No margin of safety
Pesticide drift threatens rural North Carolina
Pesticides do not stay put when sprayed. Sprays from high-risk applications such as mist blowers, planes and helicopters can drift hundreds or even thousands of feet onto neighboring properties. But even ground applications carry a high risk of drift to nearby areas. Exposure to pesticides can cause short- and long-term health problems for people and animals, and can damage gardens, crops, buildings and cars and threaten water quality.
Current aerial spray rules allow crop dusters over fields and forests to spray too close to our homes, schools, churches and businesses. Neighbors currently receive no notice before spraying begins near their property, and are not informed about precautions to take, even when they do report drift incidents to the state. Under NC regulations, it is legal for a crop duster to spray pesticides on and around your property, as long as they do not land within 100 feet of the house; this is called a "buffer zone". There is a 300-foot buffer zone around schools, churches, and businesses. There is also a 25-foot buffer zone on either side of public roads.
Drift across the US
Tennessee’s Save Our Cumberland Mountains (SOCM) is pushing for legislation in Tennessee that would enact buffer zones similar to the ones in North Carolina to protect rural residents there from aerial spray drift.
Californians for Pesticide Reform recently won a major victory in the California legislature, enacting drift laws that provide improved emergency response services and medical funds for drift victims.
Pesticide Action Network, California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation and Californians for Pesticide Reform recently released a report on pesticide drift, Secondhand Poisons. The report reveals findings that concentrations of several commonly used pesticides in air significantly exceed levels deemed “safe” by regulatory agencies, often by large margins, and that the vast majority of the problem goes unregulated for drift-prone pesticides.
If any pesticides are found in the buffer zone, this constitutes a violation, and the state may take action against the violator (usually in the form of a small fine). Under this system, it is up to the victim to report any violations to the NC Pesticide Section (919-733-3556). Violations may also be found if pesticides are not applied in accordance with the directions on the label, which often restrict drift in vague terms, and leave the definition of “drift” up to state officials.
Toxic Free NC has opened a pesticide drift hotline (1-877-NO SPRAY), available in English and Spanish to people in North Carolina affected by pesticide drift. We provide help reporting a violation, and information about the chemicals to which victims were exposed.
spray rules draw fire
In 2003, Toxic Free NC (then the Agricultural Resoureces Center & Pesticide Education Project) and our allies successfully defended North Carolina’s already-inadequate aerial spray rules from an attack by the chemical industry. Proposed rules would have allowed crop dusters’ chemicals to drift onto neighboring properties, up to a certain level, with no violation.
October 2002 – The NC Pesticide Board proposed controversial new aerial spray rules that would eradicate no-spray buffer zones and allow up to 6ppm pesticide deposit on “sensitive areas” including homes, schools, churches and businesses.
November 2002 – Public hearings in Raleigh, Greenville and Asheville drew comments from over 2,000 NC residents opposed to the changes. Opponents included drift victims, organic farmers, farmworkers, health care providers and rural residents around the state, as well as then-NC Superintendent of Schools Mike Ward, Representative Joe Hackney and Senator Ellie Kinnaird.
April 2003- The NC Pesticide Board writes to the US EPA, asking for an evaluation of the aerial spray proposal.
Summer 2003 – The NC General Assembly passes new administrative rules that call for longer public comment periods when NC agencies propose a rule. All rules not completed by October 2003 are considered to be out of compliance with rulemaking procedures and should be re-filed and new public comment periods held.
October 2003 – The aerial spray rules expire under the new rulemaking procedures. The US EPA responds to the Pesticide Board’s request by rejecting both the substance of the proposed rule and the science on which it was based.
November 2003 – The NC Pesticide Board drops the aerial spray proposal thanks to public action! Thanks to everyone who called, wrote, and faxed the Pesticide Board about this issue!