Daily News Archive

North America's Largest Fruit Farm Faces Clean Water Act Lawsuit Over Aerial Pesticide Spraying in Maine
(Beyond Pesticides, August 5, 2004)
State and national environmental groups announced today that they intend to sue Cherryfield Foods, Inc., the largest blueberry grower and processor in Maine, for discharging pesticides into rivers, streams, lakes, ponds and coastal waters in violation of the federal Clean Water Act.

In a formal notice letter sent to Cherryfield today, the Toxics Action Center, Environment Maine, Beyond Pesticides and Sierra Club allege that Cherryfield has violated the Clean Water Act each time that pesticides it has sprayed have drifted into surface waters in the vicinity of wild blueberry fields owned or managed by the company. The groups allege that Cherryfield does not have a permit to discharge pesticides into waterways, as required under the Clean Water Act.

"Pesticide regulation is woefully inadequate in the state of Maine and across the country," said Maggie Drummond, Field Director for Toxics Action Center. "These chemicals have not been fully tested for toxicity, they may contain harmful ingredients that are not disclosed to the public, and no one keeps track of how much gets sprayed, where it gets sprayed, or where it ends up. We're taking action today to reduce the use of toxic pesticides, to subject pesticides to a full environmental review under the Clean Water Act, and to help Downeast residents keep harmful chemicals out of their water."

According to the notice letter, Cherryfield sprays numerous insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides on its blueberry fields. The groups cite "drift studies" conducted by the Maine Board of Pesticides Control (BPC) as evidence that pesticides land directly in waterways after aerial spraying. The drift studies document discharges of phosmet, an organophosphate insecticide that acts as a nerve agent, and chlorothalonil, a toxic fungicide, into the Pleasant River and its watershed, which is home to endangered Atlantic salmon.

The groups hope that regulation of aerial spraying under the Clean Water Act will result in, among other things, an examination of the effect of pesticides on salmon migration patterns, schooling behavior, endocrine systems, juvenile and sexual development, food supply, and habitat.

Cherryfield Foods is a subsidiary of Oxford Frozen Foods. Oxford Frozen Foods' web site says that Cherryfield "owns and operates the largest fruit farm in North America." Much of Cherryfield's operations are located in Maine's Washington County.

"Government has failed to enforce the Clean Water Act, so citizens must," said Matthew Davis, an advocate for Environment Maine. The groups will ask the United States District Court in Bangor to prohibit further unlawful discharges of pesticides and to impose appropriate monetary penalties against Cherryfield for violations of the law. The Act provides for penalties of up to $32,500 for each day of violation. A notice of intent to sue must be given at least 60 days before a suit is filed.

The groups believe the case would be the first Clean Water Act claim against an agriculture company for violations linked to aerial pesticide spraying. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection is responsible for administering the Clean Water Act permit program in Maine, with oversight from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The groups contend that regulating aerial spraying under the Clean Water Act should not only reduce the amount of pesticides released to waterways, but also hold pesticide users more accountable to the public. "Pesticide ingredients are not always fully disclosed, so we don't even know the full extent of what is ending up in our water," said Vivian Newman, Conservation Chair of the Maine Chapter of the Sierra Club.

According to Jay Feldman, Executive Director of Beyond Pesticides, while measures such as adequate no-spray buffer zones may be considered as a remedy to the problem, "Ultimately we hope the wild blueberry industry explores ways to eliminate toxic pesticide use entirely. Cut out the pesticides, and you cut out the drift."

Toxics Action Center helps citizens in Maine and across New England organize to clean up toxic waste in their communities. Environment Maine is a statewide environmental advocacy organization with over 1,000 members. Beyond Pesticides promotes public and worker protection from pesticide hazards and the adoption of alternative pest management strategies, including practices to curtail widespread public and environmental exposure. Sierra Club is dedicated to enjoying and protecting natural resources and the environment, and has approximately 4,500 members in Maine.

The groups are represented by attorneys Josh Kratka, a Senior Attorney at the Boston-based National Environmental Law Center, David Nicholas of Newton, Massachusetts, and Bruce Merrill of Portland.

Maggie Drummond, Toxics Action Center, 207-871-1810
Josh Kratka, NELC, 617-747-4302
Vivian Newman, Sierra Club, 207-594-7534
Eileen Gunn, Beyond Pesticides, 202-543-5450