Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
Maine BPC Report – Fall 2000

Maine BPC Reports \ BPC - Fall 2000

Potato Sprout Inhibitor Seriously Injures Bystander
Hope Critical Pesticides Control Area Approved

Potato Sprout Inhibitor Seriously Injures Bystander

On December 15, 1998, Barbara McGuire, a bookkeeper for Northeast Potato Distributors, went to work as usual at her office in Monticello, which ajoins a potato storage facility owned by Arrow Farms. Greg Schools, a manager of the storage facility, advised her and her co-worker Dale Peers that they were going to be applying sprout inhibitors to potatoes in another part of the building. He did not, however, tell the employees to exit the building or to take other precautions to protect their health; instead, according to his written statement, he advised them "not to call the fire department if they noticed smoke coming out of the storage facility through any cracks or windows." Blaine Lincoln, of Northern Refrigeration, Inc., then made an application of Pin Nip 98% Chlorpropham, a carbamate insecticide, to the pesticide storage area adjoining McGuire’s office. As the morning progressed, both Peers and McGuire developed light-headedness, dizziness, headache, sore eyes, tight chest and a funny taste. About 12:30, when they opened the office door, they observed a fog permeating the loading area connecting the office and the storage area. Both went home and then to the emergency room. Both were diagnosed with carbamate inhalation poisoning.

McGuire, a non-smoker who had no previous symptoms of allergy, asthma or respiratory complaints, has been in treatment ever since for chemical-induced asthma, taking three different inhalers and a pill. For 11 years prior to the incident, McGuire ran 25 to 30 miles a week She has not been able to run since, because of shortness of breath. McGuire no longer works at the facility, and has a pending lawsuit against Northern Refrigeration. She is represented by Tom Brown of the firm of Eaton, Peabody.

At the May 19, 2000, BPC meeting, the staff brought the case to the Board for approval of an enforcement action against the licensed pesticide applicator, Northern Refrigeration. Discussion focused on the issue of whether the applicator, Blaine Lincoln, was justified in relying on the management of the storage facility to notify and take steps to protect other tenants in the building. Lincoln’s lawyer, Paul Douglas, argued that Lincoln wasn’t under a legal duty to "ensure" that no one was exposed to the pesticide, only to take reasonable precautions. Douglas argued it was not negligent for Lincoln to expect Schools to protect anyone who could potentially be exposed. BPC enforcement officer Henry Jennings countered, however, that "the Board has consistently held that notice is the responsibility of the applicator. Here you’re faced with no indication that the applicator instructed people to leave. Were those reasonable steps?" McGuire’s attorney argued that the building where the application was made was "very porous, not suitable to fogging," and that the only barrier between the storage facility and the loading shed that connected to the offices consisted of plastic strip "apron doors." Lincoln, he noted, was "in protective gear from head to foot, and he had a duty the way we see it to expose nobody. His exculpatory efforts don’t hold hot water, let alone fumes and fog." Discussion also addressed the fact that the amount of carbamate applied exceeded the label instructions. Northern Refrigeration argued that that was OK because there were other potatoes in the facility. Jennings pointed out that the argument was tantamount to an admission that they "engaged in chemical trespass on someone else’s potatoes who had not asked for the treatment."

The Board unanimously approved pursuing the enforcement action, except that Neil Crane, a potato farmer who contracts for Northern Refrigerations services, abstained.


Hope Critical Pesticides Control Area Approved

On June 9, in a brief but emotionally charged session, the Maine Board of Pesticides Control (BPC) finally approved the Hope Critical Pesticides Control Area.

The rule restricts application of pesticides in the ½ mile area surrounding the home of Bruce and Debbie Brown in Hope. The action was in response to a petition filed nearly a year earlier by the Browns, who claim that aerial pesticide spraying on blueberry fields by their neighbors Tim and Everett Crabtree had made them sick, and caused their now 13 year old daughter Codey to develop a severe condition of chemical sensitivity. Codey has been schooled at home with a tutor over the past two years because of her chemical sensitivities, triggered by many common household chemicals and perfumes. (see March/May & June/Aug 2000 MOF&G).

The BPC regulation allowing for special restrictions on pesticide use in sensitive areas has been on the books for over a decade, and invoked twice before to protect fish populations. This was the first time the BPC acted to protect a sensitive individual, and may be the first time in the country a pesticide regulatory agency has done so (see President's Letter - p. ). The process was strenuously opposed by the Farm Bureau, the Maine Blueberry Commission, foresters and farmers from as far away as Washington County, who argued that it would open up a Pandora's box of similar claims, and interfere with their right to farm." Proponents on the Board countered that the process was sufficiently lengthy and difficult that it was only likely to be invoked when serious medical conditions compelled it.

The Browns had requested a ban on virtually all outdoor pesticide applications within ½ mile of their home. The rule finally approved was a substantial compromise, permitting continued conventional agriculture, but attempting to minimize risk of drift. It requires that a detailed pesticide management plan be drawn up every year by the Cooperative Extension and the farmer, and approved by the Board. The rule mandates that there be no aerial spraying in the half mile area, except granular pesticides. As a practical matter, that permits only aerial spraying of clay-impregnated granules of the herbicide hexazinone - and no spraying of any liquid insecticides, including organophosphates or carbamates, which are most associated with development of multiple chemical sensitivities. In selecting pesticides to be used, the plan "must address the risks of each product in terms of its active ingredient, inert ingredients, volatility, leachability and surface loss potential." Accordingly, the plan approved for this year eliminates all use of azinphos-methyl (Guthion or Sniper), considered the most toxic pesticide used on blueberries in Maine. Ground application of pesticides with powered equipment may only happen when winds are blowing away from the Brown residence, and advance notice of the applications must be given the Browns.

Alan Lewis, Carol Eckert, Michael Dann, Vaughan Holyoke, and Jerry Litzerman (a temporary appointee to the Board for this proceeding, representing the Town of Hope) voted for the rule. Andrew Berry abstained, as his company, Maine Helicopters, was involved in some of the pesticide spraying at issue in the case. Neil Crane, a potato farmer, opposed it, as he felt the voluntary measures adopted by the Crabtrees were sufficient to protect the Browns. Jo D. Saffeir, a public representative who, like Lewis, will be retiring from the Board this July, opposed the rule because she didn't feel it was strong enough. In a very emotional moment, Saffeir noted that she was pregnant, and "thinking about bringing another child into this world gives me a clarity in thinking about priorities." Saffeir stated that she "remained unconvinced that there will be no potential impact on the Browns from aerial application of granular materials…If I were to think of Codey as my child I would expect a greater level of protection from the Board in this plan."

The Crabtrees' lawyer Stephen Langsdorf stated after the meeting that his clients were disappointed by the outcome of the proceeding, and would consult others in the blueberry business to see if they wanted to collectively pursue an appeal to Superior Court. Debbie Brown stated that her family was "really grateful that the board took it seriously and helped us," but the family remains concerned about "whether it's going to be enough."

Lincolnville organic apple and blueberry grower Robert Sewall, who testified as an expert witness for the Browns at the public hearing on the petition in December, reports that since then many in the area with blueberry land have contacted him for advice about cultivating organically.

– Sharon Tisher