POLICY POSITION STATEMENT:
THE NEED FOR BETTER SCIENTIFIC DATA ON
PESTICIDE USE IN TEXAS
PROBLEM: Our environmental agencies do not know where, how much or when pesticides are introduced into the Texas environment. Current federal and state laws require industries that release toxic chemicals to land, water or air to report those releases to environmental oversight agencies. This information, which is also fully available to the public, is then used by the agencies to more effectively implement toxic pollution control programs. These reporting requirements, however, do not apply to pesticides. We have only rough estimates of agricultural pesticide use, and almost no information about non-agricultural uses, such as applications to parks, schools, golf courses and highway right-of-ways. Although several categories of pesticide applicators are required to keep records of pesticide use, those records do not have to be reported to the environmental agencies.
Lack of information on pesticide use impairs the effective and efficient implementation of existing laws for protection of public health, worker health, food safety, drinking water and fish and wildlife habitat from pesticide contamination. For example, when pesticide contamination of drinking water is found, it is difficult to determine where the contamination might have come from or to quickly remedy the problem. The state is currently struggling with serious pesticide contamination problem in communities such as Friona (which depends on groundwater from the Ogallala aquifer) and Aquilla (which depends on water from a small reservoir). Tap water in these two towns has repeatedly been found to contain atrazine, a widely-used herbicide, in levels near or in excess of the federal drinking water standard. In fact, atrazine has been detected in treated drinking water in over 60 public water supply systems, which together are estimated to serve over 4 million Texans. Recently, when more sensitive monitoring methods were used in quarterly tests, atrazine or other herbicides were found in almost 40 % of the drinking water samples tested. In at least 10% of the samples with atrazine the levels exceeded the federal standard of 3 parts per billion.
SOLUTION: Texas needs a pesticide use reporting system to provide the type of information essential for full and effective implementation of laws designed to protect public health and the environment from pesticide contamination. The development of an adequate information base on pesticides of concern for drinking water supplies should be the first priority. This should be a first step in a sensible, phased approach to developing an appropriate and economical use reporting system for other types of pesticides that may also present environmental and health concerns. Benefits of this initial phase of a pesticide use reporting system for Texas include:
Ensuring that the implementation of drinking water protection programs is based on sound science, and not rough guesses about who is using what pesticide.
Improving public confidence that drinking water supplies are being fully protected from pesticide contamination and that, if contamination is detected, the source can be quickly identified and remedied.
Enhancing the publics right-to-know about pesticide use patterns and trends in pesticide use.
Providing information that will assist efforts of medical, agricultural and other researchers seeking to better understand the environmental fate of pesticides introduced into the environment, evaluate the efficacy of pesticides and identify causes of pest-resistance.
Providing an appropriate, phased and cost-effective approach to developing sound scientific information on pesticide use, while minimizing the burdens on those required to report.
Providing data necessary to evaluate trends in pesticide use; effectiveness of pesticide reduction strategies such as Integrated Pest Management (IPM); evaluating the potential for alternative pest management strategies.
MAJOR ELEMENTS OF THE POLICY PROPOSAL: Texas should establish a system for the reporting and collection of pesticide use information for a limited set of pesticides posing the highest risk for migration into current and potential sources of drinking water.
Which pesticides should initially be subject to use reporting requirements?
Restricted and state limited-use pesticides and some general use pesticides for which groundwater management plans or monitoring by drinking water systems is required.
Who would report?
Commercial and non-commercial applicators of pesticides, dealers (report sales data), and private applicators that use pesticides for agricultural purposes or on golf courses, rights-of-way, schools or public use areas such as lakes and parks. Much of this data is already collected, but it is not reported. Some survey information could be used to supplement sales reporting for certain household and lawn care pesticides. Individual homeowners would not be required to report pesticide use.
To whom would pesticide use be reported?
Pesticide use would be reported, electronically where feasible, to a one-stop location within the state government. The details of the reporting system would be designed through a cooperative effort of the Texas Department of Agriculture, the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, the Texas Structural Pest Control Board, the Texas Agricultural Statistics Service and Texas A&M University.
Who would have access to the pesticide use information?
Site-specific information on most agricultural uses would be not be accessible to the general public. Full public access would be provided to other pesticide use data, and to summaries of confidential site-specific agricultural use information.
Would there be any potential liability for pesticide users based on the pesticide use data reported to the state?
The information reported would not be used to seek penalties for violations of environmental laws. In addition, agricultural users and other users of pesticides who cooperated with government agencies in monitoring and sampling to investigate potential problems would be immune from penalties for violation of pesticide use regulations, unless deliberate misuse or criminal action was involved. Failure to comply with the new reporting requirements, however, could subject a user or dealer of pesticides to penalties.
How much would the pesticide use reporting program cost and how would it be funded?
It is estimated that start-up of the pesticide use reporting program would cost about $ 1 million/year for the first few years. Major cost items include (1) educating pesticide users about the new reporting requirements; (2) providing technical assistance to those who must report their pesticide use; (3) computer hardware and software for receiving and compiling the pesticide use data; and (4) staff resources for analyzing the data and reporting the results to the public and the legislature. It is anticipated that the program could be paid for through a combination of federal grants and a small state contribution. Once the program is established, costs would drop significantly.
Do other states have pesticide use reporting systems from which Texas could learn?
Yes. California has had full pesticide use reporting for several years. New York enacted a pesticide use reporting system in 1997. Other states with some form of pesticide use reporting include New Hampshire, New Jersey, Montana, Arizona and Connecticut. There are on-going efforts in several states, including Wisconsin and Oregon, to put pesticide use reporting systems in place.