Pesticide use curtailed as part of wide-ranging review

By MITCH LIES

Capital Press

Pesticide industry representatives said this week that no-spray buffer requirements issued last week for three pesticides are draconian, unnecessary and costly to growers.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Sept. 10 mandated no-spray buffers on the first three of 37 pesticides it is reviewing with the National Marine Fisheries Service. The streamside buffers, designed to protect endangered salmon and steelhead, range from a minimum of 100 feet for certain ground applications to 1,000 feet for certain aerial applications of the three organophosphates under review.

"This is going to have a pretty significant economic impact to some of our growers," said Terry Witt, executive director of Oregonians for Food and Shelter, a member-funded, pro-agriculture coalition.

The pesticides are being reviewed as part of a settlement to a lawsuit brought against the EPA earlier this decade by Washington Toxics Coalition and other environmental groups.

"If they are going to use the same extreme cautionary tactics (for reviewing the remaining 34 pesticides) there could be some dire consequences not only in agriculture, but in forestry, as well," Witt said.

Joshua Osborne-Klein, an attorney for Earthjustice, which argued the case for the Washington Toxics Coalition, said Earthjustice plans to ask NMFS to review the buffers to determine if the no-spray zones are adequate to protect fish.

"Our goal is to rebuild the healthy salmon stocks native to the Pacific Northwest," Osborne-Klein said.

The U.S. District Court for Western Washington in 2004 put in place 60- to 100-foot buffers for ground applications and 300-foot buffers for aerial applications of the 37 pesticides under review.

Buffers are being implemented around salmon- and steelhead-bearing waters and for creeks, streams and irrigation ditches that drain into the waters.

Buffer requirements for the first three pesticides reviewed -- the organophosphates chlorpyrifos, diazinon and malathion -- could be in place by this spring, according to the EPA.

In a press release announcing the buffers, the EPA asked pesticide manufacturers to voluntarily place the spray limitations on pesticide labels.

The release further stated: "If the manufacturers decline this request, EPA will pursue regulatory action to impose the limitations."

Like Witt, Heather Hansen, executive director of Washington Friends of Farms and Forests, which advocates the safe use of pesticides, was disappointed by EPA's actions, particularly in light of the fact EPA had roundly criticized the 500- and 1,000-foot buffers NMFS proposed Nov. 18, 2008.

"At this point, I think it's pure politics," Hansen said. "There is a new crop of Obama appointees and they have been encouraged to at least make it look like they are working together with NMFS.

"I think EPA knew that if they used their own best judgment and ignored what NMFS did, they'd get sued again, and we'd have a steady stream of lawsuits, one after another."

In EPA's highly anticipated announcement, buffer sizes for the three pesticides vary widely based on a matrix that includes droplet size, wind speed present at the time of application and the size of waterway near the application site.

"I have sympathy for the poor farmer who is trying to decipher what kind of buffer he or she is going to have to put in place," Witt said.

Witt and Hansen also questioned why any buffers other than those on current labels were needed given that only minor levels of organophosphates have appeared in surface waters. Recent data shows that when present, the pesticides are at levels safer than drinking water standards, Hansen said.

"I think we ought to be regulating based on what the data shows is needed," Hansen said. "We shouldn't be making arbitrary requirements that aren't based on sound science."

In one positive for the pesticide industry, EPA did say it would not require 20-foot minimum noncrop vegetative strips adjacent to surface waters -- a requirement NMFS requested in its biological opinion on the downhill side of application sites.

EPA did, however, agree to implement NMFS' recommendation that applications of the three pesticides not be allowed when wind speeds are greater than 10 mph.

And EPA agreed with NMFS to disallow application of the pesticides "when the fields are saturated or when a storm event likely to produce runoff is forecasted ... to occur within 48 hours after application."

Staff writer Mitch Lies is based in Salem. E-mail: mlies@capitalpress.com.

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