New Pesticide Sales Data Report
The article "Pesticides Sales Estimates May be Tripled," from the BPC Reports in the May-July MOF&G, contained an error in the analysis of the comparison between the new, year 2000 sales report and the previous, 1995 sales report. The error resulted in an underestimation of 1995 sales. In the 1995 sales report, sulfuric acid was reported in gallons, not pounds of active ingredient, in a chart captioned "pounds, active ingredient." BPC staff, as noted in a footnote to the report, did not have a reliable conversion factor at the time. The new 2000 report used a conversion factor of 14.72 pounds active ingredient per gallon of sulfuric acid. When that conversion factor is applied to previous sales reports, the total rounded figure of retail sales for 1995 is 3.9 million pounds, and for 1997, due to a 1.1 million pounds increase in sulfuric acid usage, 4.8 million pounds. The total for the 2000 retail sales report, which is most reliably compared to 1995 and 1997 statistics, and represents major sales to the forestry and agriculture sector, is 3.5 million pounds. This is substantially less than 1995 and 1997, reflecting a reduction in sulfuric acid sales to 867,000 pounds, as compared with 3,188,000 pounds in 1997 and 1,998,000 pounds in 1995. (Sulfuric acid is used as a dissicant to kill off potato vines before harvest).
Excluding the sulfuric acid sales, the 2000 figure is a 63% increase in pesticide sales over 1997, and a 38% increase over 1995. An unascertainable part of that increase may be attributable to inclusion of additional dealers and more ornamental and turf sales that in previous years. As noted in the original MOF&G analysis, BPC director Bob Batteese acknowledged that the actual total pesticide sales figure for all users including homeowners for 2000 is probably substantially higher than the retail sales figure. Due to the complex and redundant reporting system, it is not possible to know what proportion of the additional wholesale and user data bases should be added to obtain a reliable total estimate. The BPC maintains, however, that the retail sales figures are the most reliable basis for year to year comparisons in sales to the agriculture and forestry sector.
MOF&G's original analysis was reviewed in advance of publication by BPC staff. Regrettably, neither we nor they initially detected the problem attributable to the sulfuric acid sales. Our thanks to BPC Certification and Training Specialist Gary Fish for discovering this problem.
Legislators React to Pesticides Sales Report
At a meeting on June 4, 2002, seven members of the Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture discussed the new pesticides sales data report with representatives of the Board of Pesticides Control.
BPC Executive Director Bob Batteese introduced the report by the comment that "we always knew [pesticides sales] was a high number, but I don't think we yet know how high it is." He indicated that it was still not possible to revise the reports to focus on use by different sectors, because of the "illogical and incomplete reporting system." The BPC will be working during the course of the next months in coming up with recommendations for improving the reporting system. He also said that there was a question whether you "can use the sales reports to measure reduced reliance [on pesticides]" because the reports "don't address reduced risk," they address quantities, "but not toxicity and risk."
In response to that point, Sharon Tisher of MOFGA, which had long spearheaded the drive for better data reporting, commented that getting a handle on quantities sold and used in Maine was an "essential first step" to assessing risk. She pointed out that in the new retail sales report the second and third top sellers (Chlorothalonil, 777,000 pounds active ingredient sold in 2000 and Mancozeb, 514,000 pounds) are classifed as carcinogens by the E.P.A., and the eighth top seller, 2,4-D (48,000 pounds), has been associated with increased risk of cancer for exposed humans in epidemiological studies. Each of these chemicals, in a comparison chart prepared by the BPC and submitted to the legislators, show dramatic increases in sales compared with previous, 1995 and 1997, estimates: Chlorothalonil more than doubled, Mancozeb tripled, 2,4-D almost quadrupled. She also pointed out that another pesticide among the top ten best sellers, Atrazine, is the herbicide reported to have caused male frogs to grow female sex organs at very low levels by a research team at UCal Berkeley, and is likely to be reclassified by the EPA as a hormone disrupter.
Tisher pointed out that reducing Maine's reliance on all four of these chemicals should be a "worst first" focus of the new Integrated Pest Management Council, created by legislation in the last session. She then inquired as to the status of the Council. Deputy Agriculture Commissioner Ned Porter replied that the Department had had "one meeting" since the legislation was enacted to discuss potential "pools of likely people" for appointments to the Council, and that "things will come together in the fall."
Representative Linda Rogers McKee (D-Wayne) commented that the new report "at least seems to demystify the common myth that there's a greater problem with homeowner use than agriculture and forestry." (The report estimated the amount of wholesale sales reports that were resold to homeowners, using data from New York State which has identified products most often used by homeowners. The cumulative quantity of those products - 129,000 pounds active ingredient - is relatively insignificant in relation to total wholesale sales of 3.87 million pounds. This does not, however, include commercial applications by lawn care companies). Batteese was asked whether they can break down use by commercial lawn care companies. BPC staffer Gary Fish replied that they estimated this year total product used by commercial lawn care companies as 1.82 million pounds, but that included mixed products comprised mostly of fertilizer and inert ingredients; some such products have less than 1% pesticide active ingredient.
Still, comments at the meeting sought to shift concern from agriculture to the homeowner. BPC Chairman Vaughan Holyoke commented that the Board was concerned because "homeowner use is not based on increased need, but on the increased ability of [lawn care] companies to sell. It sets them totally apart from the ag community where the chemicals are such a big part of your operation that you're not going to use more than you need." Representative Walter Gooley (R-Farmington) queried "what is the relevance of a high number? It's a high number compared to what? It comes down to water quality, other aspects of safety…I know there are groups of people out there who are anti-spray. It would seem to me if we have a problem it is with the homeowner, if there's a problem." Representative Clifton Foster (R-Gray) concurred that "I don't have a question about use of pesticides - the questions is rates of application and how often…Spraying a lawn every time you see a dandelion, four or five times a year, that's a problem."
Bob Batteese commented that "doing this report is not something our Board has identified as a priority. Our priority for the year is developing standards for indoor pesticide use." BPC toxicologist LeBelle Hicks added that "we look at problems as they arise, rather than say let's go after the top [pesticide] sales in the state." Representative Linda Rogers McKee commented that "Maine is one of the higher states for some types of cancers. Can we tell where these cancers are? Can we correlate them with pesticide use?" Hicks responded that twice the BPC staff had been asked by the Maine Cancer Registry to look at suspected cancer clusters, and had not found a correlation with pesticide use. She did not perceive that it would be "a driving force to correlate cancers with pesticide use" at the BPC.