Pesticides panel drops plan for check-ins with neighbors

Posted Dec. 19, 2008, at 8:41 p.m.

State regulators on Friday scrapped a proposal that would have required farmers to check in annually with neighboring landowners about whether they want to be informed about aerial application of pesticides.

Maine’s Board of Pesticides Control still will push forward with a plan to create a statewide registry of people who want to be notified if pesticides are sprayed nearby. But the board took some of the burden off farmers who, under the original plan, would have been required to make the initial contact with landowners within 1,000 feet of the area to be sprayed.

“I still think it is up to the individual to seek out that information,” said Charles Ravis, a board member and professor of environmental science and ecology.

The board has been working for about two years to update Maine’s regulations regarding aerial spraying of pesticides in order to strengthen protections against exposure to potentially toxic chemicals.

The changes recommended Friday were in response to feedback from farmers and other groups that the logistics of notifying so many neighbors was unreasonably burdensome, especially for larger agricultural operations.

Aerial spraying has received the most attention Down East, where many blueberry growers rely on chemicals to help combat fruit flies and other pests. But the rules would apply anywhere helicopters and planes are used to disperse pesticides in areas where people might be exposed.

Several groups have been pushing for more stringent notification requirements and regulation requirements of aerial spraying, and the Legislature already has heard at least one measure advocating a ban on aerial spraying.

Daniel Simonds, a board member and forestry consultant, said he believes the board has an obligation to find the middle ground to make sure that the public knows it has the right to be notified about pesticide applications without overburdening farmers.

Both the farm industry and advocates for additional restrictions on aerial spraying have supported the creation of a registry — administered by the board — of people who want to be notified of pesticide applications.

A draft version discussed Friday would require that registrants be notified anytime pesticides are applied on the ground within 500 feet of their property and within 1,500 feet for aerial application. The board will continue to work on the draft and is expected to hear public comments on the proposal during a meeting on Jan. 23.

Heather Spalding, associate director of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, said her organization wholeheartedly supported the registry. But Spalding said she and other MOFGA members were “very disappointed” that the board decided to essentially re-write the notification rules after limited discussion on Friday.

“We’re a long way from where we want to be,” Spalding said. “From my perspective, this is two years of really hard work that has been thrown out of the window in five minutes … Our feeling is that the onus should be on the people who are spraying these toxins.”

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