State regulators will hold a public hearing Friday in Bangor on a proposal to tighten the rules on aerial spraying of pesticides near homes, businesses and other areas where people would be at risk of exposure.
Maine’s Board of Pesticides Control has been working for about two years to update its rules governing aerial spraying and what is known as “pesticide drift,” which is when winds or other factors carry the chemicals beyond the targeted area.
The issue has been most contentious in Washington and Hancock counties, where helicopters and planes are used to spray pesticides on some wild blueberry barrens.
The public hearing, which is scheduled for 9 a.m. Friday at the Bangor Motor Inn on Hogan Road, will focus on several substantive changes proposed to the board’s aerial spraying and notification rules.
Those changes include:
— Prohibiting aerial spraying of pesticides within 200 feet of “sensitive areas likely to be occupied,” which include homes, buildings, some public roads and recreational areas. A 200-foot buffer would not be needed if neighbors do not object to spraying, however.
— Requiring pesticide applicators to prepare maps of sensitive areas within 500 feet of the targeted site as well as pre-application site plans whenever spraying within 1,000 feet of sensitive areas.
— Requiring pesticide applicators to check whether people living or working within 1,000 feet of a targeted area want to be notified before spraying.
— Clarification of procedures regarding notifications and requesting a notification.
Henry Jennings, director of the pesticides board, said most of the proposed changes would apply only in situations where people may come in contact with the pesticides. The rules would not affect spraying in areas far from people or in cases where neighbors do not want to be notified.
Under pressure from environmental groups, several of Maine’s larger blueberry growers agreed to halt aerial spraying.
But Jennings pointed out that some of those same organizations as well as grass-roots community groups also have petitioned the board in the past to ban all aerial spraying. And spraying has been the subject of several bills introduced into the Legislature in recent years.
“They were all indicative that there was a lot of public concern about this,” Jennings said.
David Bell, executive director of the Wild Blueberry Commission of Maine, cautioned that any rules should be flexible enough to accommodate the best management plans for individual sites.
Bell gave one example of where growers apply pesticides to the perimeter of fields, thereby impeding pests such as fruit flies from spreading to neighboring blueberry barrens. That can reduce the total amount of pesticide needed because growers would not need to treat the interior of the fields, he said.
One-size-fits-all regulations, such as buffer zone, could prevent that type of pest management, Bell said.
“[Pest] management has become much more sophisticated and therefore much more complex,” he said.
The meeting is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. at the Bangor Motor Inn at 701 Hogan Road.
The Board of Pesticides Control will accept written comments on the proposed rule changes through Dec. 3. Written comments should be sent to Henry Jennings, Director, Board of Pesticides Control, 28 State House Station, Augusta 04333-0028.
Comments also can be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about the proposed rules, go to www.thinkfirstspraylast.org.