In its first show of strength, Virginia's Pesticide Control Board yesterday rejected the restrictions on a farm pesticide proposed by its manufacturer, calling them too weak to prevent the deaths of bald eagles and other birds.
The board asked the FMC Corp., which makes carbofuran, an insecticide for crops, to toughen its proposed restrictions. The move appeared to be an attempt to stake a middle ground between environmental groups and Virginia's Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, which want an outright ban, and farm groups and the manufacturer, which describe the proposed restrictions as the nation's tightest.
"We've made a lot of progress and are quite close to an acceptable solution," said George Gilliam, the Charlottesville lawyer who heads the board.
Carbofuran is used to protect about 20 crops from insects, and is one of the leading products used on corn in the Chesapeake Bay area. Federal environmental officials estimate it kills more than 2 million birds a year, including bald eagles that die when they eat smaller dead birds.
A proposal to ban carbofuran died in Maryland's legislature last year after Gov. William Donald Schaefer did not support it, and the Environmental Protection Agency will decide by next spring whether to impose a national ban.
Virginia's board acted after carbofuran was blamed for the deaths of 200 songbirds last spring in Essex County southeast of Fredericksburg. In its first major action since being appointed a year ago, the board voted in September to hold a hearing early next year on banning carbofuran.
To stave off that possibility, FMC proposed yesterday requiring farmers to take special training and use equipment that limits spillage. In eastern Virginia, where several bald eagle deaths have been reported, farmers could use no insecticide around the edges of their fields.
Gilliam and other board members demanded more details on how the restrictions would be enforced, and Gilliam said he wants the risk of bird deaths brought down to "zero or close to zero." The board agreed to meet again on Dec. 5.
Peter deFur, a staff scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund, said the board's action was "not as good as we had hoped," but predicted the restrictions would be "the next step toward eliminating carbofuran" because it would become too bothersome for farmers to use.