agreement related to the company’s “brochure” but not to its web page, my review of the web page on January 18 revealed a continued lack of clear notice to web purchasers that environmental permits are required. No statement comparable to the one required in the consent agreement is found on the home page, on the page with the table of Water Use Restrictions, or on the table describing the Aquacide product. Under a “FAQ” page, in response to the question “Do I need a permit?” is the answer, “Control of weeds in State Protected waters often requires a permit. Consult with your State Fish and Game Agency before beginning any control operation.” This contained no reference to the “appropriate state environmental agency,” as stipulated in the consent agreement, and was the same language that existed prior to entry of the consent agreement (and evidently was insufficient to effectively advise purchasers of the permit requirement).

On January 17, the Board approved consent agreements with five individuals who allegedly applied or arranged for the application of Aquacide to public lakes, without a DEP permit, in 2000 or 2001: Vivian Willey (Long Lake, Sinclair); Laurence Marshall (Branch Pond, Ellsworth, also a public drinking water supply); Jane Wilson (Moose Pond, Bridgeton); Tom Andrews (Phillips Lake, Dedham); and Brian Chianchette (Sebasticook Lake, Newport). All except Chianchette paid $100 fines. Chianchette obtained a waiver of any fine, in exchange for an agreement that he “arrange to have state laws pertaining to the use of aquatic herbicides placed on the agenda for the Sebasticook Lake Association’s Annual Meeting in July 2003,” and “arrange to have an article submitted by the Board placed in the Sebasticook Lake Association’s 2003 newsletter.” The BPC plans outreach to other lake associations regarding the limitations on aquatic herbicide use and the requirement of a DEP permit. Henry Jennings, director of enforcement for the Board, commented that the investigation of these cases suggested that this problem is very widespread. “Everyone said that they got the idea of doing this because all their neighbors were doing it.”

On January 17 the BPC also approved, for public hearing at its February 21 meeting, proposed regulations that will require all pesticides classified by the EPA as aquatic herbicides to be sold only by licensed Restricted Use dealers and only to licensed Restricted Use applicators. The regulations will also require that any sales of these products include a notice that a DEP permit is required for application.

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New Chairman Appointed

At the Board’s December 6, 2002, meeting, Michael Dann, a forester with Seven Islands Land Company, was elected Chair, with Andrew Berry, a commercial applicator with Maine Helicopter’s Inc., as vice Chair. Dann replaces retiring Board member Vaughan Holyoke. Filling Holyoke’s slot on the Board is John Jemison, a Water Quality and Soil Specialist with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension.

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Replacement of Public Information Officer’s Position Discussed

Longtime BPC Public Information Officer Paul Gregory, who created many effective advertising initiatives urging restraint in pesticide use, and worked closely with citizens’ organizations such as Friends of Casco Bay to develop educational programs, has left the BPC to work for the DEP. At the Board’s January 17 meeting, director Bob Batteese raised for discussion Agriculture Commissioner Bob Spear’s interest in replacing Gregory with a position that would be shared “50/50” with the Agriculture Department. Spear was evidently “so pleased with [Gregory’s] role in public relations and press coverage for the Biotech Forum” that he wanted more access to that kind of assistance. Batteese and other Board members were very skeptical about sharing a public information officer with the Department, which contains the Board but is not supposed to direct Board policy. Batteese: “I don’t think you can do a credible job for both the Board and the Department because sometimes we’re not on the same page.” Public board member Lee Humphreys: “It’s very important that we fill the position. Education is the most important part of what we do, and I really miss Paul. I don’t think it can possibly be shared with the Department. It would be answering to two masters, a lot of the time we’d be at cross purposes.” Director of Enforcement Henry Jennings: “There’s a real reason that the legislature separated the decision-making bodies of the Department and the Board. Your credibility’s really shot when you try to argue both sides of the question.” The Board agreed that discussions should continue with the Commissioner about the prompt replacement of the position, and that they could offer to work together on public relations initiatives “when appropriate.”

– Sharon Tisher

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