Pesticide ban may be out of local hands

Thu, 09/06/2018 - 5:00pm

The use of the pesticide glyphosate on Block Island, which some residents have petitioned to have the Town Council ban, may not be in the hands of island governance.

First Warden Ken Lacoste was emailed a letter from Ken Ayars, Chief of the state Department of Environmental Management, who stated that “Chapter 23-25 of the Rhode Island General Laws, known as the Pesticide Control Act… governs the ‘labeling, distribution, sale, storage, transportation, use and application, and disposal’ of pesticides. The Act provides that the Director of DEM shall be the enforcing official, responsible for administering the Act.” 

The letter was dated Sept. 4, the date of the Town Council meeting, the agenda for which included a discussion about the use of the pesticide.

Ayars wrote: “Put simply, DEM has exclusive jurisdiction over the use and application of pesticides throughout the State of Rhode Island.” 

After some discussion on the matter at the council meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 4, the members said they will ask the members of the town’s Conservation Commission to come back to them with some better science on the topic before any decisions are made on how to move ahead.

Though the receipt of the letter was acknowledged, and after Council member Martha Ball said that if the town wished to ban the use of any pesticide, including glyphosate, it probably would have to petition the state to do so, there was still a discussion about its use on Block Island.

One of the organizers of the petition banning its use, Michael Chapman, said that he had gathered a thousand signatures in a matter of days. He said he had heard from individuals who were concerned with the pesticide getting into their well systems or contained in storm runoff. He said “we can’t rely on the government to make decisions that are in our best interest.” 

Fred Nelson said he had been part of the extension program at the University of Connecticut for more than 30 years, and that he was involved in extensive testing involving the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency that showed that careful and appropriate application of the product is key; the safety of the product is tied to its safe use. 

“Follow the label,” said Nelson. “The label is law. The label is state law. If you do anything different then you are breaking state law.” Nelson said that “people like to dump on corporations,” and added that the corporations and agencies overseeing these products have “gone through them with a fine-toothed comb” and the results have been subject to peer review.” He said that “data has showed that glyphosate is safe.”

When the letter from the DEM was first mentioned, resident Naomi Kerest said, “Then we should look at whatever course we have to take to ban this.”

Ball said that “was exactly what I was proposing” when she suggested the state may need to be petitioned if the town wished to ban the pesticide.

It was Councilor Sven Risom who asked that the Conservation Commission be brought into the discussion. “They should take another look at this, as they did back in 2015,” he said. At that time the Conservation Commission researched banning the pesticide. “Let’s get a recommendation from them, and then maybe the Town Council will want to take that upstate,” said Risom.

The DEM letter specifically stated that “Any action relating to the ban of any pesticide in any municipality within the state should properly be in the form of legislation or a petition to the DEM director, seeking that DEM take the specified action, if appropriate.”

Councilor André Boudreau agreed, saying that even “if there was the slightest chance” that the pesticide harmed the health of the environment or people, “then we should ban it.” He also agreed with sending the matter to the Conservation Commission.

Ball also mentioned that the town currently has an ordinance on the books that already bans certain chemicals. Chapter 11 of the town’s Revised Ordinances, under Natural Resource Protection, prohibits the “use of certain cesspool cleaners and antifreeze products, citing “potentially adverse effects.” 

Due to the discussion on glyphosate, Ball said “maybe revising Chapter 11 needs to be looked at.”

Cathy Payne is a farmer on Block Island, and she said she has used the product to clear out fence perimeters on her property and has found it to be effective. Speaking to those who oppose its use, Payne said: “I love my island the way you love the island.”