The Maryland Department of Agriculture has surveyed MD farmers about their pesticide use just four times since 1988—most recently in 2004 when an estimated 10.7 million pounds was applied (full report). A bill heard yesterday in the Maryland General Assembly Environmental Matters Committee (House Bill 660) looks to modernize pesticide reporting— by requiring farmers and other certified applicators ( landscape companies. pest control companies, state agencies as well as dealers who purchase and sell restricted use pesticides) to annually report agricultural pesticide usage, release, purchase, and sales.
In-house record keeping of pesticide usage is already required of farmers, so what this bill adds is the concept of— and funding for— an online, centralized pesticide reporting system that Maryland Department of Agriculture would administer, using funds levied from a tax on pesticide vendors and not farmers.
Pesticide usage is important to monitor because these chemicals can be toxic to non-target organisms, including humans and wildlife. Human health risks from pesticides do exist, as noted in an information packet developed by Ruth Berlin of the Maryland Pesticide Network:
Recent research conducted primarily under the National Institute of Health’s Agricultural Health Study suggests that farmers, their families and other agricultural workers are at increased risk for a wide range of health problems due to pesticide exposure. These include: respiratory disorders (i.e., Farmer’s lung; asthma), cancer (lung, bladder, colon, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, multiple myeloma and leukemia in offspring), poor cognitive functioning, depression, autism and fertility problems.
Once applied to crops, pesticides can travel off the farm and into groundwater, surface water and carried by wind, called spray drift. The United States Geological Service (USGS) found 75% of wells sampled in Central and Western Maryland, and 75% of surface waters sampled in the Mid-Atlantic (including MD) contain pesticides. These pesticides include both herbicides and insecticides. Agricultural pesticides migrate into water bodies like the Potomac River, where they can create intersex fish and stress aquatic animals as shown in a USGS study.
“Given the crucial economic, ecological, and sociological role that the fisheries of the Chesapeake Bay have for our region” says Dr. Eric Schott of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science in written testimony in support of HB660, “and the fact that the Bay is downstream of everything, it is prudent to know as much as possible about pesticide and fertilizer usage in the state.” Schott predicts that pesticide reporting “will allow modelers and ecologists to come up with better solutions for the Bayʼs problems.”
Scientists, including myself, and physicians who testified in support of the bill are eager to see it move forward.
The MD bill’s sponsor in the House is Delegate Barbara Frush and in the Senate Karen Montgomery. The Senate version of the bill is scheduled for committee hearings next Tuesday, March 8, 2011.