(Beyond Pesticides, February 25, 2013) Both current and future pesticide laws are under assault in several states. State-run agencies in Alaska are no longer required to solicit public comments or a review process for pesticide applications on state land due to new regulations adopted by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). In Maine, the state Board of Pesticides Control is considering a proposal that weakens requirements for notification of pesticide spraying in fear of West Nile Virus (WNv) problems this summer. A state bill introduced in Hawaii to require neighbors to share specific information on pesticides being used to any abutting property owners was revised by various Hawaii statehouse committees until all notification rules in the bill were removed.
The decision in Alaska, which will go into effect on March 7th, allows state agencies to spray pesticides on state land without having the application subject to public comment. The new regulation replaces the former transparent process with one that only requires agencies to develop an Integrated Pest Management Plan and submit it to the DEC. This new regulation takes away the ability for the public’s input to have an impact on proposed pesticide applications on state land. The biggest effect of this new regulation will be in terms of how Alaskan railroad tracks and right-of-ways will be managed. Due to public opposition, The Alaska Railroad has used mostly non-chemical methods of vegetation control since 1985, the year the state took over the railroad. These new regulations could end the Alaskan Railroad’s reputation as the only herbicide-free stretch of rail in the county. However, Alaskans have also used other tactics to reduce the use of pesticides on railroads beyond utilizing the public comment process.
In 2006, several jurisdictions passed resolutions opposing the spraying of pesticides by the Alaska Railroad in their districts, including the Denali, Kenai Peninsula and Matanuska-Susitna boroughs; the Municipality of Anchorage, the City of Seward, the Native Village of Eklutna; and the citizens advisory board for Matanuska-Susitna Valley state parks. The Alaskan Supreme Court also halted plans for the use of glyphosate to kill weeds along Alaskan Railroad track in 2010. Alaskans are particularly concerned with how pesticides can affect waterways and fishing. In 2008, several Alaskan Environmental groups sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) for failing to conduct a proper assessment of the environmental consequences of using herbicides to kill non-native species in Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge and the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.
In Maine, the state Board of Pesticide Control is considering a proposal to weaken public notification requirements so towns can more easily spray pesticides to control for insect-borne diseases. The board is recommending changes after consulting with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Maine health authorities on preparing for public health threats from WNv and other insect-borne disease. The new changes would allow the state to preform aerial and ground applications if the CDC recommends spraying. The town would only have to give general public notice through media outlets or websites, for example, in comparison to giving advance notification to all landowners. Land owners can still request to opt out of ground spraying but would not be allowed to opt out of aerial spraying.
This proposal has raised concerns among organic farmers and environmental groups about the potential exposures to pesticides that people and crops may face. Katy Green, quoted in an article in the Portland Press Herald, organic transitions director with the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) in Unity, said the nonprofit organization, which represents some 7,000 members in Maine, is worried about “the feasibility of limiting aerial spraying.”
“If an organic farmer’s fields or orchards are inadvertently hit by drifting spray, they couldn’t sell any of those products as organic,” she said. “They’re worried about their livelihoods.”
Evidence through scientific studies and experiences from communities around the country has shown that spraying pesticides is not an effective or efficient way to prevent death or illness associated with insect-borne WNv. Moreover, spraying for WNv can be harmful to non-target species, adversely affect wildlife, and contaminate drinking water sources.
Hawaiian state legislators worked to craft a bill that requires neighbors to provide specific information about the pesticides being used to any abutting property owner who requests it. House Bill 673 was originally crafted after families living near Monsanto’s corn fields tried to get information from the company on when and what they were spraying. However, Monsanto gave these families very little information. Kauai County councilman Gary Hooser notes in a recent blog post published on the organization Hawai’i Seed’s website, “People on my island are getting sick… Yet when I’ve asked these companies directly and officially in writing to disclose what chemicals and in what quantities they are spraying, the industrial agrochemical GMO companies on Kauai have refused to do so.”
After being introduced, House Bill 673 bill was amended by the Committee on Health, which deleted the requirement that private or commercial pesticide applicators provide an inquiring property owner certain information about the application of pesticides. The focus of the bill now, after passing through two committees with amendments, is for the Legislative Reference Bureau of Hawaii to conduct a study of pesticide reporting requirements of other states. The bill, if it passes in its current form, has an effective date of July 1, 2050. Even though this bill has been watered down, there is an opportunity for the Hawaiian legislature to review other successful pesticide notification programs in the state and further amend the legislation to allow the legislation to take effect at an earlier date.
There is strong momentum for providing citizens greater protection from pesticides in Hawaii, despite efforts by agrichemical companies to spur this type of legislation. House Bill 1386 would establish a commercial pesticide-free buffer zone around schools, child care facilities, and health care institutions, imposing a 72-hour notice requirement in at least two newspapers or publications and to all schools, child care facilities, and health care institutions in the immediate area of commercial pesticide spraying.
The state Hawaii could also become the first state to impose labeling requirements on imported genetically engineered (GE) food. Hawaiian House Bill 174 has already passed the agriculture, and consumer protection and commerce committee and was scheduled to be heard by the finance committee on February 22nd.
Notification of pesticide applications provides the public with the opportunity to take precautions to avoid direct exposures to hazardous pesticides. The weakening of these regulations particularly affects children, individuals with multiple chemical sensitivities, and other populations like the elderly, who are more sensitive to the effects of pesticides. For more information on pesticide notification laws read Beyond Pesticides’ “State Lawn Pesticide Notification Laws” fact sheet and visit Beyond Pesticides Lawns and Landscapes page.
Join the movement to promote policies which protect people from pesticide exposure by contacting Beyond Pesticides at [email protected], or call our office at 202-543-5450.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.