Aspen City Council is considering mandating pre-notification of pesticide use so that neighbors and passersby can avoid being exposed to possible toxic chemicals.
But in a work session held last week, council appeared to be against banning pesticide use outright to avoid challenging state law.
City staff last Tuesday requested direction from council on whether notification should be required before spraying pesticides, whether minimal restrictions should be imposed on homeowners who spray and whether the city should draft an ordinance that would challenge state pre-emption laws.
Currently, state law requires pesticide applicators to post notices on properties after they have been sprayed, but not before.
“The idea behind [pre-notification] is that if I think my risk of cancer is high if I’m exposed ... and if I find out they spray after the fact, there’s nothing I can do,” said Lee Cassin, the city’s environmental health director.
While an outright ban would challenge state law, mandating pre-notification would sidestep it. Local governments cannot directly regulate commercial pesticide applicators, but they can regulate homeowners’ pesticide use and require them to provide notice before they spray.
The city of Boulder enacted a pesticide pre-notification ordinance in 1981. In order to comply with state law, the ordinance makes the homeowner or property manager responsible for pre-notification.
People think dangerous pesticides that are toxic to people and animals have been discovered and banned, but that is a misconception, said Cassin.
There are approximately 80,000 chemicals currently being used and most have not been tested to determine whether they cause cancer because new ones are developing faster than resources and requirements for testing are, she said.
“The resources are completely inadequate to fund pesticide testing,” Cassin said. “Knowing that a pesticide is in use doesn’t say anything about whether or not it is safe. ... Of course, not every pesticide causes every type of cancer — at a higher level you know what the consequences are — but at a lower level you just don’t know.”
Cassin also noted that the city’s parks department is one of the most progressive in the state and doesn’t need to spray because of its turf management practices.
Three people spoke in favor of banning pesticides outright, while Ed Berkheimer, owner of Earth-Wise Horticultural, a commercial pesticides applicator based in Glenwood Springs, was the sole dissenter in the argument against pesticides.
Berkheimer said he felt the need to stand up not only for his company, but for the industry as a whole, which at times is unfairly demonized. His company comes up with a list of recommendations to prevent infestation, and offers a variety of organic pesticides and alternative application methods to minimize exposure, he said.
Berkheimer also expressed concern for mandating a pre-notification requirement. He questioned whether the burden of notification would rest on the applicator or the property owner, and what the notification process would entail.
He also was concerned with how they would deal with unexpected delays. Typically 10 to 20 percent of the work comes back uncompleted, due to poor weather conditions or other contractors being on the property during the scheduled spraying, said Berkheimer.
“We would end up re-posting [notifications on] properties over and over,” he said.
In a counter-argument, Bill Stirling, owner of Stirling Homes Inc., gave an impassioned speech against pesticides. Locals who live in Aspen full time are being poisoned by 60 percent of the residents who own second homes in the area and who spray their properties with pesticides routinely, he said.
“We are out there all the time paving the way,” said Stirling, referencing Aspen’s progressive environmental initiatives. “So the question is, is the state law stuck in time and is there any way to lobby the state through the state governor ... to challenge the lobbies that got this in place?”
The issue originally came to City Council in June after Aspenite Chris Wurtele lobbied elected officials to enact an ordinance that would, at a minimum, require City Hall to use organic or “least toxic” pesticides on city property and notify the public prior to their application.
Wurtele was exposed to the pesticide known as “bifenthrin” a year ago when he spent about 15 minutes in his driveway after the chemical was applied to his and his neighbor’s trees. Shortly after the exposure, he began suffering from chills, sweats and temple pressure.
Although he was not present at the work session, Wurtele proposed an ordinance to the city which would mandate that toxic pesticides can only be used as a last resort and the location, notification and time the chemicals are used be regulated.
City Council, which was short councilmen Torre and Adam Frisch, agreed that Aspen should be a leader in its approach to pesticides, but that a battle with the state would have to wait.
Mayor Mick Ireland and council members Steve Skadron and Derek Johnson were in consensus that the city should move toward mandating pre-notification, while it should continue educational outreach regarding land management practices, which can be as effective as pesticide use.
As for Berkheimer’s concerns about the specifics of who will be responsible for notification, council was vague.
“We’re going to need to think long and hard about where the burden is,” said Ireland.