In July, members of a work group created as a result of a measure that passed the Maryland General Assembly earlier this year will start looking at ways to get more information about pesticide use in the state.
This group — which will consist of two senators and two delegates, and representatives of various interested parties such as the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Maryland Farm Bureau — was created to find out if there are any existing gaps in data about pesticide use in the state and decide whether there is a need to create a reporting program for pesticide users such as farmers.
Sen. Roger P. Manno, D-Montgomery, and Del. Stephen W. Lafferty, D-Baltimore County, the lawmakers who introduced the bill that will result in the work group, and representatives of environmental groups like the idea of a reporting program.
They say such data is essential to track how pesticides affect the Chesapeake Bay and how they affect the health of residents, especially children.
Experts in the agricultural community fear that a reporting requirement will create an additional burden for farmers.
“Pesticides are widely applied ... but I think we do not have adequate information on where they are being used and in what quantities,” Manno said. “The work group will try to reach a consensus on how to move forward. I look forward to good dialogue because of the representative cross section we will have in the group.”
Lafferty said there is no current requirement to report pesticide use, and there is at least a need to take a closer look at the issue.
He mentioned the findings of two studies that were released recently — “Technical Report December 2012, Toxic Contaminants in the Chesapeake Bay and its Watershed,” a report by three federal organizations including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and another progress report by the Maryland Environmental Health Network — that pointed to the need to study pesticide use.
According to the technical report, “monitoring gaps” exist for pesticides and other contaminants such as pharmaceuticals and household and personal-care products. The report called for a “systematic evaluation of water contaminants” in the bay and its watershed.
The report by the Maryland Environmental Health Network said the state “needs centralized reporting of what (pesticides) is applied by nonhomeowner applicators, when and where. Public health officials must be empowered to assess the link between certain pesticides and illness clusters in communities, such as asthma, autism-spectrum disorders and childhood cancers.”
The original bill, as proposed by Manno and Lafferty, proposed a reporting requirement to the Maryland Department of Agriculture by pesticide applicators such as farmers and those in the lawn-care industry.
“It was pretty clear there were enough differences ... and the different groups had different perspectives ... so we amended the bill to create a work group,” Lafferty said.
Jeff Semler, agriculture extension educator for the University of Maryland Extension in Washington County, said a work group was better than trying to create a database.
“It is a measured approach over a knee-jerk reaction,” he said. “The farmers will have representatives in the work group ... but the proof of the pudding will be in what ideas the work group comes up with.”
Semler said the farmers might feel that a database on pesticide reporting is “just another regulation crammed down their throats. There will be pushback, for sure, if that’s suggested”
David Herbst, president of the Washington County Farm Bureau, who also runs Misty Meadow Farm in Smithsburg, said he was against the idea of a database for farmers and others to report pesticide use.
“From our standpoint, this will just create a time-consuming bureaucracy,” he said.
Chuck Fry, first vice president of the Maryland Farm Bureau, said he hoped that “something good” would come out of the work group.
The group will have to submit a preliminary report by the end of the year and its final report by July 1, 2014.
Ruth Berlin, executive director of the Maryland Pesticide Network, a coalition of organizations in the state that promotes safe pest-management practices, said a database would help scientists and researchers, for example, if they are researching a “cluster of illnesses.”
“This would also protect the families of farmers,” she said.