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Second Maine Blueberry Grower Agrees to Immediately Halt All Aerial Spraying of Pesticides
(Beyond Pesticides, April 14, 2005) In a move that could have wide ramifications for agricultural practices in Maine and across the county, Jasper Wyman & Son, the largest U.S. supplier of premium wild blueberry products, has followed the lead of competitor Cherryfield Foods, Inc., and informed four environmental groups that it is abandoning all aerial pesticide spraying.
Wyman's decision was conveyed to Toxics Action Center, Environment Maine, Sierra Club, and Beyond Pesticides in an April 6, 2005 letter sent to the groups in response to the groups' notice of intent to sue the company for violations of the federal Clean Water Act.
In a March 3, 2005 letter, the groups alleged that Mr. Wyman has been violating the Clean Water Act by aerially spraying pesticides directly into surface waters such as rivers and ponds without a Clean Water Act discharge permit. Under the Clean Water Act, the groups were required to give 60 days' notice before filing suit.
The groups commended Mr. Wyman's move. "By abandoning aerial spraying, Mr. Wyman, along with Cherryfield Foods, is setting an example we hope will become the new standard for the blueberry industry and for other agricultural activities," said Will Everitt, Field Director of Toxics Action Center.
"It's unfortunate that it ultimately took the threat of a lawsuit to convince Mr. Wyman to comply with the law, but this is nonetheless a victory for keeping toxic pesticides out of lakes, rivers, and coastal waters," said Matthew Davis, Environment Maine Advocate.
The environmental groups had met with Mr. Wyman officials last November seeking to avoid litigation by securing a commitment similar to Cherryfield's October 2004 decision to halt aerial spraying, also made in response to a notice of intent to sue from the groups. But Mr. Wyman indicated then that it would neither give up aerial spraying nor agree to be regulated under the Clean Water Act. Mr. Wyman claims to manage over 7,000 acres of wild blueberries.
Studies conducted by the Maine Board of Pesticides Control over the past five years show that the active ingredients in three different pesticides—phosmet, propiconazole, and fenbuconazole—landed directly in the Narraguagus River and its tributaries after being sprayed from Mr. Wyman’s aircraft. The Narraguagus is home to endangered Atlantic salmon.
"Wyman's decision to halt aerial pesticide spraying starting this year will be an immediate benefit for the environment in Downeast Maine," said Vivian Newman of the Maine Chapter of the Sierra Club.
According to Jay Feldman, Executive Director of Beyond Pesticides, Mr. Wyman was facing what probably would have been the first Clean Water Act lawsuit against an agriculture company for violations linked to aerial pesticide spraying. "The Clean Water Act is essential to protecting the health of our nation's waterways. Federal and state pesticide regulations alone simply do not offer adequate protection," Mr. Feldman explained.
Mr. Wyman claims in its letter to the groups that companies complying with the instructions on pesticide labels do not need Clean Water Act permits. That is simply not the case, according to Josh Kratka of the National Environmental Law Center, one of the lawyers representing the groups.
"The Bush Administration has proposed exempting a very narrow range of pesticide applications from the Clean Water Act, but that exemption does not apply to agricultural spraying, has not yet been adopted, and is contrary to the plain language of the Act," Kratka explained. "Each of the environmental groups has already submitted comments to EPA opposing the proposed exemption."