AUGUSTA, Maine — The state Board of Pesticides Control is preparing to embark on a new program of water monitoring — sediment monitoring, more precisely — to focus on protecting marine life, particularly the state’s valuable lobster fishery.
In addition, the board has resurrected a defunct ad hoc committee that will play an active advisory role in the new effort.
Some water sampling and testing that the board conducts has been overdue, but it is being renewed since state officials have secured a new contract for laboratory services.
The eight-member environmental risk advisory committee will be chaired by Curtis Bohlen, a member of the Board of Pesticides Control, which is under the division of animal and plant health within the state Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. The committee will hold its first meeting April 18.
The board discussed its policy relative to the environmental advisory panel at length when it met in February, finally agreeing to form a committee to study if pesticide residues have the potential to affect Maine’s lobster industry “directly or via impact on other marine organisms.” It also agreed to appoint members recommended by director Henry Jennings and the board staff.
Ironically, the board’s decision to establish a new advisory committee arose in conjunction with its opposition earlier to legislation that intended to protect lobsters from pesticides. At its January meeting, the board discussed legislation to ban two pesticides used to control mosquitoes in order to protect lobsters.
Jennings opposed the measure, but he proposed that the board consider convening a new environmental risk advisory committee to study the more broader issue of lobsters and other marine life at risk from pesticides.
During the discussion, the board staff noted new research suggesting that synthetic pyrethroids — insecticides — may be harmful to aquatic invertebrates. The board voted to oppose both pieces of legislation and directed Jennings to testify against them.
In his testimony, Jennings said that the pesticides may be needed to prevent mosquito-borne diseases and that data that was the basis of similar legislation in Connecticut had since been invalidated. He also told lawmakers of the board’s plans to begin a “much more comprehensive review” of issues related to the impacts of pesticides on marine life.
The environmental risk advisory committee “is an ambitious project that we have high expectations for,” said Jennings, who discussed in recent weeks the formation of the panel and the new focus of water monitoring in order to protect marine life. “It’s a vitally important subject and the Board of Pesticides Control is making it a top priority.”
The new approach will focus on sediment. Research elsewhere, notably California, has raised concerns about pesticides in sediments and their potential toxicity to invertebrates that are sediment dwellers, according to Jennings.
The board created the first environmental risk advisory committee in 1999 to help the medical advisory committee assist the board in studying state-specific environmental concerns. The environmental panel has not been active since 2006, when it finished work related to concerns about pesticides used to control the browntail moth. The advisory panel has not been active since then because it was an ad hoc committee, explained Jennings.
The board has monitored and surveyed ground and surface water for pesticide residues in the past. However, testing was curtailed in recent years because of the lack of adequate laboratory services. The staff has contracted with the Montana State Laboratory for testing. It is viewed as a temporary arrangement until the Maine Health and Environmental Testing Lab can provide the services.
Although it is the board’s policy to repeat statewide groundwater monitoring surveys every five to seven years, the last such survey was done in 2005; another survey should have been conducted in 2012.
The reason for the delay is that the laboratory the board has been using no longer provides the service, and finding another laboratory was “complicated by several factors,” said Jennings.
The board staff did some water quality monitoring in 2011. It also sampled sediment in the Portland area in recent years, the last time being 2010.
The sediment sampling in streams in 2010 produced results that were well below human health risk limits but close to aquatic limits, Mary Tomlinson, a staff water quality specialist, reported to the board at its January meeting.
“I would say that is not an accurate statement,” Jennings explained later, “because there’s really no way to compare a benchmark intended for water to a residue found in sediment. Residues in sediment may not exert a toxic effect because the residues are bound to sediment not necessarily available to marine organisms.”
The new initiative to analyze sediment in the near-shore environment, which will be guided by the advisory committee, will be launched in summer. About 30 samples likely will be taken around the Casco Bay and Penobscot Bay, said Jennings, but “potentially anywhere along the coast.”
Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, indicated the organization will have a presence at the committee meetings. “We plan to be there,” said McCarron, who praised the formation of the panel and the new focus on protecting marine live as positive developments for the lobster industry.
Carl Wilson, a lobster specialist for the state Department of Marine Resources who was appointed to the committee, called the formation of the panel a “good opportunity” to have a group of experts gather the best data on the impacts of various pesticides. “We want to have as much knowledge as we can,” he said, focusing on protecting marine organisms.
Brian Beal, a marine ecology professor at the University of Maine at Machias, praised the make-up of the committee, calling it a “good mix of academics and government people.”
“This is a great group of people, and the state of Maine should feel lucky … to have these people looking into pesticides and ecosystems,” said Beal.