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Oregon Commission Rejects Pesticide Restriction Petition,
says Several Programs Addressing Issue

by Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin, Novemeber 9, 2012

Oregon's Environmental Quality Commission has rejected a petition that called for more restrictions on pesticide use, hoping instead that farmers will voluntarily limit their use of pesticides that could compromise the health of humans as well as salmon and steelhead listed under the Endangered Species Act.

The Commission voted 5-0 to reject the Northwest Environmental Advocates' petition, which identified a number of pesticides addressed in the Biological Opinion issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Jennifer Wigal, manager of Standards and Assessments at the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, acknowledged that the pesticides listed in the petition are potentially harmful to the health of humans and fish. However, Wigal said, there currently are several programs in place, and other actions occurring at the federal level, that are among the factors used by the DEQ in its recommendation that led to the EQC's decision to reject the petition.

First, Wigal said, the request in the petition is not timely.

In an e-mail response to questions, Wigal said, "The petition requested the Environmental Quality Commission adopt into its water quality rules and requirements specific practices related to the application of pesticides. There are several major actions and activities occurring at the federal level among the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and other federal agencies that are expected to result in court decisions and related findings in the coming year that could significantly affect the federal agencies' perspective on necessary practices related to pesticide use and application."

Further, Wigal continued, the specific rule revisions requested in the petition are not the types of rules DEQ needs to include to meet its Clean Water Act requirements, nor is DEQ the primary authority for rules governing pesticide use and application. EPA has that authority at the federal level and the Oregon Department of Agriculture is Oregon's authority at the state level.

Additionally, in her e-mail reply, Wigal said DEQ has prioritized its efforts related to addressing water quality and toxic pollutants to focus on several key programs and partnerships.

According to Wigal, DEQ has successfully collaborated with the Departments of Agriculture and Forestry, local soil and water conservation districts, Oregon State University extension services, and local growers in implementing Pesticide Stewardship Partnerships.

The Pesticide Stewardship Partnerships combine local expertise and water quality sampling results to encourage voluntary changes in pesticide use and management practices. State agencies such as DEQ work with diverse parties, including watershed and other natural resource groups, local landowners and growers, conservation districts and tribal governments to "find ways to reduce pesticide levels while measuring improvements in water quality and crop management," Wigal said.

In addition to the Pesticide Stewardship Partnership program, DEQ also is a member of the state's Water Quality Pesticide Team with the departments of Agriculture and Forestry, as well as the Oregon Health Authority.

"These agencies," Wigal said, "have developed a statewide Pesticide Management Plan for Water Quality Protection that includes both voluntary and backstop regulatory approaches to addressing water quality issues related to pesticides. Additional efforts to adopt and implement a rule such as that contained in the petition would result in DEQ needing to pull resources from these efforts."

The pesticides addressed in the Bi-Op issued by NMFS and identified in the Northwest Environmental Advocates' petition include Chlorpyrifos, Diazinon, Malathion, Carbaryl, Carbofuran, Methomyl, Methidathion, Naled, Phorate, Phosmet, 2,4-D, Diuron, Chlorothalonil, Oryzalin, Pendimethalin and Trifluralin.

Of these pesticides, EPA has developed and DEQ has adopted numeric water quality standards to protect against effects to fish and other aquatic life for Chlorpyrifos and Malathion, Wigal said. DEQ has similarly adopted a numeric water quality standard for 2,4-D to protect against potential human health effects. In addition, EPA's Office of Pesticides has established aquatic life and human health benchmarks for most of the remaining pesticides addressed by the Bi-Op.

There is no doubt that pesticides are reaching waterways. Wigal said three of the pesticides listed in the Bi-Op (Chlorpyrifos, Malathion and Diuron) have been detected multiple times above standards or benchmarks in different watersheds.

"These pesticides have the potential to cause harm to aquatic life and humans in a variety of ways if levels in water exceed standards or benchmarks," Wigal said.

However, DEQ has observed "significant reductions" (by as much as 90 percent) in Chlorpyrifos concentrations in some watersheds that are a part of the Pesticide Stewardship Partnership program. Other pesticides on the Bi-Op list have also been detected, but less frequently and generally well below established EPA benchmarks.

Oregon has existing pesticide risk-reduction tools and expertise necessary to implement measures that reduce impacts to water, Wigal said in her e-mail. Specifically, OSU's Integrated Plant Protection Center has developed a range of resources that can help farmers and others reduce risks to water through integrated pest management techniques and other programs "in ways that also can enhance crop quality."

In addition, many farmers now have incentives to gain access to new markets through third-party certification programs that require pesticide and water quality protection improvement efforts. (Two of those programs, Salmon-Safe and Food Alliance, are based in Oregon.) DEQ and ODA have been collaborating with these existing technical assistance and incentive programs through the Pesticide Stewardship Partnerships.

Oregon Commission Rejects Pesticide Restriction Petition, says Several Programs Addressing Issue
Columbia Basin Bulletin, Novemeber 9, 2012

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