Improving regulatory control over the use of pesticides in the territory is a top priority of the Environmental Protection Agency and the V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources, officials from both agencies said at a press conference at the Charles W. Turnbull Regional Library on Wednesday.
DPNR Commissioner Dawn Henry and EPA Region Two Administrator Judith Enck met with members of the media as part of a conference on integrated pest management, an industry term meaning nontoxic or less toxic alternatives to pesticides.
The EPA and DPNR’s Division of Environmental Protection began organizing the conference in June as a first step in changing the way the territory thinks about pest control.
The potential dangers of pesticides caught the attention of Virgin Islanders in March after a Delaware family vacationing on St. John at Sirenusa condominiums was poisoned by an illegal application of methyl bromide. Three of the four family members have permanent neurological damage as a result of their exposure to the pesticide, Enck said Wednesday. The family’s two sons remain in the hospital.
An investigation revealed that the pest control company Terminix applied the methyl bromide at Sirenusa even though the highly toxic fumigant is not authorized for use within residential structures. The EPA restricts the substance’s use to a very few situations, none of which are applicable to the V.I.
“There are some limited uses,” explained Enck. “For instance, strawberry fields in California, processing of smoked ham in North Carolina. And then the more common usage is in ports – big containers that are shipping flowers and fruits and vegetables – but it’s a very controlled setting; it’s a quarantined area that is regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. So there are a couple of applications in Puerto Rico, but none in the V.I.”
Henry said that since March all methyl bromide canisters, both full and empty, have been removed from the territory.
DPNR is the agency responsible for regulating the use of pesticides locally. The agency contracts the University of the Virgin Islands’ Cooperative Extension Service to provide training for pesticide applicators.
Pesticide certification courses continue to be offered by UVI, Henry said, despite reports made earlier in the year that they had ceased due to a potential misuse of grant money. DPNR maintains that a misperception was caused by the fact that the department had delayed payment to the university during the finalization of a contract.
DPNR now wants to expand and strengthen the enforcement of its permitting of pesticide applicators. Henry said the agency has drafted new applications for permits that will be required for the selling and purchasing of restricted-use pesticides.
“On the commercial side we are hoping that the distributors, persons that are selling restricted-use pesticides, will now through our permits be required to keep certain records they can present to the department on a periodic basis, so we know what the traffic is within the territory as it relates to restricted-use pesticides,” said Henry.
Those on the other side of the same transactions, the buyers of pesticides, will need to be permitted by DPNR as well.
Henry said DPNR has also drafted new regulations for its pesticide program that will soon be unveiled through a public hearing process.
Regulations aren’t just being tightened in the V.I., according to Enck. Just a few weeks ago, the EPA finalized new national regulations on worker protection standards that will go into effect in 2017, she said. Those regulations are designed to protect agricultural workers from the effects of pesticides. She said they have not been updated for 20 years.
According to V.I. law, training to certify pest control applicators must include the latest practices and principles of integrated pest management, the subject of Wednesday’s conference.
“The whole point of integrated pest management is to get to the root of the problem,” said Enck.
This partly means controlling environmental factors that draw pests, rather than eradicating them when they are at the point of infestation, she said.
“If you have a contract with a pesticide applicator where they show up every month on schedule to spray a restricted-use pesticide, that means you’re not dealing with the root of the problem because the pest continues to enter.”
Enck said the fact that integrated pest management is not only safer and more sustainable, but also less expensive than using pesticides, should encourage people and companies to adopt its principles.
“We really need consumers to pay attention because I think consumers are going to drive the change,” she said.
Speaking at Wednesday’s conference on integrated pest management were national experts in the field, including Dr. Jody Gangloff-Kaufmann of Cornell University; Timothy Madere, Special Project Manager for the City of New Orleans; Dr. Philip Landrigan of Mount Sinai Hospital; Dr. Perry Sheffield Mount Sinai School of Medicine; Dr. Ruth Etzel, the childrens’ health senior advisor to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, and EPA senior advisor Claudia Gutierrez.