NCAP Successfully Opposes Efforts to Weaken Oregon’s Aerial Spraying Rules
(By Sharon Selvaggio and Megan Dunn)
In June 2016, Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) finalized rules addressing aerial pesticide spraying. NCAP’s involvement helped to ensure the rule reflects the values of Oregonians and helps to safeguard the health of their communities. The final rule OAR 603-057-0108 reflected NCAP’s comments, and will help ensure that spray operators are held to high standards in the law addressing training prior to being issued an aerial pesticide applicator’s certificate.
Multiple recent and widely reported incidents of aerial overspray of homes and schools, which sickened people and pets, were the impetus for H.B. 3549, which passed during the 2015 legislative session. The public demanded accountability from applicators, including adequate training for the difficult task of applying pesticides by air in terrain that is often mountainous, without risking overspray of sensitive sites. The new law requires buffers for inhabited dwellings and school sites, but these are narrow (only 60 feet), which means that the pilot’s skill level needs to be well developed and reliable.
As part of implementing the legislation, ODA assembled a rulemaking committee, comprised of representatives from agricultural groups, aerial spraying organizations, and NCAP. ODA wanted the committee to help define the conditions under which training of potential aerial applicators are considered adequate so as not to impose risk to public health and safety. NCAP noticed and verbally opposed the suggestion by industry groups on the committee to weaken the statute. Industry groups wanted the ODA to allow aerial applicators to include non-flight time spent learning about pesticides as training time, citing the high cost of training on flights. NCAP pointed out that the statute specifically states that training hours must occur “on flights,” an important provision that ensures that applicators are actually skilled at the task, prior to dropping toxic pesticides from the air.
Aware that industry was promoting a weakening of the law, NCAP submitted written comment during the public review period to stop the dangerous provision from moving forward, and the ODA ultimately carried this interpretation through into the final rule.
The ODA draft rule also proposed using a sworn statement as proof of training. In our written comments on the rule, NCAP requested stronger requirements for applicators to prove up the 50 hours of experience or training, specifically asking for verified records of flight training time, as part of the application materials for the certificate. ODA responded by tightening the rule to include auditing a subset of declarations to verify the existence and accuracy of records.
NCAP’s involvement in the comment period and on the advisory committee are one example of the importance of follow through with regulators, to ensure that laws passed to protect communities are not weakened during implementation. While we work to end the reliance on harmful chemical pesticides, we also fight for stronger protections and implementation of rules that protect our health. With help from supporters like you, we will continue working with state agencies to safeguard public health and safety.