AUGUSTA — Lawmakers will hear testimony today on bills regarding notification requirements for spraying pesticides, including one proposal that would do away with the notification system altogether.

In September 2009, the Legislature established rules for a comprehensive pesticide notification system, including a registry, to allow Mainers to be contacted in advance when chemicals are used near their homes.

One of the bills under consideration, L.D. 228, “An Act To Revise Notification Requirements for Pesticide Application,” sponsored by Rep. Peter Edgecomb, R-Caribou, seeks to abolish the notification registry.

In absence of the registry, Edgecomb said, it would become the responsibility of the landowner to contact whoever is spraying pesticides and request advance notice when pesticides are to be used within 500 feet of the landowner’s property, as was the case before the Legislature acted in 2009.

“What it does is put it on the landowners who want to be notified instead of the farmer having to do it,” Edgecomb said. “I don’t know of any farmer who will be out there spraying and not notifying people who live near their fields. Farmers are not opposed to doing this. They want to be good neighbors and try to do the right thing, and that’s symbolized by them not being penalized once this past year.”

He said the Maine Board of Pesticides Control issued 22 penalties last year for misuse of pesticides and every one of them was not a farmer, but a small applicator spraying someone’s lawn.

Clark Granger, chairman of Legislative Committee for the Maine Farm Bureau Association, said the bureau asked Edgecomb to sponsor L.D. 228.

A Christmas tree farmer from China, Granger said the state had a workable notification procedure in place until two years go, but a bill sponsored by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, changed that.

“It required pre-notification requirements. All the farmers would have had to contact all of their neighbors within a quarter of a mile,” he said, referring to a version of the bill passed in 2009. “(Lawmakers) repealed that part and several other things in 2010 and came up with new legislation that rolled some of those requirements back, but we think there’s still overkill. Our position is the rules in effect prior to two years ago were ample to protect the public.”

Heather Spalding, associate director of Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association, said the system now in place works for the public and for pesticide applicators.

She said a website is being built to allow land managers and farmers to input the location of their fields and see all the registrants seeking notification. The site then would allow them to send out notifications instantly.

“This puts the responsibility on the people who are using the chemicals,” Spalding said.

MOFGA, however, supports, L.D. 1041, “An Act to Simplify and Enhance Pest Control Notification,” which is sponsored by Rep. Dean Cray, R-Palmyra. This bill would amend the notification process to say:

* The registry established by the agriculture department’s Board of Pesticides Control is the only mandatory notification system for outdoor applications.

* All registrants would be required to update or confirm their contact information annually. The bill would expand notification requirements from applications made using aircraft to all outdoor applications.

* The board would determine the distances within which a land manager must notify a person whose property is on the registry; currently, state law dictates those distances.

Earlier this year, she said the Maine Board of Pesticides Control submitted a report to the Legislature that explains how the notification registry works. Spalding said L.D. 1041 is the next “natural step” in this process.

“L.D. 1041 reflects the Board of Pesticides recommendation to the Legislature,” Spalding said. “The board worked hard on this, since the end of last year’s session through the summer and fall. They had multiple stakeholder meetings across the state and got guidance from a public health advisory committee. A lot of thought and effort went into this.”

Spalding said the current registry came out of concerns people had with pesticide spray drifting onto their property. She said pesticides can cause serious health effects and contaminate organically grown produce.

“The arguments of the opponents in sharing this information are getting thinner and thinner,” she said. “They just don’t want people to know about the pesticides being used, but people are learning more and more about the adverse health affects from exposure to pesticides. Every month another study comes out that says we have to be concerned.”

L.D. 16, “An Act To Revise Notification Requirements for Pesticides Applications Using Aircraft or Air-carrier Equipment,” submitted by Rep. Jeffrey Timberlake, R-Turner, also is being heard today. The bill would reduce the aerial-spray notification distance from 1,320 feet to 100 feet and reduce the air-carrier spray notification distance into crowns of fruit trees or Christmas trees from 500 feet to 50 feet.

Messages left for Timberlake were unreturned. MOFGA plans to testify in opposition to the bill.

Mechele Cooper — 623-3811, ext. 408

mcooper@centralmaine.com