A new registration system will, for the first time, allow nearby residents easily to ask for notification of when agricultural pesticides will be sprayed in the area. This is a positive step toward better public notification, which, unlike many government initiatives, requires follow-up to see whether the system is working.
Residents who want to be notified if agricultural pesticides will be applied by planes, helicopters or air blast sprayers must put their name on a registry maintained by the Maine Board of Pesticides Control. Residents must live within a quarter-mile of land where the pesticides are applied (within 500 feet for fruit trees or Christmas trees). They can register until June 15 to be notified of spraying this year.
To register or get more information, go to www.thinkfirstspraylast.org or call 287-2731. You must re-register each year, an unnecessary step the board and Legislature should consider removing.
Before spraying, landowners or managers must get a copy of the registry to see whom they must notify. Notification can be by phone, e-mail, mail or in person and must be done between one and seven days before spraying.
The board has also kept a registry for nonagricultural spraying, mostly for lawn care. To be included in this registry, you must pay $20.
The board, at the direction of the Legislature, is looking for ways to combine the two lists, which makes sense, although requiring lawn care personnel to notify people in a quarter-mile radius is unnecessary.
The Legislature wisely asked the board to find out if the public knows about the agricultural registry. Since the board began advertising its existence recently, the number of people on the list has doubled to 1,000. Beyond this, the board plans to do a survey to find out if people know that the registry exists and that they can be included if they qualify.
Some landowners and pesticide applicators worry that drawing attention to the registry will increase concerns about the chemicals, which have been used for decades. This is a valid concern, but it does not outweigh their neighbors’ rights to be notified of when pesticides will be sprayed so they can take precautions.
The board is also looking for ways to simplify the registry, perhaps by creating an Internet system that maps overlaying spray and notification areas from which e-mails could be sent out automatically.
Beginning the registry is a good first step. Ensuring it is working as intended — and changing it if it is not — will help fulfill its intent.