Paraquat for breakfast?

Faced with an outpouring of protest against its proposal to loosen restrictions on aerial spraying of pesticides near homes, schools, hospitals and nursing homes, the North Carolina Pesticide Board has extended its deadline for accepting public comment on the rule change. The proposal, which was drafted at the request of the crop-dusting industry, would lift the current no-spray buffer zones around homes, schools, hospitals, day-care centers and nursing homes, allowing up to 6 parts per million of any aerial pesticide to be deposited on them.

Crop-dusters complain that the existing “zero-deposit” standard — which prohibits leaving any pesticide residue within 100 feet of a home or and within 300 feet of the other named structures — is impossible to meet. The proposal’s 6 ppm standard (developed by a pesticide-industry scientist using EPA methodology) more than adequately protects human health, they assert. Opponents counter that the proposed rules ignore spray damage to plants and wildlife. Organic farmers worry that any contamination of their crops by pesticide drift could cause them to lose their organic certification for three years. The farmers — joined by environmentalists, people suffering from pesticide-induced multiple chemical sensitivity, and even the state commissioner of agriculture — say the state’s pesticide regulations need to be preserved or even strengthened, not made weaker.

“I am opposed to that rule as it is being proposed. We are not in a position, in this state, of going back,” declared N.C. Commissioner of Agriculture Meg Scott Phipps in a keynote speech at the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association convention in Boone on Nov. 15.

The proposed rules do define as automatic evidence of a violation any aerial pesticide residue that causes an “off-target commercial organic farm or garden” to lose its certification. But opponents object that the rules don’t require sprayers to give any advance warning to nearby organic farmers or residential neighbors of areas being sprayed. And there’s no compensation for lost income or medical bills of farmers or residents poisoned by pesticide drift or overspray — only a fine of up to $2,000, all of which would go to the local Board of Education.

In Asheville, the CFSA is circulating a petition at the French Broad Food Co-op and at Malaprop’s Bookstore that opposes the rule change and proposes alternative measures to strengthen aerial-spraying regulations.

The Pesticide Board is accepting written comments from the public on the proposed rule change until noon on Tuesday, Dec. 10. Submit comments by mail to: Mr. James W. Burnette, Jr., Secretary, N.C. Pesticide Board, P.O. Box 27647, Raleigh, NC 27611; by fax to (919) 733-9796; or by e-mail to

To learn more about this issue, visit these Web sites:

• For the text of the proposed rule changes and an explanation of how the 6 ppm standard was determined,check the Pesticide Board’s Web site (

• For details of the objections to the proposal and recommendations on how to increase aerial-spraying restrictions, see “Bitter Rains: Aerial Pesticide Spraying in North Carolina” by Fawn Pattison of the Agricultural Resources Center (

• For sample letters and links to other sites, see the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association’s Web site (

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