Washington Considers Pesticide Notice Law

Published January 1, 2006

The State of Washington’s Department of Agriculture has proposed to require farmers to notify all area schools, nursing homes, hospitals, and day care centers whenever they apply pesticides to their fields. Environmental activist groups are applauding the proposal, while farmers insist it is arbitrary and not backed by sound science.

The proposed rule forbids farmers to apply pesticides on their land unless they have given written notice 48 hours in advance to facilities located within one-half mile of their farms.

Disagree over Drift

“The proposed rule is a far cry from what is needed to protect farmers, workers, and children from pesticide drift,” said Carol Dansereau, executive director of the Farm Worker Pesticide Project. “It makes no sense to give notice only to select property owners when the whole community should be notified. Also, the notification zone is too small. We would like to see all property owners within one mile of farms given advance notice of pesticide application.”

Dean Boyer, spokesman for the Washington Farm Bureau, told the Associated Press the proposed regulations are unnecessary because the federal government already regulates pesticide drift. “We question whether this change is particularly necessary based upon the fact that there are very few documented cases of drift impacting the types of facilities that are addressed,” Boyer said.

“We would like to see steps taken to prevent drift from happening at all,” Dansereau said. “Drift is a major exposure route for farmers and their families. Currently, lack of enforcement of existing pesticide drift laws is a major problem. The proposed rule is important because a crucial part of enforcement is being able to have notice so as to document violations. Notice goes hand in hand with the ability to enforce.”

Federal Regulations in Place

Ironically, the Washington proposal followed a call by the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) for the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to eliminate “junk science” from the processes by which it determines whether a particular chemical is harmful to humans.

According to an ACSH news release, “EPA routinely declares chemicals ‘carcinogens’–implying a likelihood of a health threat to humans–based solely on the creation of tumors in lab rodents by the administration of super-high doses irrelevant to ordinary human exposure levels. Furthermore, effects in a single species may not be applicable to another species (rat tests do not even reliably predict effects in mice, which are closely related to rats, let alone effects in humans), though similar effects in multiple species might be an indicator of a genuine problem.”

According to ACSH, “declaring substances ‘carcinogens’ (when they would more properly be called high-dose rodent carcinogens) is a chief source of health panics, public outcry, activist crusades against chemicals, and waste of resources from unnecessary abatement, cleanup, and product recall/reformulation/replacement.”

No Scientific Justification

ACSH Medical Director Gilbert Ross sharply criticized the lack of science behind the Washington Department of Agriculture’s proposal.

“The approved and regulated use of pesticides on crops and lawns poses no health threat to the American public,” said Ross. “There is not a shred of reliable scientific evidence linking the use of these pesticides to any adverse health affect, absent directly spraying a sensitive individual with pesticide dust or spray.”

Ross described the proposed notification requirement as unnecessary and misleading. “The concept that pesticide spraying on crops a half-mile away might insidiously attack human beings, including children, has no basis in scientific fact. It can only be explained by agenda-driven alarmist rhetoric.

“The Washington Department of Agriculture proposal seems to imply that spraying crops with approved pesticides is dangerous enough to warrant early notification and defensive measures,” Ross continued. “This has absolutely no basis in scientific fact.”

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.

For more information …

The State of Washington’s proposed pesticide rule changes are available online at http://agr.wa.gov/LawsRules/Rulemaking/PM/docs/AirblastCR102.pdf.