Popular pesticide restricted by state Furadan found to poison birds

January 28, 1991|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,Evening Sun Staff

Maryland agriculture officials have imposed new restrictions on the use of a popular farm pesticide that has been blamed for numerous bird poisonings throughout the country.

Agriculture Secretary Wayne A. Cawley Jr. announced Wednesday that the state had reached agreement with FMC Corp., manufacturer of Furadan, to put special state limitations on the pesticide's use in cornfields, where it is most often applied.

The move comes a month after Virginia officials imposed even more stringent regulations on Furadan's use following two incidents there last year in which more than 225 birds were found poisoned in farm fields treated with the pesticide.

Maryland's action drew mixed reviews from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the only environmental group represented on the governor's 14-member pesticide advisory council.

Michael Heller, manager of the foundation's demonstration farm in Prince George's County, praised the state for acting while the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency continues to delay a decision on whether to ban the pesticide nationwide.

"It should be a message to EPA," Heller said. EPA proposed banning most uses of granular Furadan two years ago, but has yet to take final action. A decision is expected in June, according to EPA spokesman Al Heier.

Heller, however, contended that Maryland did not even go as far as Virginia in trying to protect wildlife from the highly toxic chemical. And he complained that Maryland officials did not seek the pesticide council's advice before agreeing to FMC's plan.

Cecily Majerus, an aide to Gov. William Donald Schaefer, said state officials were in a hurry to get something in place before this spring's planting began. She said some conditions imposed in Virginia were rejected here because of farmers' objections.

Philadelphia-based FMC, which manufactures some of the ingredients for Furadan at its factory in south Baltimore, is seeking to avoid an outright ban of its product. Baltimore plant manager Frank Solecki says the company's plan should reduce the risk of bird poisonings by 85 to 90 percent.

Starting this spring, Maryland farmers using Furadan will be required to inject the granular pesticide into the furrow as they plant their corn. They are supposed to use special equipment that covers the chemical with soil after the application.

The company also has agreed to a publicity campaign to alert farmers to the dangers the pesticide poses to wildlife and to educate them on the recommended techniques for its use.

No bird kills associated with Furadan have been reported in Maryland since 1988, when several bald eagle poisonings on the Eastern Shore were attributed to intentional misuse.

Since then, however, several bird kills have been reported in other states and in Canada under normal agricultural use. Forty-six waterfowl, mostly snow geese, were poisoned in two Furadan-treated fields in Delaware last spring, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"We don't feel it can be used safely under any circumstances," said Paul Nickerson, Northeast regional chief of endangered species protection for the wildlife service. The agency has urged that Furadan be banned around Chesapeake Bay to protect the area's eagle population.

Maryland farmers used about 260,000 pounds of Furadan in 1988, making it the ninth most popular pesticide in the state, according to an agriculture department survey. Its use has dropped 57 percent since 1985, when EPA first announced its special review of the chemical's risks to wildlife.

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