I attended a town meeting held at Oakwood/Windsor Elementary School on Feb 27, 2018 to educate the public about pesticide regulation, enforcement, and application licensing and training in the state of South Carolina. Presentations were made by the Clemson University Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) and the Clemson Extension Service. Afterward, questions were fielded by representatives of these agencies and by State Representative Bill Taylor.
Details of the Meeting
The meeting was not particularly geared toward beekeeping or concerns of beekeepers about pesticides. Most of the questions surrounded the aerial spraying activities at the two large commercial farms near Windsor, SC, and those questions were mostly concerned with the aviation safety aspects of these operations and effects of alleged over spray from them, particularly the impacts of such over spray on human health. One such question pertained to alleged breathing problems resulting from aerial spraying at these two large farms. The respondent from DPR answered that it is virtually impossible to tie breathing problems to pesticide inhalation due to the lack of individual baseline levels for the one particular blood marker (an enzyme whose name I didn’t catch) for which blood is usually tested to determine pesticide exposure. Quiescent levels of this marker in the blood vary widely from individual to individual. Furthermore, the elevated level of this marker is very short lived in the blood of someone who has been exposed, so it’s very hard to get it tested in time to make a correlation between the spraying and the breathing problems. The respondent also mentioned the possibility of testing a person’s clothing, but noted that the chemicals are very volatile, so it is very difficult to get them tested in time before the pesticides in question dissipate. Finally, the respondent disavowed any strong correlation between smelling a pesticide and actually being exposed at a level that exceeds regulatory limits. The DPR presenter did point out that they would inspect a complainant’s property for effects of herbicide over spray on their plants to determine if over spray did occur.
Representative Taylor was asked about the status of an aerial spraying bill that is currently scheduled for review in committee in the state legislature. The committee hearing is likely to happen sometime in April, but no particular date was given, nor were the details of the bill discussed.
A question was asked whether there wasn’t a conflict of interest in having the Clemson DPR and Extension Service, which receive their funding from grants as a “land grant” university, placed in charge of regulating the agricultural activities of the entities that provide the grant money. This question went pretty much unanswered, however the DPR presenter suggested that concerned citizens should attempt to initiate a dialog between themselves and the South Carolina farm bureau. He stated that almost all agricultural activities using pesticides “want to do the right thing,” because in the long term it is in everyone’s best interests. After all, the folks applying the pesticides and their families need to breathe the air, drink the water, and eat the fruits of the land along with everyone else. He also stated that the express purpose of this meeting was to take first steps toward such a dialog.
Other questions pertained to impacts of run off from agricultural pesticide applications on ground and surface water – particularly the South Fork of the Edisto River. Clemson DPR does no routine monitoring of air, soil, and water for pesticides. Their air, water, and soil pesticide testing is primarily complaint driven. Clemson has fourteen field inspectors who conduct about 1500-2000 pesticide investigations per year. This includes investigations of citizen complaints as well as routine inspection of licensed pesticide appliers for compliance with state and federal EPA pesticide regulations. Routine air, water, and soil monitoring is within the province of the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) who were not represented at the meeting. The DPR representative did state that he has never seen a well test that exceeded regulatory allowable maximum concentrations for any pesticide. He stated that nitrates (from fertilizers) are a different matter. Wells routinely test in excess of the maximums for nitrates. However DPR has no regulatory authority over fertilizers – just pesticides. Fertilizer regulation is done by DHEC (who… did I happen to mention… was not represented at the meeting).
Regarding alleged over spray, the DPR respondent flatly stated that if over spray could be proven, action could and would be taken, but that timely reporting of alleged violations is critical. The maximum wind speed allowable for most aerial applications is 10 knots, however Representative Taylor pointed out that the closest wind speed monitoring station is in the city of Aiken, and it is easily possible that the wind conditions at the site of application might vary widely from those reported at the monitoring station at the time of the application. Once again, the burden of proof is on the complainant, not the pesticide applier. In response to that, one meeting attendee asked whether air quality monitors might be installed in the area of the big fields where pesticides are being aerially applied. The DPR respondent stated frankly that he doubted this would ever be possible due to the cost.
One important take-away from this meeting for beekeepers is that there is no legal “right to know” for pesticide application in South Carolina. The single exception is community fumigation for mosquitoes. Agencies who conduct such fumigation are required to inform all citizens at least 24 hours in advance of the operation. There is no requirement whatsoever for either private or commercial appliers to inform citizens of either their application schedule or the chemicals they apply. Beekeepers may register the locations of their hives at the Clemson website which makes a map of registered apiaries available to pesticide appliers who are encouraged to review the map prior to pesticide application. But there is no legal requirement for them to review the apiary map prior to pesticide applicataion. Nor is there any requirement for pesticide appliers to comply with “no spraying” placards posted by beekeepers on their property. Thus, the contractors or state agencies who spray undergrowth control herbicides along roadside ditches have no legal obligation to either inform property owners, or refrain from spraying on their property.