Panel to forward pesticide recommendations

Posted May 12, 2009, at 10:21 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A legislative committee has failed to reach consensus over the hot-button issue of aerial spraying of pesticides and, instead, will send at least three recommendations on a bill to the full Legislature.

The Board of Pesticides Control has been working with various interest groups for more than two years to adopt revisions to Maine’s pesticide application laws that would better protect the public without placing an undue burden on the farming community.

Earlier this year, the board completed work on new rules that would have created a 200-foot buffer zone between “sensitive areas likely to be occupied,” such as homes and schools, and areas where pesticides are being sprayed by plane or helicopter.

The rules, which are subject to legislative approval, also stated that any detectable pesticide residue in off-target areas was enough proof to trigger a possible review of whether the “pesticide drift” rules were violated.

But the majority of lawmakers on the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee disagreed with the proposed rules.

Six committee members voted Tuesday to eliminate the 200-foot buffer and, instead, make any buffer site-specific. The six lawmakers also said they were uncomfortable with the threshold of “any detectable residue” on pesticide drift and, instead, went with a 1 percent residue level. The current drift standard is 20 percent.

Two committee members voted to accept the rules, as presented by the board. Two lawmakers voted to reject the rules altogether.

“We’re making rules to punish 99 percent of the farmers because of the one person out of 100 who breaks the rules,” said Rep. Peter Edgecomb, a Caribou Republican who voted to reject the Board of Pesticides Control proposal.

Representatives of the Maine Farm Bureau and the Wild Blueberry Commission of Maine expressed concerns about the rules’ effects on the agriculture community.

But Heather Spalding, associate director of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, disagreed that the board’s proposed rules would be overly punitive on farmers. Organic farmers want tighter drift standards to keep their produce and fields from being inadvertently tainted by use of pesticides on nearby fields.

“If there is a detectable level, then it just gets the conversation started,” Spalding said after the vote. “It doesn’t necessarily mean a violation or an automatic fine.”

Spalding also pointed out to the committee that the board’s proposed rules already contained significant compromises from those who want tougher regulation of pesticide spraying.

The committee did not take up another controversial board proposal dealing with farmers’ and pesticide applicators’ obligations to notify neighboring property owners before spraying. The committee is expected to hold a work session on that issue on Thursday.

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