PR resident testifies on ag pesticides

Park Rapids resident Carol Ashley is fairly certain she knows the cause of her sickness, but may never know for sure. Ashley says about once a year, she is bedridden with illness, she believes from drifting pesticides used on fields near her home...

Park Rapids resident Carol Ashley is fairly certain she knows the cause of her sickness, but may never know for sure.

Ashley says about once a year, she is bedridden with illness, she believes from drifting pesticides used on fields near her home. But she has been met with resistance when trying to determine exactly what chemicals she's sensitive to.

"RDO has been pretty good with me about individual pesticides on individual days," she said. "But my water became contaminated last fall, and when I called them, they flatly refused to give me a list of chemicals they use so I could narrow it down. It's very expensive to test for chemicals. I'm assuming it's no longer contaminated, but I don't know for sure. So, I'm not drinking my water."

Ashley testified Tuesday to the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee in the State House of Representatives concerning a bill requiring notice of certain pesticide applications.

The bill would have required notice to farmers, farmhands and landowners regarding pesticide usage at least 24 hours before application. However, it was shot down fairly quickly.


Ashley said she was happy to be heard, but was pessimistic about the bill from the beginning.

"It's pretty obvious that money is in control there and we are fighting some big corporations," she said.

Though the bill didn't get through committee, Ashley says she's down but not out.

"There was disappointment, of course, but several of us got angry enough to keep fighting."

In November, Ashley joined a multi-county group that created a petition to form a database of pesticides used in the state, so anyone could go online and find out what was sprayed, when and where.

That petition can be found online at www.thepetitionsite .


Two new studies


Earlier this month, the Legislative Auditor released a report on pesticide regulation by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. The study ultimately concluded, "Overall, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture does a good job regulating and monitoring pesticides, but improvements are needed."

Such improvements include evaluating the consistency and effectiveness of enforcement actions, requiring advance notice by land managers about pesticide applications considered risky to bees and implementing a consistent approach to monitor urban pesticide use as state law requires.

The report also suggests the Legislature should "ask the department to evaluate the feasibility of extending the requirement (of prior notification) to other applications that could threaten human heath."

In a letter, Agriculture Commissioner Gene Hugoson said he agreed, "there are opportunities for improvement as noted in the report," adding the department has already taken steps to implement several of the recommendations, but "others will take more time to implement."

He noted the recommendation of advance notice, "is likely to be controversial, as some stakeholders will question the need for and value of such a requirement."

Also released this month were preliminary results of a study citing hazardous effects on farm children due to pesticides.

Over two summers, researchers at the University of North Dakota (UND) studied 128 children in the northern Red River Valley in two groups: those who live near or on an active farm or field, and those living at least a mile away from a farm or field.

Children living on or near farms tested an average of five points lower on IQ tests -- an average score of 98, compared to 103 for non-farm kids.


The farm children also had lower scores in memory and mental processing speed, verbal comprehension and visual perceptual reasoning.

Hubbard County Extension Service educator Will Yliniemi isn't too distressed about the study's findings.

"I can look up anything you want and find a study to verify my opinion. You have to be really careful," he said. "Single, isolated studies don't mean anything."

The EPA attempted to conduct its own similar study, but the Children's Environmental Exposure Research Study (CHEERS) was cancelled in April 2005, due to "gross misrepresentation and controversy," according to the EPA's Web site.

The organization wanted to observe 60 infants in an area of Florida known for its year-round pesticide use, in order to scrutinize the effects of pesticide and household chemical exposure. However, rumors quickly spread that the government was using children as guinea pigs, purposely exposing them to dangerous chemicals. EPA officials insist this was not the case; the children were chosen for the specific study because they were already regularly exposed to pesticides and would not be intentionally subjected to any chemicals.

A necessary evil?

According to the EPA, there are more than 865 active ingredients registered in the United States as pesticides, which are combined to make thousands of pesticide products. About 350 of those are used on foods and in homes.

"If we could get by without them, we certainly would. The less pesticides you can use, the better," Yliniemi said. "But the way our food system is set up right now, it's a production system. Unless everybody wants to start producing food, when only 2 percent of the people do, you're going for all the efficiency you can."


Indeed, even the researchers behind the University of North Dakota study don't advocate banning all pesticides.

"No one has zero-exposure to pesticides," said Sally Pyle, UND professor of biology in a February 2006 interview with UND's "Dimensions" magazine. "And it's not reasonable to stop using pesticides. Our goal is to figure out what's happening and help people lower their exposure."

"This is a much more complicated issue than people think it is," Yliniemi contends. "It's not black and white."

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