Addison, Department of Agriculture clash over spray banClick here for MOFGA's Testimony at the June 11th hearing.
UPDATE on July 24th Special Meeting
On March 11, 2003, the citizens of the Washington County town of Addison voted (86 for, 58 against) an ordinance banning aerial spraying of pesticides. On April 10, 2003, the Commissioner of Agriculture wrote to the Town Selectmen contending that enforcement of the ordinance would "restrict or prohibit the use of best management practices by farms in the community, particularly those growing wild blueberries." The Commissioner accordingly concluded that enforcement of the ordinance was illegal under the "Right to Farm" statute, 17 M.R.S.A. sec. 2805. The Addison Town Attorney, Charles Gilbert, gave the Town an opinion dated May 21, 2003, in which he concluded that the Commissioner had not properly proceeded under the Administrative Procedures Act either to establish best management practices or to determine that they are restricted by the Addison ordinance. Twenty other Maine municipalities regulate pesticide use, including five which prohibit aerial spraying.
On June 11, about 80 residents of Addison and surrounding communities convened at the Addison Town Hall for a meeting with representatives of the Department of Agriculture, the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, and the Board of Pesticides control. The state officials sought to allay residents' concerns about the risks of pesticide use by the 25 growers managing a total of 500 acres of blueberry ground in the Town. None of the state speakers addressed, however, the legal issues raised by the Addison Town Attorney. Indeed, the essence of the attorney's opinion was mischaracterized in the agenda handed out at the meeting, which stated that the Town attorney had "basically determined that [the Commissioner] does have the authority [to override the Town Ordinance]" and that "the Town could challenge the Right to Farm Law legally but it appears that it [sic] unlikely that it would be successful." Sharon Tisher, an environmental lawyer asked by Addison resident Donna Kausen to attend the meeting and review the documents, submitted a statement to the Town Committee confirming the legal weaknesses in the State's position. (see www.mofga.org for statement).
As newspaper articles on the Addison vote had quoted residents' concerns about high cancer rates in Washington County, Board of Pesticides Control toxicologist Dr. Lebelle Hicks gave a presentation addressing only the cancer risk from commonly used blueberry pesticides. Hicks confirmed that cancer is "very common" in both Maine and the U.S., and that one out of every three people will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. She also showed a chart for age-adjusted cancer incidence rates in Washington County, Maine and the U.S. from 1990-1998, which showed Washington County higher from 1994 on. She stated, however, that the only factor driving that increase was lung cancer rates, caused by smoking. Hicks argued that environmental pollution only counted for about two percent of cancers. She stated that pesticides were only one type of environmental pollution, and that only two compounds used on blueberry fields, chlorothalonil (Bravo, Equus) and diuron (Karmex) presented a cancer risk; the EPA had completed a complete cancer risk assessment on these and found the risk to be legally acceptable, with less than 1 in a million increase in tumor in the general public. In response to Jonesboro activist Nancy Oden's question about the contribution of pesticides in our diet to cancer risk, Hicks replied that we have the "safest food supply in the world." Addison resident Katey Simpson asked Hicks whether she meant to argue that "the great spike in post-World War II cancers is not related to agricultural chemicals - where breast cancer has increased from 1 in 50 to 1 in 8 women." Dr. Carol Eckert, a family practitioner and member of the Board of Pesticides Control, offered to respond. She stated that "breast cancer is very complicated," and that genetics certainly plays a role, but that "smoking is a major issue." "This is absolutely your decision; we want to tell you that if you only regulate environmental things you're not going to solve the problem of cancer." A number of members of the audience raised questions about other neurological and endocrine system effects of blueberry pesticides. Hicks stated that she did not come prepared to address those but welcomed anyone to call her later. Joan McMurray of Columbia stated that she was very concerned about autoimmune disorders in her community: "Half the people I know have problems with their immune system, fibromyalgia, MS…" Jane McCloskey of Deer Isle pointed out that the toxicity analyses Hicks was presenting related only to individual chemicals. What about interactive effects? "There are very few studies done," Hicks conceded, "You could do that until you're blue in the face and can't cover all the possibilities." "You're saying, 'because it's technically difficult there's no risk,'" McCloskey replied. Judy Dakin, who stated that she was a nurse in the community for many years, said she had seen cancer rates increasing, especially in young people, and more asthma. There should, she said, be "zero tolerance". "I don't want to talk about rats, I want to talk about people."
Next on the agenda was University of Maine Cooperative Extension Blueberry Specialist David Yarborough, who made a presentation on blueberry cultivation practices. Yarborough contended that blueberries were a very low-input crop, with few pesticide applications a year compared to other crops, thanks to the development of Integrated Pest Management scouting procedures. Growers only apply pesticides, Yarborough contended, when they've identified a need, and aerial spraying is the most effective way to apply those pesticides. Sharon Tisher asked Yarborough a series of questions about the so-called "best management practices" that the Commissioner of Agriculture contended would be "restricted or prohibited" by Addison's spray ban. Yarborough conceded that nowhere in the entirety of the blueberry grower's guide that he had helped develop was there any requirement, or even a recommendation, that pesticides be applied by air. In one instance, in the "Hexazinone Best Management System," Yarborough conceded that there was a specific recommendation NOT to apply liquid hexazinone by air. And Yarborough also agreed that his fact sheet entitled "Minimizing Off-Target Deposition of Pesticide Applications" stated that "pesticide applications which are directed upwards or made by aircraft are likely to be subject to more drift." The best management practice recommendation for aerial spraying, Yarborough contended, was not in writing but was "implicit, implied." Tisher suggested that it was time the Department convened a broad-based rulemaking committee, representing affected communities as well as farmers, to determine when aerial spraying would be recommended, taking into consideration not only the effectiveness of the application but its environmental and health consequences. Yarborough did not disagree.
Addison grower "Buzz" Norton then stood up and argued that aerial spraying was not just "best" management practice, it was the "only" one. Norton stated that he was already losing money growing berries now, and could not afford to buy the ground equipment he'd need if the ban went in effect. He had tried to get "the helicopter company" to apply organic chemicals [presumably, Bt], and the company had refused. Norton also argued that ground application damaged his berries. He invited his lobstermen neighbors to "line up your day's catch on the dock and let me drive down the middle of them and you take what's left." When several members of the audience suggested that Norton grow organically, Norton said there was "no market" for organic berries. "They're in another world," Norton commented.
The last state representative of the State to speak was Peter Mosher, representing the Department of Agriculture. Mosher conceded that five other communities had spray bans in effect (Coplin Plantation, Lebanon, Limestone, New Sweden, and Rangeley), but that none of these were predominantly agricultural communities and there had not been a Right to Farm problem with these bans. Mosher said that sitting through this hearing left him "thunderstruck." There is a "philosophical split" in this community, and "I don't see a way the Department can resolve these issues." He was hence in "a rather different position than I've found myself historically." Mosher did not predict a specific outcome, but did say that ending up in court was one possibility.
Alan Lewis, ecology professor at the University of Maine at Machias, and former chair and member for twelve years of the Board of Pesticides Control was the final participant invited to speak. Lewis said he wanted to respond to some of the positions the Commissioner had taken in his April 10 letter to the Town. He argued that the Commissioner's argument that banning aerial spraying would create a bigger pesticide storage problem was in his experience a "non issue." He also said that the likelihood that insect-born diseases such as the browntail moth would require aerial spraying in Addison was also very improbable: "the range of the browntail moth has been contracting since 1970, and now is limited to Casco Bay." Lewis said a major problem with the concept of "best management practices" is that even when they exist, they are voluntary. Lewis described how his organic blueberry field was driven over and sprayed with pesticides by a firm applying on his neighbor's property, just a year after he retired from the Board. "I got a financial settlement," Lewis noted. Then the following year he was advised with a knock on his door that they were going to be spraying his neighbor's property. He asked the applicator if the wind direction was away from his house, and was assured it was. He went outside and set up a wind indicator, and found that the wind was blowing in fact directly on his property. He called the Board of Pesticides Control and had an inspector there "within an hour," and they didn't spray. Lewis emphasized how important it was for people affected by spray drift to complain to the Board of Pesticides Control, and to do that immediately, so that the problem can be addressed and there's a record of the it.
UPDATE: At a Special Town meeting on July 24 called to either repeal, or strengthen, the original spray ban, blueberry growers and their families were out in force, and the final vote was 103 to 86 against the spray ban. Addison resident Donna Kausen stated that the proponents of the spray ban hope to work with local growers to attempt to solve some of the pesticide issues that gave rise to the initiative.