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Wells Contaminated by Pesticides Used on Blueberries
At the February 15, 2002, meeting of the BPC, Dave Yarborough, Cooperative Extension blueberry specialist, reviewed the latest test results of testing for herbicides and fungicides in ground water. Since 1989, he has sampled several wells in and around blueberry fields annually. According to Yarborough, overall results show that hexazinone (Velpar) levels were similar to or lower than those of the previous years.
Test wells on sites treated with diuron and tebacil detected one or both herbicides. The fungicide propiconazole (Orbit) was detected in the three test wells but not in adjacent surface waters or in the drilled wells; propiconazole was not, however, applied in 2001, so detections evidently are residues from applications made in previous years. Lebelle Hicks, staff toxicologist, asked if Yarborough had been successful in finding alternative herbicides that don’t leach into groundwater. Yarborough replied that although he is still looking, none with consistent weed controls have been found and most of the potential alternatives are toxic to fish. Sampling sites will be added, and Julie Chizmas, formerly of the BPC staff, noted that she would sample wells for hexazinone again in March.
When Clyde Walton asked how the IPM program was doing, Yarborough replied that he felt the blueberry IPM program was working very well and that the three training sessions had had good attendance and participation. When Hicks asked Yarborough if he had a feel for the volume of pesticides actually being used in blueberry production, the answer was that quantification was hard to do. Chizmas did note that she was working on tracking sales and use to get the number of active ingredients, but that tracking was difficult, and data entry issues exist with no time to resolve them. (See above.)
New evidence concerning well contamination was brought before the Board at its March 22, 2002, meeting. Former Board Chairman Alan Lewis, appearing before the Board on an enforcement matter (see below), advised the Board that while researching water quality of Atlantic Salmon habitat at the University of Maine in Machias, he and his colleagues discovered that the public drinking supply in Machias contained 4.5 parts per billion of hexazinone . Lewis expressed concern that the BPC was not monitoring public drinking supplies. The Department of Human Services is in charge of testing public drinking supplies, so the BPC has focused its limited funds on private landowners. The Board expressed equal concern that representatives of the Department of Human Services reportedly were not testing for hexazinone, as Machias’ water supply borders chemically treated blueberry lands.
Maine Rural Workers Coalition, which provided pesticide safety training to approximately 400 field workers in Washington and Hancock Counties in 2001, requested and received a funding grant of $1,300 from the BPC to help cover the cost of travel, lodging and staffing for 2002. The Coalition hopes to double the number of workers trained in 2002. Although it has focused on blueberry workers in the past, this year it will add apple and forestry professions to its training program. In response to a request for assurance that BPC funding was not for "advocacy," Coalition spokesman Michael Hyde said the monies will be spent strictly on pesticide training, and Gary Fish of the BPC staff noted that such specifics could be included in the agreement with the Coalition. Paul Gregory, public information officer with the BPC staff, asked where the curriculum was coming from, to which Hyde replied, "The foundation that is providing the money." Dave Berry, board member, felt the Board had funding issues of its own, but Bob Batteese, director, said that the budget for the Training and Development Corporation would be less than expected and the residual would be available.
Glyphosate Drift Damage Highlight of Enforcement Actions
On July 7, 2001, an employee of the Maine Farms in Caribou applied Dupont’s glyphosate herbicide to a harvested 13-acre broccoli field in Woodland to allow for a second crop planting. From July 19 to 26, the BPC staff received complaints from five adjacent landowners alleging that drift from the glyphosate had caused injury or mortality damage to an 11-acre potato field, a horse pasture, three vegetable gardens, a berry patch, and several apple, cherry and birch trees and may have drifted into a swimming pool. Sampling showed glyphosate concentrations ranging from 0.114 to 18.2 ppm. A scientist from Monsanto (which also sells glyphosate under the Roundup brand name) confirmed that residues above 1 ppm generally will kill plants, while residues below 0.1 ppm generally will not. Jennings noted that this is one of the larger cases the BPC has been involved in and that thousands of dollars were spent in lab work alone. Although he said that Maine Farms has compensated the potato farmer, no mention was made of the other landowners and their property damage. The Board voted unanimously to approve the staff’s $1,000 penalty proposal.
In other enforcement actions, the BPC approved a $500 fine for The Lawn Dawg, a N.H. pesticide applicator, for failing to notify a Gorham, Maine, resident on the BPC’s pesticide registry that an herbicide spraying would be taking place within 250 feet of her property on May 1, 2001; and approved a $200 fine for Pine Grove Campground in Medway for applications of resmethrin insecticide for biting fly control without a valid Maine commercial pesticide applicator’s license.
--Sharon Tisher and Leslie Poole
On July 20, 2001, former BPC Chairman Alan Lewis’ Jonesport property was wrongfully sprayed with the organophosphate pesticide Imidan 70W by an employee of Cherryfield Foods, Inc. Lewis, a Professor of Ecology at the University of Maine Machias who retired from the Board two years ago, immediately reported the incident to the BPC, which sent investigators to assess the damage that Cherryfield Foods had caused. An initial investigation found that both the landowner, Merton Garnett, as well as a licensed pesticide applicator, were present as a non-licensed employee drove over the boundary of Garnett’s property onto Lewis’ organic blueberry field. The investigation revealed that the property line is clearly marked by a hedge of pine trees on the eastern border, planted 15 years ago to mark the property line, as well as a line of telephone poles, agreed upon by the neighbors of 20 years as marking the northern border. The applicator drove the tractor 10 feet onto Lewis’ property, causing a direct discharge of this chemical. Wind speeds were reportedly 8 to 9 mph from the south, causing Imidan to drift onto the Lewis house and causing a contractor working on the property that day to display cold-like symptoms. Samples taken throughout Lewis’ property tested positive for Imidan.
Cherryfield Foods did not identify Lewis’ land as a sensitive area, as required by law, nor did it factor weather conditions into its spray schedule. The staff of the BPC contacted Cherryfield Foods and requested a Drift Management Plan for Powered Equipment Applications, as this company had devised management plans only for aerial spraying. Cherryfield Foods submitted the plan for approval of the BPC at the March 22, 2002, meeting. In addition to this plan, the proposed Consent Agreement would require Cherryfield Foods to pay a fine of $1,000. The Board found that the management plan presented by Cherryfield Foods was not adequate and said that representatives of the company must be present at the next meeting so that concerns of the Board members could be addressed. Thus, the Consent Agreement was tabled until the May 3, 2002, meeting.
Two related discussions followed. First, the $1,000 fine is $500 less than the maximum allowable for a first time offender. Lewis was present at the meeting and expressed concern that Cherryfield Foods was not receiving the maximum fine. "If this was not the most egregious case to come before the Board," Lewis argued, "what would be?" Staff members explained that they needed to follow comparable cases in the state in an effort to be fair. The last time the fine structure was updated was 1989. At that time, Board members lobbied Congress to equate the Board fines with those of the Department of Environmental Protection. This would increase the maximum allowable fine to $5,000 for a first time offense and $10,000 for a second time offense within a four-year period. This proposal was killed in an agricultural subcommittee, for fear of putting small agricultural producers out of business. The Board members did not move to discuss this issue further.
A second concern raised by Lewis’ case is the limited jurisdiction of the Board. After further discussion of the incident in July, it was suggested that the landowner was at least as negligent as Cherryfield Foods. The landowner was in the field during the incident and made no move to mitigate the harm being done. He and Lewis have long struggled over their property rights with no firm solution. Lewis has opted to leave a 10-foot buffer of unmanaged blueberry land around his field and would like Mr. Garnett to be required to do so as well. This is beyond the scope of the Board, however. Unless the landowner was the applicator of the chemical, he is not held responsible. The point was raised that in state forestry laws, the landowner is responsible ultimately for what is done on his property; blueberry growers have no such laws. The BPC hopes that fines levied against commercial processors will exert enough pressure to regulate the private landowners; however this remains questionable. Board member Dr. Carol Eckert would like to explore this issue of landowner culpability in further BPC meetings.
The Cherryfields Foods enforcement was addressed again at the BPC’s May 3, 2002 meeting. Ragnar Kamp appeared on behalf of the company and presented its Draft Drift Management Plan for Powered Ground Equipment Applications, prepared under the terms of the proposed consent decree. The plan includes under the list of "sensitive areas" "landowners who farm organically, are listed with MOFGA, have notified Cherryfield Foods or are known to farm using organic methods." It states that "whenever possible, fields located near waterways, people or other sensitive areas will have established buffer zones and set back criteria that are individualized and applicable to each separate site." Kamp presented a notebook including maps of all 800 properties that Cherryfield Foods managed, and stated that the company was in the process of identifying sensitive areas on each of these properties. Kamp conceded that "what happened [with Lewis] should not have happened" and argued that "we’re really trying to make sure it won’t happen again."
Henry Jennings, director of enforcement, supported the less-than-maximum $1000 fine recommendation, noting that he had been "very impressed" with Cherryfield Foods’ dedication to integrated pest management, and "found the incident somewhat in contrast to corporate policy we see coming down from the top." Kamp also stated that although Lewis was not certified by MOFGA and hadn’t formally notified the abutter that he was organic pursuant to the BPC’s drift rule, Cherryfield Foods had compensated Lewis "as having an in production blueberry field and as if he had an organic field." Kamp stated that Lewis was "quite happy with the compensation he received." The Board unanimously approved the proposed consent decree.
Lewis, contacted following the meeting, agreed that he was treated "fairly" by Cherryfield Foods and declined to disclose the amount of compensation. "My problem was not with Cherryfield Foods’ actions after the fact, my problem was that it happened at all." Lewis said that he would like to tell the Board that "you are misleading yourselves if you believe because you are not hearing other complaints like this one, that my incident is an isolated, solitary occurrence." Lewis said that he had personally witnessed other instances of pesticide spraying drifting over residences. "The culture [in Downeast Maine] is that when people are aggrieved by pesticide trespass, they don’t speak out. Their lives are so intertwined in so many ways that when they are aggrieved they bite their tongues." Lewis suggested that an absolute prohibition should exist against applying pesticides when the wind is blowing in the direction of a sensitive area, and was troubled by the drift rule that presumed that a certain amount of drift was tolerable. "There needs to be a mindset that I may have a right to apply pesticides to my land, but I don’t have a right to drift onto my neighbors."
In response to a request by the Maine Toxics Action Coalition (MTAC), the BPC formed a 14-member committee to draft a proposal to control the use of pesticides in schools. This request was driven by the results of a survey by the Maine Department of Agriculture, released in October 2000, revealing that most pesticide applications in Maine schools are made illegally, by school custodial staff who are not licensed and have no training in pesticide application, safety, or health concerns. Only 5% of schools provide written notice when pesticides are to be applied, and 82% of the 88% of Maine school districts represented in the survey had no integrated pest management plan in place.
The rule-making committee met six times since its inception in December of 2001, and included representatives of MTAC, the Toxics Action Center, and MOFGA, as well as pesticide applicators, manufacturers, and school administrators. At the March 2002 meeting of the BPC, committee members presented the drafted proposal. The main provisions of the proposed rule are: 1) All elementary and secondary schools develop and utilize an Integrated Pest Management Plan to be updated annually; 2) All indoor pesticide applications be limited to baits, wall void, or crack and crevice treatments unless pests threaten occupant health and safety; 3) All elementary and secondary schools notify parents and legal guardians that such a plan exists and is available upon request. The committee could not reach consensus on the fourth element of the rule, regarding the form of parental notification of specific pesticide applications. The committee presented several options to the Board for its determination. The Board ultimately declined to follow the MTAC proposal to notify parents in writing in advance each time an application is made. Instead, the Board voted to propose a draft rule allowing schools to choose their method of notification: either universal notification of every non-exempt pesticide application, or notification to parents who register annually on a school-maintained registry. Committee representatives from the Maine Toxics Action Center, Maine Toxic Action Coalition, and MOFGA, however, supported universal notification to all parents every time an application is made. The proposed rule is subject to modification in response to input received at two public hearings to be held on June 26 and 27, 2002, in Bangor and Lewiston /Auburn. The time and place is yet to be determined. Contact the BPC at 287-2731 for further details, and for copies of the proposed rule, or download the rule and up-to-date information on the hearing at www.mofga.org.
MOFGA MEMBERS AND OTHER INTERESTED PARENTS, TEACHERS, CHILDREN AND CITIZENS ARE URGED TO COME TO PUBLIC HEARINGS ON THE PROPOSED REGULATION ON PESTICIDE USE IN MAINE SCHOOLS. SPEAK OUT FOR REGULATIONS TO PROTECT AGAINST IRRESPONSIBLE PESTICIDE USE IN SCHOOLS AND FOR UNIVERSAL PARENTAL NOTIFICATION. HEARING DATES ARE JUNE 26 AND 27. CONTACT 287-2731 FOR DETAILS RE TIME AND PLACE, OR CLICK HERE.
Emergency Registration to Combat Army Worms
Another outbreak of armyworms, which destroyed Maine corn and hay crops last summer, could cause farmers an estimated $11 million in damage. At its May 3 meeting, the BPC approved an emergency registration for the pesticide tebunefenozide to control armyworms this summer. The pesticide (brand name Confirm 2F and Mimic 2LV) is the same one used two years ago to combat browntail moths along the Maine coast, but was discontinued because it was found relatively ineffective. No products registered currently for use on hay are effective against the armyworms. Jim Dill of the Cooperative Extension told the BPC that he believes the infestation last year was exacerbated by a mild winter, permitting overwintering; strong winds from the south; and a wet spring; and may be repeated this year. The application to the EPA for the emergency registration, prepared for use by the states by the manufacturer DowAgrosciences, reported that the product was "practically non-toxic to birds," "essentially non-toxic to honeybees and earth worms," but "moderately to highly toxic to fish and aquatic invertebrates" and should not be used near water bodies. The only significant concerns for mammals were subacute and subchronic toxicity of the hemopoeitic system, "characterized as mild degenerative anemia, following multiple exposures at high dosage levels." Dogs were the most sensitive species to this effect. BPC toxicologist Lebelle Hicks confirmed that she had "no toxicological concerns," and after Agway representative Laughlin Titus passed around an armyworm found in a farmer’s field and argued that "when armyworm strikes a field it’s biblical proportions," the BPC unanimously approved filing the emergency registration application. MOFGA members, especially those with dogs, may want to find out if their neighbors will be using tebunefenozide, and may be concerned about drift. Contact the BPC at 287-2731 for information about advance pesticide application notification provisions.
Planning continues on the Educational Forum on Genetically Modified Organisms. A date of November 13 in either Augusta or Bangor has been set. Speakers and topics for the forum are still being discussed. MOFGA has submitted to the forum planning committee the names of several nationally recognized experts to address critical concerns about GE crops. Lee Humphreys, a MOFGA certified farmer, is serving on the planning committee.
---Rhonda Houston and Sharon Tisher
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