Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
BPC – Sept., Oct. 1999

Maine BPC Reports \ BPC – Sept., Oct. 1999

September 11, October 22, 1999

Organic Growers to be Licensed by BPC?
Pesticide Indoor Use Advisory Committee Update
Hearing Set for Critical Pesticide Control Area
Pesticide Report Misses the Mark Again
Widespread Hexazinone Contamination of Salmon Rivers
High Concentrations of Potato Pesticides in Storm-water Runoff
New Board Appointments

Organic Growers to be Licensed by BPC?

In a bold move that brought a decidedly chilly reception from most of the agricultural community, Maine’s Board of Pesticides Control (BPC) staff has tentatively proposed a fundamental change to the way agricultural pesticide users are regulated. The staff proposed at the Board’s September 10 meeting that all commercial growers with $500 or more in gross annual sales be required to be licensed by the Board if they use any EPA registered pesticides, including pesticides such as Bt and rotenone that are approved for organic certification. The staff acknowledged that this would be a major change, not just for organic growers, who for the first time would be regulated by the BPC, but also for non-organic growers, who now need be licensed as private applicators only if they use restricted or limited use pesticides.

Under current rules, licensed private applicators must do 80% or better on a test based on a core manual about the health and environmental risks associated with pesticides as well as proper application, storage and disposal procedures, and on one additional manual that focuses on pest identification, life cycle, threshold determinations and appropriate pesticidal and other control mechanisms particular to specific commodities, such as potatoes, vegetables, greenhouse crops, and so on. They must pay $15 for a three-year license and must during the course of those three years document six hours of training.

The main impetus for the proposal seems to have been a drop in the private licenses issued, from 2000 to 1755 in the past three years. A staff memo to the Board dated July 16, 1999, acknowledged that while "some of the drop is related to attrition and farm failures," another reason is the "ever-decreasing need for Restricted Use Pesticides (RUPs) and Limited Use Pesticides (LUPs)." The memo noted a simultaneous "increasing number of public health/environmental issues associated with commercial agricultural pesticide use that warrant training of applicators." The memo cited, as examples, "groundwater, surface water, food safety, drift/volatility, endangered species, worker safety, container/waste disposal, spill remediation, and chemical sensitivity." Hence the staff proposed seeking a change in statutory authority to license, and train, all growers who use pesticides.

Although the July 16 memo did not mention the implications for organic growers, Director of Enforcement Henry Jennings, in his presentation to the Board on September 11, stated that staff had discussed organic growers and "we don’t think they should be exempt. They use rotenone, which kills fish, and Bt." New Board member Vaughan Holyoke (a former Director of the UM Cooperative Extension and past Chair of the BPC) also voiced support for including organics in licensing: "They’re using Bt, and aren’t getting any education." Executive Director of the BPC, Bob Batteese, conceded that the training courses offered by the BPC would not be particularly relevant to organic growers; he indicated that any MOFGA courses addressing ways – chemical and other – to control pests would satisfy the training hours requirement. He also was receptive to the possibility that organic certification itself would count toward one hour of annual training.

Board Chair Alan Lewis stated that this was "an interesting issue to discuss, but the ramifications are broad enough I would like to have more input, get response from the grower community." The Board tabled the discussion of the proposal until its October 22 meeting in Portland.

Henry Jennings led off the October 22 discussion with a more detailed rationale for extending the scope of pesticide licensing. "The rules about who has to be certified as a pesticide applicator haven’t been revised or reviewed in the 30 years since the 1972 amendments to the federal pesticide statute. At that time," Jennings noted, "Congress’s main concern was regulating acute toxicity: People were dropping dead from pesticide exposure. You could buy products that would kill you if you got a few drops on your skin." With newer products on the market, acute toxicity has been coming way down, but at the same time government regulators have been increasingly aware of a growing number of environmental and health problems associated with pesticide use. This, coupled with Maine’s Act to Minimize Reliance on Pesticides, led to the staff’s concern about strengthening educational programs and rapidly disseminating up-to-date information about pesticide risks. Certification is the primary way the BPC educates applicators, Jennings noted. Yet with the number of restricted use pesticides on the market ever decreasing, private applicator certification will eventually become a program that applies to no one. Jennings stated that inspectors had heard from some potato growers who were farming as much as 500 acres and who were planning to let their certification lapse because they no longer used restricted use pesticides. In light of these concerns, the time has come to begin the public debate about how to keep education the cornerstone of proper pesticide application.

Anticipating the argument that this proposal was too hard on farmers and ignored the significant role of private homeowners and non- commercial gardeners in pesticide use and abuse, Jennings explained why they focused on commercial growers: The test for certification should be when a person’s use of pesticide(s) has a reasonable probability of impacting someone else’s property or health. Farmers grow food for other people to eat, and it’s critically important that they properly apply pesticides. Additionally, homeowners don’t use air blast sprayers or 500-gallon boom sprayers, and they don’t present a drift problem.

During the public comment period, Sharon Tisher, representing MOFGA, said that it was very premature for the MOFGA Board to take a position on this proposal without further details about how it would impact the organic farmer. However, she was authorized to report the sentiments of a number of MOFGA Board members who are certified growers and who do use some EPA registered pesticides. She reported a strong receptivity to moves by the BPC that would enhance education about the health and environmental risks of pesticides, even if it meant pulling organic growers into the licensing system. She said steps would have to be taken to ensure that test materials were relevant to organic production, but in general, MOFGA is the group that is the most concerned about the risks of pesticides, and is likely to be most receptive to moves to strengthen pesticide regulation.

Jon Olson, appearing on behalf of the Farm Bureau, reported that the Bureau had not taken a position on the proposal, but submitted nine questions it wanted answered before further consideration. The questions included whether the Board had done a survey of lapsed private applicator licenses to determine the reasons for the lapses, whether the Board would have the financial and staff resources needed to train and license the expanded category of licensees, whether the staff had done an analysis of the total amount of pesticides used by farmers versus homeowners, and whether the BPC knew of a recent increase in violations by farmers in applying pesticides that indicated that current regulations were not working.

Laughlin Titus, both representing Agway and speaking personally as a vegetable grower, strongly opposed the proposal. He argued that death and quitting farming were the main reasons the numbers of certified private applicators were down, and that the $500 threshold was way too low, encompassing many backyard gardeners who sell to their neighbors. This could change a way of life for a lot of people, such as seniors and high school students earning a little extra cash. When you look at all the people getting killed on recreational snowmobiles and compare it to the number of people killed by pesticides, more licensing is not worth the regulatory effort, he said.

Maine Wild Blueberry Commission director Dave Bell urged the Board to make sure the scheme is based on an assessment of risk: potential hazard times exposure. A huge gap exists in the public’s understanding of pesticide risk and the benefits of pesticide use, he said.

Mike Corey of the Maine Potato Board said he hadn’t intended to speak, but "some of the things said here are irresponsible and can be taken the wrong way. I’d like to see facts that farmers are moving away from certification. The 500-acre potato farm in Aroostook will have a hard time functioning without restricted use pesticides … When you say potato farmers are letting their licenses lapse, that impacts public opinion. You must be careful about what you say." Corey argued, "We’re doing a pretty good job in agriculture. I have not seen a growing list of violations come to the Board from agriculture. If there are a lot of problems, there should be an increasing list of violations."

Director of Enforcement Henry Jennings responded to Corey’s remarks by noting that a lack of violations is not the only way to measure whether pesticides are used responsibly. Jennings noted that neither ground water contamination nor surface water contamination constitute violations of any BPC regulation. These problems exist, but can’t be measured and evaluated just by counting BPC enforcement actions. (See Widespread Hexazinone Contamination of Salmon Rivers, below.)

Board Member Jeff Smith, a potato farmer from Aroostock County, speaking at his last Board meeting (see New Board Appointments, below), surprised his fellow Board members by advocating tougher regulation. "I find it ironic," Smith noted, "that after eight years I find myself for once closely aligned to the views expressed by [MOFGA’s] Sharon Tisher. Consumers want to be assured that the food they consume is produced in a safe and responsible manner. More often than not they want to see a third party attesting to that. That’s the role of the certification process." Smith argued that it may make sense not to have any dollar figure threshold to exempt small producers: Whether you’re on a quarter acre lot or whatever, if you offer your produce to the public, you need to be responsible. I would hope that the ag community in general would wrap around this idea."

Linda Smith Dyer, Deputy Commissioner of Agriculture, appeared at her first BPC meeting to comment briefly on the proposal. Smith Dyer made it clear that the BPC should not proceed independently with this initiative, but should closely coordinate with the Department of Agriculture. While the Department takes no position at this time, Smith Dyer cautioned, this proposal would require legislation and "you’re going to need the support of the legislature and the administration." Dyer noted the importance of working together to ensure a product that can be supported by a broad range of people.

The staff had originally suggested presenting this proposal to the legislature in connection with the BPC’s Program Evaluation Review this legislative session. From the discussion on October 22, however, this clearly was not in the cards. Henry Jennings conceded that this will be a long process, and Vaughan Holyoke noted that he didn’t see this getting in shape with this coming legislature. Acting Chair Andrew Berry agreed that there’s no rush. The matter was tabled for further consideration and review by the staff.

Pesticide Indoor Use Advisory Committee Update

The Pesticide Indoor Use Advisory Committee, which was established last spring, submitted its final report to the BPC at its October 22 meeting. The committee proposed new regulations on notification of indoor pesticide applications. It recommended that the Board consider requiring all public or commercial buildings where either pesticides or disinfectants are used to prominently display a logo giving notice of the fact that occupants might be exposed to these chemicals, and to display telephone numbers of the building manager and commercial applicator for further inquiry. The logo might include information regarding the date of the last application, but the committee thought that might be difficult logistically. The committee also recommended more direct notice of applications to occupants of residential dwellings, and coordination of any requirement with existing rules about entry into leased premises. These recommendations were referred to the BPC’s next planning session.

A spin-off of the committee is still meeting on the issue of school building and grounds pesticide use. Two EPA grants have been awarded to fund a statewide survey of all public and private schools to assess the extent of and procedures for pesticide applications in the schools and on school grounds and athletic fields. The survey is expected to go out in January, and following assessment of the results, the committee may recommend regulatory provisions to address this special issue. (See "Pesticides in Schools" in this issue of The MOF&G.)

Hearing Set for Critical Pesticide Control Area

Organic growers Debbie and Bruce Brown sought to reactivate their petition for a half-mile Critical Pesticide Control Area around their home in Hope, Maine, because of their daughter’s condition of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, at the September 11, 1999, BPC meeting. (See The MOF&G, Sept.-Nov., 1999.) The Browns reported, through their Attorney Sharon Tisher, that in frustration over their continued health problems, they had put their home and 35-acre property on the market but were doubtful about the possibilities of a quick sale. Because low-level hexazinone contamination had been detected in both of their wells last spring, the Browns had been advised by their realtor that the property needed to be listed as "Toxic." They accordingly asked the Board to proceed with consideration of their petition to prevent pesticide applications near their home, so that a decision would be in place before the 2000 spray season. The Board set a hearing date for December 8, 1999, from 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., and 7:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., in the Union Town Hall.

Pesticide Report Misses the Mark Again

At the October 22 meeting, the BPC released its second annual report of pesticide sales and use data as required by the 1997 Act to Minimize Reliance on Pesticides. As Bob Batteese conceded, the report was no better and no worse than that of last year. The 1998 report, which was highly criticized by MOFGA in a letter to the Board, the Commissioner of Agriculture and the legislative sponsors of the 1997 Act, was nothing more than 50 pages of data by brand name, not correlated or subtotaled by active ingredient, and with no bottom line quantification of pesticides sold, either in aggregate or by agricultural sector or commodity.

Batteese conceded that the information in its present form could not meaningfully track pesticide sales in the state. Information is available to translate the data to a meaningful form, which the BPC last did in 1995, but the BPC lost, through a bureaucratic mix-up, the positions originally allocated for this in 1997, and has no staff with the time to accomplish this now. Jo D. Saffeir urged that the Board establish two subcommittees to address the implementation of the 1997 Act: one to address the data collection problem and the other to address broader policies to promote pesticide reduction. "We really need to be spending more time on implementation of this Act," Saffeir insisted. The issue was deferred to the Board’s fall planning session.

Widespread Hexazinone Contamination of Salmon Rivers

The controversy over listing salmon as an endangered species in Maine can only be fueled by a report released by the BPC at the October 22 meeting. Entitled Study of Pesticide Levels in Seven Maine Atlantic Salmon Rivers, the report details findings from a study conducted in the fall of 1997 of pesticide residues in the Dennys, Ducktrap, East Machias, Machias, Narraguagus, Pleasant and Sheepscot Rivers. These are collectively known as the Seven Maine Atlantic Salmon Rivers, because they have received national and international publicity due to their status as natal habitats for a decreasing population of wild Atlantic salmon. The samples were analyzed for 33 possible pesticide chemicals and degradation products. Almost a third, or 29.7 percent of the 64 samples taken, were positive for hexazinone (Velpar), the herbicide used in wild blueberry production. No other types of pesticides showed up, although staff toxicologist Lebelle Hicks stated at the October 22 meeting that one of her major concerns is that "we can find hexazinone wherever we look for it. There are other pesticides that are being used that we have not looked for." The hexazinone concentrations detected ranged from 0.1 ppb to 1.7 ppb, the latter being in two tributaries of the Narraguagus River, Great Falls Branch and Schoodic Brook.

Jo D. Saffeir asked whether the staff would continue to seek funding to analyze hexazinone concentrations in these rivers if, as the staff report noted, hexazinone is practically nontoxic to freshwater fish in acute exposures (EPA, 1994). Henry Jennings responded that the EPA data on toxicity to fish was about acute toxicity; its LC50 (lethal concentration to 50% of test population) figure tells how many fish will die at acute exposure – not the impact on fry or eggs or reproductive capability. "It just tells you if an adult salmon will flip over." Jennings noted that under the Governor’s Salmon Conservation Plan, proposed as an alternative to the federal endangered species listing process, the Atlantic Salmon Authority and the state IF&W are supposed to be developing data on chronic toxicity of pesticides and impacts on reproduction.

Deputy Commissioner Smith Dyers comments dampened the staff’s hopes of getting further funding this legislative session for salmon- related surface water testing. Smith Dyer stated that while the administration was still supporting the voluntary Salmon Conservation Plan as an alternative to listing, it is expecting Departments to use existing resources to fund it. All of this may be rendered moot by the Federal Fish & Wildlife Service’s announcement of an intention to proceed with the endangered species listing process for Atlantic Salmon.

High Concentrations of Potato Pesticides in Storm-water Runoff

In another study, also reported on October 22, the BPC tested storm runoff after significant rains to determine whether pesticides were being carried off-site to surface water. The most remarkable results were in an Aroostook County potato field. Concentrations of metribuzin in runoff were as high as 520 ppb, more than five times the EPA Lifetime Health Advisory Level of 100 ppb. Concentrations of chlorothalonil reached 117 ppb, more than seven times the Maine Maximum Exposure Guideline of 15 ppb.

In discussing the report, BPC staff members hastened to clarify that these health advisory levels relate to drinking water, and that the storm water runoff that was measured was not drinking water. Jeff Smith noted that "you’ve got an extreme situation here and it shouldn’t be extrapolated to think this is ending up in someone’s well." Nevertheless Saffeir observed that "these results raise the issue that these pesticides are getting in our surface water. It would be helpful to get an understanding of what pesticides should be of greatest concern."

New Board Appointments

The BPC welcomed two new members, who were to assume their duties at the November 19, 1999, meeting: Michael Dann replacing Tom Saviello in the forestry slot, and Neil Crane replacing potato farmer Jeff Smith. Dann has been a licensed professional forester for 28 years with Seven Islands, Maine’s largest green-certified forestry operation. Seven Islands, like other green-certified forestry operations, uses herbicides –  Accord or glyphosate (Round-Up). Dann noted that Seven Islands is currently investigating ways to apply Accord through spot ground treatments, rather than aerial spraying.

Neil Crane runs a family potato farm in Exeter, now in its fourth generation of operation. Crane farms 950 acres, primarily for the potato chip processor FritoLay. About 10% of his crop is Monsanto’s genetically engineered NewLeaf potato. Crane’s farm has implemented advanced IPM methods, modeled after Wisconsin’s Wisdom program. He has two automated weather stations that feed data directly into his computer, better enabling him to predict late blight problems and to time and apply appropriate levels of fungicide.

– Sharon Tisher