By Katy Green
The long and arduous task of Maine Board of Pesticides Control (BPC) rulemaking to allow for widespread government-sponsored spray programs during a public health emergency culminated this winter. The board undertook rulemaking to allow for relaxed pesticide application requirements in the event of West Nile Virus (WNV) and/or Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) outbreaks in the state. The final outcome of the rulemaking process allows for widespread spraying if the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommend it. The board created a policy for exclusion zones – areas that shouldn’t be sprayed – but included language that allows the spraying entity to opt out of exclusions. In other words, inclusion in the policy is not a guarantee against being sprayed. Homeowners can opt out of being sprayed in the event of a ground-based spray program.
These were major substantive rule changes, so they had to be heard by the Legislature. In January the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry approved the rule changes, with all but two members (Rep. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, and Rep. Brian Jones, D-Freedom) accepting the changes to allow for spraying. Representative Hickman summed up his feelings in a manner consistent with several Maine citizens who provided comments to the board by simply saying, “This makes me uncomfortable.” MOFGA provided comments at every step and found common ground with those pushing for rule changes in a few instances, including the tremendous need for more monitoring of mosquito pools in the state. Maine is clearly inadequately funded for monitoring, and MOFGA will continue to push for more monitoring so that adequate data are collected before spaying.
Over the fall and winter the board evaluated its granting of variance requests. These arise when a pesticide applicator who wishes to use a pesticide in a manner inconsistent with board rules approaches the board with an application explaining the special circumstance. Applications generally are approved with no changes. This process can delay the applicator’s spraying but allows the board to evaluate the circumstances surrounding the application. Recent variance requests have dealt with pesticide applications within 25 feet of water bodies (generally involving invasive species control) and along power lines and other rights of way where applicators have a hard time mapping and identifying sensitive areas within 500 feet.
The board thought it was holding commercial applicators to a higher standard than homeowners, since most homeowners likely are unaware of and often violate these rules. To correct this disparity the board decided to allow the staff to approve variance requests for linear projects (along roads, pipelines and transmission lines) for up to three years where the sensitive area mapping is not required. During that time the board will need to be notified only if a significant change in management, such as chemicals used, occurs. The board also approved a new policy regarding variance requests for invasive plant control near water bodies, where the staff (rather than the board) can approve the request if certain criteria are met.
A reminder to farmers and gardeners: Ask about the origin of off-farm hay, manure and compost products. In the spring and summer of 2013, stories emerged of vegetable growers whose plants were damaged after they applied compost to their soils. The BPC investigations found that in at least one case a pesticide applicator had applied a persistent herbicide containing aminopyralid to a landowner’s hayfield. The landowner then contracted with someone else to harvest the hay, without telling the harvester about the pesticide application. Several products, most often used to control bedstraw, contain aminopyralid. The label requires that the hay and/or manure should not be moved off site. The EPA (“Aminopyralid in Manure and Compost,” U.S. EPA, Office of Pesticide Programs, Nov. 18, 2011) offers these tips for avoiding contaminated products:
• Ask suppliers to confirm that the herbicide aminopyralid has not been used to produce feed for their animals.
• Ask suppliers if they have had any reports of plant damage from use of their compost or farm manure, and if so, find another source.
• Ask if suppliers have performed bioassays to ensure that their compost does not contain damaging levels of herbicides. (Bioassays are tests conducted to measure the effects of a substance on a living organism.)
More information about this topic and instructions for bioassay testing for residues of aminopyralid and related herbicides are posted at www.the-compost-gardener.com/picloram.html. Note that straw, hay and grass clippings used as mulch can also be sources of aminopyralid residues.
The board re-authorized a Special Local Need [24(c)] Registration for Express® Herbicide with TotalSol for control of bunchberry in lowbush blueberries. This product is used as a spot treatment to control weeds in non-organic blueberry fields. Its use was first approved in 2008 and renewed in 2009. At the time concern existed about the potential for this product to move into groundwater. To date no evidence has shown such movement in samples taken.
The board approved a consent agreement with Lucas Tree Experts Company of Portland for a violation related to the pesticide notification registry. Lucas Tree applied pesticides within 250 feet of a pesticide notification registrant. In 2013, the notification list had 28 registrants. Lucas Tree has had similar notification violations in past years. The board asked that Lucas Tree provide a plan to eliminate similar violations in the future and agreed to a $1,000 fine. Deven Morrill, a BPC member and a staff member of Lucas Tree, recused himself from the discussion.
During the December 2013 meeting, the board unanimously approved a consent agreement with Barry Churchill of Fort Fairfield for a pesticide application made to turf at Hillside IGA in Fort Fairfield. Churchill applied Sta-Green Weed and Feed to a public area without a commercial pesticide applicator’s license. The board levied a $250 fine.