Boston — This past weekend, the State of Massachusetts undertook what is thought to be its largest aerial spraying of pesticides covering nearly 400,000 acres and 21 communities. By using the pretext of a new emergency, the state improperly evaded Clean Water Act protections according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). PEER has asked for a federal investigation.
The massive spraying was triggered by the trapping of mammal-biting mosquitos which tested positive for Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) on July 9th. On July 17th, the state Department of Public Health declared a pest emergency to justify aerial spraying over Bristol and Plymouth Counties through September 30, 2012. The spraying took place July 20th, 21st, and 22nd.
Typically, aerial spraying of pesticides requires a federal pollution discharge permit but the permit may be dispensed with if the application is done “less than ten days after identification of the need for pest control” – a requirement violated in this case. In addition, PEER charges that the state knew it would conduct aerial spraying in this area for months and is inappropriately using an emergency declaration to avoid the need for a permit. The permit is not merely red tape, in that PEER argues it allows public review of –
- The type of pesticide used. Massachusetts is using a synthetic compound called Anvil which contains an ingredient classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a possible human carcinogen;
- Scientific data that explains the basis for the scope of the proposed aerial spraying, together with a Pesticide Discharge Management Plan; and
- The Commonwealth’s efforts to minimize the discharge of pesticides to waters of the United States, including the evaluation of alternatives to aerial spraying.
“By lurching from emergency to emergency, Massachusetts clings to an uncoordinated posture which precludes effective preemptive strikes against the mosquitos carrying EEE,” stated New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, a biologist and attorney formerly with EPA, pointing out that state officials admit they have no data showing whether or how effective their spraying is. “Aerial spraying is like superstition – people are afraid to stop even though they know there is no rational basis for it.”
PEER is asking the EPA Office of Inspector General to examine whether Massachusetts is skirting federal law, which includes a requirement that spraying programs undergo comprehensive efficacy studies – a process that has yet to even begin in Massachusetts.
“We should be looking at more efficient and less environmentally damaging methods of preventing outbreaks of mosquito-borne diseases, including elimination of suspected carcinogenic chemicals in the ingredients of pesticides,” Bennett added.
EEE is frequently found in mosquitoes in southeastern Massachusetts. It is fatal to between a third and a half of people infected. There is no treatment for EEE and people who survive it often experience permanent disabilities.