The Maine Woods

A Publication of the Forest Ecology Network

 Volume Five     Number Two                           Late Fall 2001

Maine Communities reject aerial herbicide spraying by Daisy Goodman

Aerial application of herbicides has been part of industrial forestry in Maine for the past twenty years. Tens of thousands of acres are treated with a combination of chemicals each year in this state. Over the years this destructive practice has met with increasing resistance from local communities. Opposition to aerial herbicide applications gained significant momentum over the past year following the introduction of a referendum against forestry herbicides sponsored by the Forest Ecology Network in the fall of 2000. Although the referendum petition did not gain enough signatures to bring it to a vote in 2001, herbicide use in forestry is now on the forefront of the debate over forest policy.

In the State of Maine, the Board of Pesticides Control holds the authority to regulate herbicide use in forestry. Frequently criticized for its laissez faire approach to pesticide regulation, this agency is grossly under-funded and in no position to adequately monitor pesticide use or to enforce its own rules. Forestry herbicide applications, one of the largest scale pesticide uses in the state, do not require a permit. Prospective applicators are required only to notify the Board concerning which herbicides will be used, approximately where they will be applied, and when. No environmental impact analysis is required, and the Board does not monitor aerial spraying for compliance with guidelines for aerial applications.

Forestry herbicide programs were developed in the 1980s in an era where little was known about their environmental impact and the public had less concern about the health implications of widespread pesticide use. Subsequent research has raised serious questions about the impact of herbicides on immune system function and reproduction. Unfortunately, the EPA pesticide registration process does not reflect the current level of scientific knowledge about these chemicals, so herbicides are still in use despite well-documented adverse effects both on individual organisms and ecosystems.

The herbicide glyphosate has been the subject of a number of recent studies linking it to reproductive problems. Glyphosate is used in combination with the surfactant POEA in virtually all forestry applications in Maine, and this combination is shown to cause an increase in dead and damaged sperm, an increase in miscarriage and pre-term birth rates, abnormal fetal and maternal metabolism, and an overall drop in fertility due to inhibition of reproductive hormones. (Darvich, et al., 2001; Savitz et al, 1997; U.S. EPA, 1982; Yousef et al., 1995) Additionally, new research shows a frightening correlation between certain types of glyphosate exposure and certain types of lymphatic cancers (Bolognesi, 1997; Handell & Eriksson). The herbicide Triclopyr, also frequently used in Maine, is linked with increased breast cancer rates as well as adrenal and other tumors (U.S. EPA, 1996). Decreased litter size, decreased birth weight, and fetal loss were also found in rabbits exposed to triclopyr (U.S. EPA, 1998). In one study, the principle break-down product of triclopyr was stored in fetal brain tissue and was associated with abnormal nervous system development (Das & Barone, 1999; Hunter, Lassiter & Padila, 1999).

In addition to the carcinogenic and reproductive effects of these herbicides in isolation, little is known about the environmental impact of the large scale applications of mixtures of herbicides, surfactants, and the often toxic but unlisted inert ingredients currently used in the Maine woods. Additionally, aerial applications are notoriously inaccurate, with the US EPA's Environmental Effects Branch estimating that 45% of the volume applied during an aerial application drifts off target or is lost to the atmosphere. Spray drift can travel for long distances; according to EPA researchers "a predictable percentage of spray will transport potentially as far as 2 or more miles from the treatment site (U.S. EPA, 1994, p. 8).

Small wonder that increasing public awareness of herbicide use in forestry has resulted in a groundswell of opposition throughout the northeast. Residents of Vermont passed a five year moratorium against aerial herbicide spraying in forestry in 1997. New Hampshire communities forced their Division of Pesticide Control to drastically re-write rules regulating aerial herbicide spraying in that state, making them "the most restrictive in the country" according to one industry representative. In Maine, a number of communities dissatisfied with lack of regulation of aerial spraying by the Board of Pesticides Control have developed local ordinances restricting or prohibiting herbicide applications on forest lands. Arrowsic has banned foliar application of herbicides, Lebanon, New Sweden, and Owl's Head have banned aerial application of herbicides/pesticides, and Limestone, Cranberry Isles, Rangeley, Sweden and Wells, have strongly restricted pesticide applications in sensitive areas or areas larger than two acres.

In the summer of 2001, the communities of Guilford, Wiscasset and Coplin Plantation challenged plans by International Paper to apply glyphosate and triclopyr to clear cut areas. In each community, residents researched the toxicology and environmental impacts of these herbicides and decided they were no longer willing to tolerate their large scale application in the forests where they live, work, hunt, and fish. In a series of community meetings, residents expressed concern about drift, water contamination, and the human health effects of herbicide exposure and shared personal stories of deer meat "too bitter to eat" and high numbers of tumors found in moose and deer meat. In Coplin Plantation, residents will vote in early October on an article banning aerial spraying.

Local communities understand that reducing exposure to herbicides is the only sure way to avoid their health and environmental impacts, both known and unknown. Unfortunately, the forest products industry has not yet made a commitment to finding alternatives to herbicide use. The key issue in the debate over forestry herbicides is, therefore, who has the right to decide? Although International Paper deserves recognition for agreeing to postpone aerial spraying in a few communities this year, it remains committed to use of herbicides and has stated it will use this year to "educate" the public about the benefits and alleged safety of herbicide use. A number of communities in Maine have already taken action against forestry herbicides, and the Forest Ecology Network continues to receive frequent requests for information and assistance from others. Unfortunately, the majority of spraying occurs in unorganized townships, not subject to local ordinance. In such areas, action on a statewide level is required to stop this practice, either in the form of a referendum, or through rule-making by the Board of Pesticides Control prohibiting aerial herbicide applications.

We must continue to make it clear to the forest products industry that corporations do not have a right to poison the land, air, water, and wildlife on which we all depend. Maine communities and all communities worldwide have a right to be free from toxic exposures. Ultimately, we will succeed and 2001 will mark the beginning of the end of aerial herbicide applications in the Maine woods.


Bolognesi, C. et al. (1997). Genotoxic activity of glyphosate and its technical formulation Roundup. Jour. Agric. Food Chem. 45., 1957-1962.

Darvich, J., Zirulnik, F., Gimenez, M.S. (2001). Effect of herbicide glyphosate on enzymatic activity in pregnant rats and their fetuses. Envir. Res 85(3), 226-31.

Das, K. & Barone, S. (1999). Neuronal differentiation in PC12 cells inhibited by chlorpyrifos and its metabolites. Toxicol Applc. Pharmacol., 160, 217-230.

Hardell, L. & Erikson, M. (undated). Case-control study of Non-Hodgkins lymphoma and exposure to pesticides. Unpublished conference poster.

Hunter, D., Lassiter, T. & Padila, S. (1999). Gestational exposure to chlorpyrifos. Toxicol. Appl. Pharmacol., 158, 16-23.

Nordstrom, M. et al. (1996). Occupational exposures, animal exposure and smoking as risk factors for hairy cell leukemia evaluated in a case-control study. British Journal Cancer 77(11), 2048-2052.

Savitz, D. et al. (1997). Male pesticide exposure and pregnancy outcome. Am. Jour. Epidemiology, 146, 1025-1036.

U.S. EPA. (1994) Qualitative assessment of sulfonylurea herbicides and other ALS inhibitors. Memo from Maciorowski, A., Environmental Fate and Effects Division.

U.S. EPA (1996). Carcinogenicity peer review of Triclopyr. Memo from McMahon, T. F. & Rinde, E., Health Effects Division.

U.S. EPA (1998). Health effects test guidelines. Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances.

Yousef, M. et al. Toxic effects of carbufuron and glyphosate on semen characteristics in rabbits. Journal Environ. Sci. Health (4) 523-534.

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