The August meeting of the Maryland Pesticide and Information Act Workgroup, its second, focused on what we do and don’t know about pesticides. A group of scientists and researchers came to Annapolis to answer four basic questions:
- What pesticides data exists and who uses it?
- What information gaps have been identified and by whom?
- If you had more information about pesticide use (where, when, how applied, etc.), how valuable would it be and is there other information that would be more useful?
- What is not being done now because the data is not available?
All of the speakers made a strong case that, while a growing body of research links pesticides to adverse impacts on people, wildlife and waterways, there is still far too much we do not know about pesticides and how they affect human health—particularly our kids, who are the most vulnerable—and aquatic life right here in Maryland.
And without a good reporting system on when and where these chemicals are being used, we cannot even begin to answer important questions.
Dr. Ian Hartwell, an ecologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (representing himself not NOAA), talked about how we are currently unable to identify specific chemicals of concern, which ones may be “bad actors” and which ones are not harmful — without first identifying what is actually being used.
Dr. Hartwell agreed that while MDA’s report of 2011 pesticide usage by Maryland’s non-homeowner applicators is useful, the fact that it’s a voluntary survey is a big problem—the report only reflects 7 percent of farmers in the state, for example. This lack of reporting prevents us from getting the full picture of what’s being used and where.
Dr. Carys Mitchelmore with the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, said when scientists need to do water quality monitoring, it’s essential to have information about what pesticides are being used because it’s far too costly to have to test for all chemicals that may be used. Pesticides usage data could help us identify “hot spots” of concern and rule out—or rule in—chemicals that can be safely used.
Tyler Smith, Senior Research and Policy Associate at Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, gave examples of how the California pesticides reporting database has helped researchers identify specific pesticide links to Parkinson’s disease and in neural tube defects in infants. None of this important research would have been possible without the mandatory California reporting data system.
Imagine what findings we are missing here in Maryland without similar information? Without basic pesticide reporting information, there are too many questions we just can’t answer.
Dr. Judy LaKind, PhD with the University of Maryland School of Medicine, reminded the workgroup of the reason why we’re looking at pesticides: we are talking about human health and we need to get a handle on exposure. While we can never know everything, we’re trying to fill those data gaps. Dr. LaKind encouraged the group to focus in on what questions we want the answers to, so we can narrow down the type of data we want to collect in Maryland.
And though she could not be present, Dr. Lynn Goldman, Dean of the George Washington School of Public Health and Health Services and former Assistant Administrator for Toxic Substances in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, sent a strong letter to the group stating that: “To understand and manage the potential cumulative impacts on health and the environment, there is no better information than high quality data on usage, information that is completely lacking in Maryland.”
We hope legislators will take Dr. Goldman’s letter to heart, as it comes from a renowned expert on the issue. Under Dr. Goldman’s watch, the EPA overhauled the nation’s pesticide laws, expanded right-to-know requirements for toxin release, reached consensus on an approach to testing chemicals with endocrine-disrupting potential, developed standards to implement lead screening legislation, and promoted children’s health and global chemical safety.
Bottom line: Scientists and public health experts agree. Not one of the experts said there is adequate information on pesticides usage in Maryland, and all strongly expressed the need to learn more in order to protect our waters and public health.
Industry representatives continue to say current pesticide regulations and usage instructions found on labels are good enough, are protective enough — contrary to the concerns voiced by scientists and public health experts.
There’s a saying that “what you don’t know won’t harm you.” In this case, what we don’t know can and will harm our kids, our families and the Chesapeake Bay today and in the future unless we start by gathering more data on pesticide usage.
Note: The next pesticides information workgroup meeting will be held on September 26th from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Environmental Matters Committee Room in the House of Delegates Office Building, Annapolis.