Debate over notifying neighbors of agricultural spraying centers on a fundamental question: Who has the responsibility to protect residents from potential harm? It is the residents themselves or the companies doing the spraying?
So far, the state has left most of the responsibility to the residents. A bill currently under consideration in the Legislature would change that. It should be carefully considered.
LD 1293, sponsored by Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, would require land managers to notify neighbors prior to the application of pesticides using aircraft or air-carrier equipment, which can allow the chemicals to drift onto nearby properties. It would leave it to the Board of Pesticides Control to establish a registry of residents wanting notification of pesticide spraying within 1,320 feet of their land. The existence of the registry would be publicized through notices at town offices and on the pesticides board’s Web site.
This is a good concept, although many details remain to be addressed. First, the state, with shrinking financial resources, should not be responsible for managing a registry. It should be up to growers and land managers who use aerial spraying to contact neighbors and compile a list of those who want to be notified before spraying occurs. This could be done for a couple of years with a report back to the Legislature about how this system is working.
A major objection to notification is that calling numerous abutting landowners can be onerous. The process can be simplified by using e-mail. This would allow a landowner to prepare one notice and instantaneously send it to dozens or even hundreds of people. Phone calls could be made to the few people without e-mail access.
Such details have stalled progress on notification improvements, which have been discussed by the Board of Pesticides Control for more than two years. The result of that discussion is LD 972, which establishes a notification registry, but leaves it up to people who want to be notified to put their names on the list. This is insufficient.
Pesticides play an important role in pest management and have increased yields for many crops. At the same time, pesticide exposure has been linked to cancer and birth defects. The U.S. Geological Survey has been assessing pesticides in streams and groundwater for decades. In its most recent study, it found at least one pesticide in every stream it surveyed in the country and in half the wells.
It seems only reasonable that growers should want to protect their neighbors from the potential detrimental effects. It should not be up to the neighbors to ensure they are protected.