Taking Down Spray Drift

Label Language Journeys On

On two different occasions over the past 15 years, EPA has sought to roll out language on spray drift for crop protection labels — with the most recent effort in 2009. But how close is the final rule? It’s still hard to say.

Andrew Moore, executive director of the National Agricultural Aviation Association (NAAA), reports President Obama has appointed a new administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution, who is still awaiting Senate confirmation — in an election year. “EPA releasing their drift language and other potentially controversial policies new may have the effect of tying up the nomination,” says Moore.

Mike Leggett, senior director environmental policy with CropLife America, has heard that EPA does indeed have a rule drafted, and it is now under Office of General Counsel review.

As with many regulatory processes, the road has been bumpy. “I don’t think EPA would have dreamed it would be 2012, heading into 2013 before they would have this out, but it’s a very contentious issue that people are quite passionate about,” says Leggett.

In fact, the three federal register notices posted in the 2009 effort brought in approximately 30,000 comments that the agency has had to wade through. “EPA has been very good about engaging all the stakeholders in this process,” he says “It’s been a tough, tough issue for them to come up with something that everyone can agree on or at least stomach.”

The ag industry and NGOs each have their own opinions on the language, and they don’t match up, adds Moore.

Unfortunately, the 2009 label rule included a statement “do not apply this product in a manner that results in spray [or dust] drift that could cause an adverse effect to people or any non-target organism or site.” Leggett says many in agriculture have seen this as a no drift standard that would be unworkable for applicators (putting them under undue liability) and would abandon FIFRA’s science-based risks/benefit standard of no unreasonable adverse effect.

Some kind of standard language is much-needed, however, as current manufacturers’ labels are “kind of all over the place when it comes to spray drift,” says Leggett. “Clarity is an overall industry objective.”

Unfortunately, some states have instituted their own strict drift label rules, says Moore. In Wisconsin and North Carolina, for instance, even trace amounts of off-site drift could be considered a violation. The problem will grow with scientific advances in detecting ever smaller amounts of compounds in the environment, even beyond parts per million.

Leggett believes recommendations from EPA’s drift reduction technology program will be rolled out at the same time as label rules. Based on several years of research, they will offer information a variety of drift control approaches, including nozzle choice.

CropLife America has worked with consultant Bob Wolf to develop a set of best management practices that industry members will be able to refer to pesticide labels as well as on the association’s website. “We want to make sure applicators have access to all the information and tools they need to make better choices regarding spray drift,” Leggett emphasizes.

The proposed EPA drift reduction technology program is modeled on similar programs developed in Europe. A novel approach has been adopted north of the border. Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada have created an on-line buffer calculator that enables applicators to factor in wind, nozzle choice, boom height, and application conditions to determine what kind of buffer zone is legally required. It is possible that similar tools may be available to growers in the U.S.

Work at USDA-ARS has created an smart phone app that helps aerial applicators determine the droplet size needed in specific conditions (nozzle type, aircraft speed, the pressure at which materials are coming out of the tank, and application angle), adds Moore.

He is encouraged that fully 21% of aerial applicators are now using variable rate application. The technology harnesses GPS that works in conjunction with Geographical Information Systems and infra-red maps to tell the flow control system where to apply lower amounts of spray.

In addition, growing numbers of aerial operators are using the Aircraft-Integrated Meteorological Measurement System (AIMMS) which gathers key meteorological data and works with the aircraft’s GPS to help the pilot align the plane for the most effective, safest application, taking into account wind speed and direction.

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