(Beyond Pesticides, April 15, 2011) Several bills have been introduced in the Maine State Legislature which seek to weaken or eliminate the state’s pesticide spray notification registry. Testimony on the bills was heard last week by the state’s Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry (ACF). No votes were taken, but committee decisions are expected as soon as this week on bills concerning the registry.
The first bill, L.D. 16, “An Act to Revise Notification Requirements for Pesticides Applications Using Aircraft or Air-carrier Equipment,” would significantly weaken the law by reducing the required notification radius for aerial sprays from ¼ mile (1320 ft.) to just 100 feet. Democrats on the ACF Committee, who oppose the bill, have pointed to previous state research showing that pesticides sprayed aerially on blueberry fields can drift as far as 1500 feet. The bill would also reduce the required notification distance when spraying fruit trees or Christmas trees from 500 ft. to 50 ft.
A second bill, L.D. 228, “An Act to Revise Notification Requirements for Pesticide Application,” would effectively abolish the registry completely. According to the Kennebec Journal, the bill’s sponsor intends for the responsibility for notification to fall to the landowner, as opposed to the farmer or land manager. However, in its repeal of the current law, the bill would also remove any legal requirement mandating that local residents be notified at all.
The state law requiring pesticide notification was first adopted in 2009. However, it was previously weakened by a 2010 law which was designed to lessen the burden on farmers. According to the Maine Board of Pesticides Control, the state body regulating pesticides, the law as it currently stands contains three separate provisions regarding notification of outdoor pesticide applications. For non-agricultural applications, residents can sign up to receive word of any spraying within 250 feet of their property. For aerial spraying, the current requirement is for applicators to notify anyone listed in the registry who lives within ¼ mile of the application site. Finally, for non-aerial agricultural applications, residents who wish to be notified of spraying within 500 feet of their property must initiate contact with the land manager who is spraying and declare their wish to be informed. The applicator is then required by law to notify anyone who has declared such a desire.
In its testimony to the ACF committee in opposition to these bills, the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) pointed out the many reasons for why this registry, and others like it around the country, are a necessary service for local residents, especially those who may have certain medical conditions, such as asthma, which make them more sensitive to pesticides in the air. MOFGA also noted that it is often the application technology (air/ground, liquid/gas, etc.), rather than environmental factors such as wind or spray area, that is most significant in determining potential risks. Following this argument it would seem somewhat illogical for there to be a notification distance for aerial spraying (100 ft.) that is less than half that of the distance for residential and neighborhood spraying (250 ft.), as proposed in L.D. 16.
MOFGA has chosen to support a third bill, L.D. 1041, “An Act to Simplify Pest Control Notification,” which seeks to clarify existing regulations regarding setting specific distances for specific technologies, ensure that the registrant list is accurate and up to date, and establish the state registry as the only such system, so that information is kept in one place. The bill also removes specific references to aerial pesticide spraying and applies the relevant rules to all outdoor applications, regardless of application method, providing for enhanced ability of residents to obtain notification.