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  You are here:  ProgramsPublic Policy InitiativesMaine Board of Pesticides Control ReportsBPC – May, June 1999   

Update on Hexazinone Well Water Contamination
Hope Family Petitions for Protection Against Pesticide Applications
Vaughan Holyoke replaces Richard Storch on Board
BPC Asked to Promote Real “Wild” Blueberries
Summer Cleaning at BPC Meeting


Update on Hexazinone Well Water Contamination

Do best management practices influence the concentrations of hexazinone in groundwater and well water? Previous reports were inconclusive, but the latest report, presented to the Board of Pesticides Control (BPC) on May 14, was cautiously optimistic. The report, prepared by BPC staff member Julie Chizmas, compared hexazinone concentrations in well water sampled in eight counties in 1994 with those from 1998 samples. Forty-eight wells were tested in 1994 and 42 four years later. The sampling locations were not identical, since staff could not access 11 wells tested in 1994 and, therefore, substituted other locations. In the 1998 tests, hexazinone contaminated 42.8% of the wells—23.1% with higher concentrations of hexazinone than in 1994, and 76.9% with lower concentrations. This compared quite favorably with the 1994 data, when 75% of wells tested positive. This study was prepared pursuant to the Hexazinone Special Management Plan, drafted after an unsuccessful citizen petition drive to ban hexazinone in 1994. The plan requires that well water be sampled every four years to monitor contamination.

Chizmas was unable to explain why the data showed such a favorable trend, whereas previous analyses of well water testing presented by Cooperative Extension Blueberry Specialist David Yarborough had shown no discernable trend (see The MOF&G, March-May ‘98). Chizmas noted that Yarborough did not test the same wells as the BPC, although some overlap may have occurred. Yarborough’s wells were primarily test wells dug near blueberry fields, not private wells.

Chizmas also noted that another major study of pesticide contamination of well water in Maine is due to be reported in July or August. One hundred and ninety-seven wells were tested all over the state, with locations focused on agricultural areas using highly leachable pesticides. Concentrations of 38 pesticides were measured. This replication of testing done in 1994 will attempt to determine trends in detecting these pesticides.

The BPC expects to obtain the raw test data by the end of June, and to report preliminary analysis by the July or August Board meetings. 

Also at the May 14 meeting, David Yarborough presented a draft revised Hexazinone Best Management System. The revisions are intended to address the problem of the reported tendency of granular hexazinone to run off with rains and to  concentrate in low areas, where the herbicide reportedly injures or kills blueberry plants (The MOF&G, March-May ‘99). The revised document (Coop. Ext. Fact Sheet No. 250) recommends that growers “use reduced rates on slopes that do not have good blueberry cover” and “use other weed management strategies adjacent to or on portions of a field that slope abruptly toward sensitive areas such as wells, reservoirs or waterways.” Although the System is intended to help farmers apply hexazinone “so that potential impact on surface and groundwater is minimized,” the System follows the approach of the BPC’s general regulations on sensitive areas and doesn’t require any buffer zones for surface water. It calls only for (as specified on the hexazinone label) a 50-foot buffer from any wellhead or water reservoir. Perhaps the question of no-pesticide buffer zones for streams, ponds and lakes will be examined by the newly formed Environmental Risk Assessment Committee of the BPC, whose first order of business is addressing the issue of risks of pesticides to Atlantic Salmon. 

In related developments, blueberry grower Bill Guptill has sued the manufacturer and distributor of the granular hexazinone product Pronone, alleging that the product  substantially damaged his blueberry fields (The MOF&G, March-May ‘99), and the manufacturer, Pro-Serve, Inc., of Memphis, Tennessee, wrote a letter on Feb. 4, 1999, to the editor of the BPC Communicator, vigorously denying suggestions that damage to blueberry plants “is a result of a problem unique to granular Hexazinone.” Pro-Serve also denied reports that sales of the product had fallen off in Maine as a result of these reports: “The reduction in use of granular Hexazinone in 1997 and 1998 is virtually negligible and if the rate of active ingredient for all formulations of Hexazinone has leveled off at one pound per acre, it may in fact suggest that more acres of blueberries are being treated but at a lower rate.” 

Pro-Serve’s comments raise an interesting issue: While the level of contamination of specific wells may, as the latest BPC data suggest, be declining, are more wells in the state being contaminated as more fields are converted to “wild” blueberry cultivation? The BPC study would not answer that question. Perhaps the new, larger survey of well water will.

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Hope Family Petitions for Protection Against Pesticide Applications

When Camden area natives Bruce and Debbie Brown found a 35-acre farm, nestled in a valley in Hope, flanked by Hobbs Pond and Fish Pond, they thought they’d found their dream come true. Now, eight years later, they’re wondering if it was more of a nightmare. The hillsides on three sides of the Brown’s valley home are flanked by four actively cultivated “wild” blueberry fields owned by neighbor Everett Crabtree, all within a half mile of their home, and two new fields, even closer, are under development. A stream runs from the fields onto the Brown’s property and seasonally floods to within 25 to 50 feet of their well. The first year in their new home, 1991, a helicopter flew low, directly over the Brown’s home, while spray was still visibly coming from it. Bruce and their four-year-old daughter, Codey, were directly sprayed. Codey vomited the following morning. In the years since, the family has experienced increasing episodes of illness, including vomiting, diarrhea, headache, and white puffy face, associated with aerial applications of pesticides to the blueberry fields. The worst spell followed a July 14, 1998, application of the organophosphate Sniper 2-E (azinphos-methyl, or Guthion). The smell of the pesticide permeated the Browns’ home as well as their yard. Bruce, in the garden during the spraying, experienced numbness of his lips and gums, burning nose, and headache. Codey’s symptoms including a puffy face, teary eyes, a facial rash, and headaches that continued for 10 days following the spraying.

Azinphos-methyl (Guthion or Sniper) was just reevaluated by the EPA pursuant to the Food Quality Protection Act. According to the EPA’s website posting of May 19,1999 (www.epa.gov/oppsrrd1/op/azinphos/azmsum.htm), Azinphos-methyl can “cause cholinesterase inhibition in humans; which at high doses results in nausea, dizziness and confusion, and at very high exposure…respiratory paralysis and death.” The EPA rated worker risk from exposure to the pesticide as “very high:…for mixers, loaders, and applicators, risks for all exposure scenarios evaluated are of concern even with maximum engineering controls,” and rated dietary risk, based on an assessment of all the azinphos-methyl residues on food in an average American diet, as 99.9% of the acute Reference Dose for children—or just 0.1% away from a level that could cause adverse health effects. The EPA also concluded that “risk to aquatic organisms is very high and risk to terrestrial organisms is also of concern.”

Debbie Brown was already sensitive to chemical exposures, after having worked for years in a factory with improperly vented chemicals. The plight of their daughter, however, led the Browns to seek relief from the seasonal exposures to “wild” blueberry pesticides. Ever since the Sniper exposure last summer, Codey has had severe reactions even to household chemicals, perfumes and chemical smells. She would develop headaches in response to attending her school for a few hours; this ultimately led her to miss most of the last year of school. Codey’s regular physician, Dr. Dirk Vandersloot, has reported that “since July, 1998 the headaches have increased in frequency and intensity, most likely triggered by exposure to blueberry field spray.” Codey was referred to Portland physician Joseph Py, a specialist in environmental medicine, who performed blood tests and a detoxification profile on her, and diagnosed Codey as having “Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS)”—an acute sensitivity to low doses of chemicals which would not affect the average person. Py concluded that “within a reasonable degree of medical certainty...Codey’s condition is related to her exposure proximity to insecticides and herbicides. I believe that her continued exposure is likely to cause serious or long lasting impairment of health.”

After conferring with the BPC staff, the Browns decided to file a petition for declaration of a Critical Pesticide Control Area—an area where the BPC sets special restrictions on the application of pesticides. These petitions can, according to BPC regulations, be brought to protect fish and wildlife habitat, as well as in cases where pesticide use “is likely to cause serious and/or longstanding impairment of the health of sensitive individuals... who normally occupy such areas.” Although this regulation has been on the books for years, and was once invoked to protect the Deblois Fish Hatchery, it has never been used to protect a chemically sensitive person.

The Browns’ application first came before the BPC at its April 9 meeting. Debbie Brown did not appear in person, out of concern about exposure to chemicals in the  unventilated motel conference room, but was represented by MOFGA’s Sharon Tisher.

Although the Browns had filed a completed application form with detailed statements about the history of their exposures to pesticide spraying and their adverse reactions,  as well as the written report of Dr. Py regarding Codey’s diagnosis, the BPC agreed with arguments of Crabtree’s attorney, Stephen Langsdorf, that the application was not “complete.” It tabled the application, pending receipt of the underlying lab reports on which Dr. Py based his opinion, and of Codey’s pediatric records.

At the May 14 BPC meeting, after having received the requested medical records, as well as documentation of the link between organophosphate pesticide exposure and the development of MCS, from the 1998 book Chemical ExposuresLow Levels, High Stakes, by Ashford & Miller, Board member Carol Eckert, M.D., concluded that the application was “marginally complete,” and other Board members agreed. Tisher then asked the BPC whether it could schedule its action on the petition in time to give the Browns relief from the regular July spraying of organophosphates, and other pesticide applications that occur in the summer (the Critical Pesticide Control Area petition is treated as a regular rulemaking proceeding under BPC regulations, requiring a notice of public hearing, comment period following the hearing, and a separate meeting to act on the petition following the hearing and expiration of the comment period). Tisher pointed out that even given the delay from April 9 to May 14 in the acceptance of this application, the Board could have a rule in place before July by allowing the shortest possible (10 day) comment period and treating the enacted regulation as an emergency regulation immediately effective to protect public health. Tisher noted that the Browns were extremely concerned about the immediate and long term effect of continued spraying on 12-year-old Codey.

The BPC made it clear, however, that it would not abbreviate its usual procedures for this case. Thom Harnett, BPC attorney, stated that he “would never advise the Board to make a promise or guarantee that they would do anything in less than the maximum time allowed by the Administrative Procedure Act, including the 120-day comment period for proposed regulations.” He said this was particularly the case where this was a case of first impression. Eckert stated that she wanted time to have five or six medical experts review the application and comment. She said that she had “no reason to doubt that the family has the symptoms they describe” but that “reasonable people may disagree as to the cause.” She said it would be “wise for the applicants to consider other resolutions, as it is difficult to prove cause and effect.” Alan Lewis, chair of the BPC, said that “for me the issue is so complex that I would not be prepared to take any less than the maximum legal time available to decide it.”

The BPC tentatively set a hearing date for June 25, to be deferred if the Browns and the Crabtrees could come to an agreement regarding this summer’s spraying.

Subsequent to the May 14 meeting, the Browns received confirmation from the University of Maine lab that both their dug and drilled wells were contaminated with low levels of the blueberry herbicide hexazinone (Velpar)well below the official health advisory limit, but enough, the Browns believe, to have caused adverse reactions to the chemically sensitive in the family. Crabtree has not, the Browns believe, applied hexazinone for two years (a new application was scheduled for this year), and they wonder what the contamination concentration was soon after application. The Browns have elected, in view of the impossibility of getting regulatory relief for this summer, to defer their hearing until the fall. They have discussed with Crabtree’s lawyer various measures that may reduce the risk of their exposure, although Crabtree will not cease aerial spraying altogether.


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Vaughan Holyoke replaces Richard Storch on Board

Vaughan Holyoke, Ph.D., Extension Crop Specialist Emeritus, and previous Chairman of the BPC for five years, is returning to the BPC to replace Richard Storch, Ph.D., a retired professor of entomology at the University of Maine.

– Sharon Tisher

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BPC Asked to Promote Real “Wild” Blueberries

Beedy Parker, a MOFGA member and resident of Camden, sent the following letter to the Board of Pesticides Control in response to the health problems that the Browns are experiencing.

To the Maine Board of Pesticides Control:

The Brown family of Hope is applying to the BPC for Critical Pesticide Control Area Designation because of the family’s documented sensitivity to pesticides sprayed on blueberry fields near their home. I would like to suggest that this is a difficult but appropriate opportunity for the Board to follow its legislative mandate to “minimize pesticide drift” (1982) and to “minimize reliance on pesticides” in the State of Maine (1997).

I hope that the skeptical wording of the BPC meeting agenda concerning the medical effects suffered by this family—they “allege” adverse effects and “claim” to be extremely sensitive—does not reflect a dismissive attitude toward the family’s request. Chemical sensitivity is neither imaginary nor rare. Most pesticides are toxic to people.

The agenda summary mentions that 38 different property owners would be affected by protecting the Browns. This indicates that there are many other people who are being “impacted” by blueberry spray, in the air, soil and water. These people would also be protected by the Browns’ critical area designation.

According to the same item entry, Crabtree Farms has been growing blueberries for over 80 years. However, neither Guthion, nor Velpar, Orbit, Imidan, nor any other pesticide was used when the farm began to sell blueberries 80 years ago, and the surrounding properties had not then been marketed to unsuspecting home owners or camp renters. These sprayed blueberries are now marketed worldwide, often at low, third-world commodity prices, as “wild blueberries,” with the implication that they grow by themselves in the wild rather than being sprayed by helicopter or ground rig.

With increasing contamination of our food and growing public suspicion of our food industry, now would be a good time to assist these blueberry growers to switch back to real “wild” blueberry growing, to produce berries that could be marketed to the expanding organic market. This populated blueberry area would be a good place to start. I challenge you to do so.

– Beedy Parker, Camden, Maine

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Summer Cleaning at BPC Meeting

At its June 25 meeting in Bangor, the Board of Pesticides Control (BPC) took advantage of a leisurely summer schedule to clear up a number of housekeeping matters. A February planning session finally came to fruition, as the Board delved into a list of discretionary tasks for future action. The Board’s primary concern was minimizing the state’s reliance on pesticides, in compliance with a recent unfunded mandate from the Maine Legislature. The Board has been tapped to compile data on “high risk and use products or situations” in order to measure whether pesticide reliance has dropped. Discussion suggested that monitoring all high risk products would be formidable with current BPC resources. “You have 6,000 products. It becomes fairly cumbersome,” BPC staff member Henry Jennings said. “The absolute numbers are impossible, at least not without a lot more bodies.” The Board decided that a reinterpretation – meeting the spirit, if not the letter, of the pesticide legislation – would suffice. “Rather than trying to figure out a way to accomplish the impossible, might it be better to ask what kind of information is really significant?” asked BPC chair Alan Lewis. Jennings suggested a goal of introducing integrated pest management to the greater public. Board member Vaughn Holyoke suggested that the legislation revolves around public awareness. “I think there’s a huge category of homeowners who think if they’re not using insecticides, they aren’t using pesticides,” he said.

Pesticide sales data are the traditional means for reporting pesticide use, but the Board was hesitant to rely solely on industry numbers. You don’t get reliable sales reports from homeowners or out of state retailers, said BPC staff member Gary Fish. Tracking a handful of specific pesticide uses (for example, spraying for aphids on potato plants) through a study of sales and application data seemed a reasonable means of determining whether reliance on pesticides for a particular subset of pests is changing, because, as Fish pointed out, a reduction in the sales of one product may be cancelled by an increase in the use of a competing product. “If you don’t get complete data on a particular class of products, you’re going to miss the boat,” he said. The Board was to consider BPC staff recommendations for specific uses to study, as well as each member’s definition of the legislation’s goal, at its July meeting.

The BPC voted to amend commercial applicator and spray contracting firm licensing guidelines to extend a license to two years, with no loss of fees, following a proposal by Fish. Fish also proposed tightening the language of the guidelines to require a licensed applicator to keep full visual and audio contact (not via electronics) with an uncertified assistant at all times. The Board split on the stricter language, with some members, such as Dr. Carol Eckert, supporting a strict rule to force all applicators to become licensed. “The ultimate goal is to get more people licensed,” she said. David Bell of the Maine Wild Blueberry Commission feared that tightening would unfairly target agricultural applicators who often use radios to communicate over the roar of machinery, or momentarily lose visual supervision in the field. The Board decided to consider a new draft of the regulation to lower the amount of abuse, without alienating small farming operations.

A proposed Environmental Risk Advisory Committee (ERAC) was defined by staff member Lebelle Hicks. The Committee will be composed of four standing and two ad-hoc members, representing different facets of the committee’s mission of helping the Board reduce potential adverse environmental effects of pesticides used in agreement with their federal guidelines. Members of ERAC will be appointed by the Board in staggered three-year terms. The Board unanimously approved Hicks’s recommendations. Resumes for a terrestrial or aquatic entomologist, a terrestrial or aquatic biologist, an environmental toxicologist and a citizen with a “demonstrated interest in environmental protection” were to be considered for the four permanent positions at the Board’s July meeting. Ad hoc members will be selected intermittently to provide expert scientific or policy analysis of specific issues under the committee’s discussion.

In other business:

• The Board tabled discussion of an enforcement action against Wisdom High School of St. Agatha. According to a June 1998 inspection, an unlicensed employee of the school department used a boom sprayer to apply herbicide to the school grounds, and the Board has proposed fining S.A.D. 33 for the violation of Maine law. District superintendent Jerry White was unable to attend the June meeting, so the Board voted to consider the issue at its July meeting;

• The Board determined that standardization of buffer zones for pesticide application along right of ways ought to be considered. Under current regulations, autonomous contractors submit their precautionary measures to the Board for approval, and variances traditionally have been granted. However, universal standards for spraying were supported by a majority of Board members. Maine Department of Transportation and Department of Environmental Protection standards for buffer zones were to be studied and amended as potential BPC policy at the July meeting;

• The Board’s consideration of petition to designate a Critical Pesticide Control Area around Debbie and Bruce Brown’s property, thus isolating them from the pesticides applied to the neighboring Crabtree Blueberry Farms, was postponed until September. The property owners have struck a verbal agreement stating that the Browns will be informed of pesticide treatment until the issue can be considered by the Board;

• BPC Director Robert Battesse, Jr., announced that the Maine legislature voted to permit the use of $10,000 in federal funds for a printer that will create licensing cards. Battesse also announced that the staff’s Planning Research Associate 1 position has been upgraded, but that the legislature declined the Board’s request to renew a support position for data management.

– Misty Edgecomb

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