FMC Corp. agreed yesterday to stop selling a crop pesticide in Maryland and nine other coastal states that has been blamed for the deaths of more than a dozen bald eagles in the Chesapeake Bay region.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency negotiated a total ban on sales, effective Sept. 1, in Maryland and other areas where there are breeding grounds and crucial habitat for bald eagles and migratory birds.
The company negotiated a settlement with the EPA that calls for a three-year phasing out of the use of carbofuran granules nationwide.
The EPA had proposed banning carbofuran two years ago and was on the verge of announcing an outright ban this spring, according to spokesman Al Heier. But EPA officials decided to negotiate an agreement because the company could have appealed and kept the product on the market for years, he said.
FMC is the only manufacturer of carbofuran, which it sells under the trade name Furadan. It is widely used on crops in the state, particularly on corn. However, farmers have a number of alternatives, according to FMC spokesman Jeff Jacoby. The order calls for the gradual reduction of sales of the product to distributors. Distributors and farmers will face some restrictions on the sale or use of existing stocks of carbofuran.
Songbirds are poisoned when they mistake the granules, spread on freshly plowed fields each spring, for food. Larger birds, such as eagles, are poisoned when they eat smaller birds and animals that die of carbofuran ingestion.
The Chesapeake Bay area's bald eagle population has been recovering nicely since its dramatic decline three decades ago from DDT poisoning. DDT was banned in 1972.
The EPA estimated in 1987 that as many as 2.4 million birds were poisoned annually by carbofuran during normal agricultural use. And in 1989, the agency blamed more than 40 massive bird kills throughout the country on the pesticide.
FMC had never denied that the pesticide is toxic to birds. But the company said it was safe when applied legally and according to label directions. The company had worked with farmers in an attempt to reduce poisonings. No bald eagle deaths have been attributed to carbofuran since 1988 in Maryland, although there have been reports of poisonings in Virginia.
"We tried to minimize the risk. It is evident that we weren't able to achieve a risk reduction that was acceptable to the agency," Mr. Jacoby said.
FMC's Curtis Bay plant makes a portion of the chemicals used in the manufacture of Furadan.
"It is too early to assess how that will impact our Baltimore plant," Mr. Jacoby said. "We do a lot of other things beyond Furadan in Baltimore."
The pesticide accounts for 6 percent of the company's total annual sales.
Gov. William Donald Schaefer considered action against the pesticide but then backed away after meeting with FMC officials two years ago. The Maryland General Assembly also killed a measure to ban the pesticide then.