The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for registering or licensing insecticides for use in the U.S. Individual states and their agricultural agencies also play a big role in regulating insecticide use. In some cases, state regulations may be even more stringent than federal regulations.
An “insecticide” is a substance that is toxic to insects and used for the purpose of killing them so they do not harm agricultural and garden produce and other desirable plant life. The EPA, of course, must balance fighting the harm that unwanted insects do to cultivated plants against the harm they can do to the desirable plants and animals that populate the natural environment. Of course, insecticides can also be toxic to humans.
Are There Federal Regulations for Insecticides?
The federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) authorizes the EPA to regulate the distribution, sale and use of pesticides in the U.S. The EPA must register and license all pesticides distributed or sold in the U.S. Before the EPA may register a pesticide under FIFRA, the applicant who wants to license it has to show that using the pesticide according to specifications is not going to result in “unreasonable adverse effects” on the environment.
In addition, the EPA has labeling requirements for pesticides, and a pesticide may not be sold until the EPA has registered it and approved a label for the pesticide product that informs the public how to safely use and handle the pesticide. In addition, federal law and regulations require that any person who applies or supervises the application of restricted use pesticides (RUPs) be certified as either a private or commercial applicator.
The EPA has an Endangered Species Protection Program (ESPP). The goal of this program is to carry out the EPA’s responsibilities under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) in compliance with the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The EPA tries to protect insect life, natural ecosystems, and human health without overly burdening or limiting pesticide use for agriculture and other beneficial uses. Basically if geographic imitations on the use of a particular insecticide are necessary to protect listed species in a particular area, the EPA can place geographic limitations on its use.
It is important to keep in mind that insecticides and other pesticides can potentially be quite destructive of the environment. The classic example of this is DDT, a synthetic insecticide developed in the 1940s. At first, it was used successfully to fight insect populations that caused human disease and illness, e.g. malaria, typhus, and other insect-borne human diseases. It was also effective against the insects that damage crops and livestock.
However, many insects quickly developed resistance to it. Possibly worse were its effects on the environment, especially its adverse effect on humans and bird populations, e.g our beloved national symbol, the bald eagle. Eagles were driven almost to extinction, and it was learned that DDT can cause cancer in humans. It was discovered that DDT is persistent in the environment, accumulates in the fatty tissues of animals and travels long distances in the upper atmosphere.
Ultimately DDT had to be banned completely. Nonetheless, while its concentration in the environment and animals has lessened, residues remain. Of course, the EPA wants to avoid another experience with insecticides such as the one with DDT.
The EPA is responsible for reviewing information, including data, in order to determine whether it should register a pesticide product for a particular use. The EPA must analyze whether use of a product would affect species listed as threatened or endangered or their designated critical habitats. All pesticide products that the EPA determines “may affect” a listed species or its designated critical habitat may be subject to the ESPP.
If limitations are placed on the geographic scope of use of a pesticide to protect species listed as threatened or endangered in a particular area, the information is communicated to the public through Endangered Species Protection Bulletins.
Are Insecticides the Same as Pesticides?
Insecticides are also referred to as “pesticides”, but pesticides cover a larger range of toxins used against a wider variety of pests, e.g. both destructive plants and animals that affect crops, livestock and forests. Harmful plants are such things as weeds and certain types of fungi that cause disease in other plants. Destructive animals are animals that damage agricultural, garden and landscaping crops, including such animal life as ants, silverfish, beetles, flies, moths, nematodes and others. Insecticides address insect pests only.
Among the most destructive insects for agriculture, gardening and landscaping are the following:
- Locusts: Locusts have caused widespread damage to plant crops practically since the dawn of agriculture around the 8th century BC. They continue to be a threat to almost every type of plant today. Under the right conditions, locusts form huge swarms, covering as much as 460 square miles, and devour the plants around them;
- Mormon Crickets: These are not in fact crickets but were named because they invaded the crops of Mormon settlers in Utah in the mid-1800s. These pests have sharp, powerful mandibles which they use to feed on shrubs, grasses, field forage crops, fruit trees, and grains. Under certain conditions, these insects can be found in “outbreaks” that can last from 5 to 20 years;
- True Bugs: A “true bug” can be any one of 50,000 to 80,000 insect species, but the most common true bugs are aphids and whiteflies. These pests are known to tap into plants and feed on their sap, which weakens and kills the plants. They also feed on the stalks and flowers of their victims. They pose an additional threat that is not uncommon among insects, they spread diseases to plants that cause additional damage to them;
- Corn Rootworm: Corn may be the most significant agricultural crop in the U.S. and corn rootworms have been a more recent problem for corn farmers. This is because of their resistance to pesticides. Corn rootworms emerge from the ground in June and July and begin to destroy corn silk and leaves. In addition, they immediately lay eggs throughout a crop, so growing corn on the same land every year makes the problem worse;
- Colorado Potato Beetle: The Colorado potato beetle is a large threat to potato, tomato and eggplant crops. It is resistant to most insecticides, so it is practically uncontrollable;
- Stink Bugs: Stink bugs actually cause no direct harm to people as they do not bite or sting. People dislike them, because when they are crushed or killed, they emit a mildly unpleasant odor. But this odor quickly dissipates. Stink bugs are a major threat to agricultural and garden produce. They feed destructively on a wide variety of fruit and vegetable crops.
What Acts Violate the FIFRA?
There are both civil and criminal penalties for violating the FIFRA. Violations comprise the following:
- Distributing, selling, or delivering an unregistered pesticide;
- Advertising that does not agree with the specifications on the label;
- Selling a registered product if its content is not what the label says it is;
- Selling adulterated or misbranded pesticide;
- Detaching, altering, or defacing a container or label;
- Forbidding the EPA from making inspections;
- Making a guarantee or recommendation that does not conform to an insecticide label;
- Inaccurate record keeping.
Civil penalties can be imposed on private applicators. The penalty for a first offense is a warning only. Subsequent offenses are punished by fines of up to $1,000. For most applicators and dealer managers, a fine of up to $5,000 per offense can be imposed. The size of the operative involved, the impact of the violation and the gravity of the offense are all considered in determining the amount of a penalty.
Private insecticide applicators can face misdemeanor criminal penalties for violations of FIFRA, including fines of up to $1000 and/or 30 days in prison. Commercial applications Commercial applicators face more severe criminal penalties, such fines of up to $25,000 and/or up to 1 year in prison. Insecticide producers can face fines of up to $50,000 and/or up to 1 year in prison.
What Happens If My Neighbor’s Use of an Insecticide Damages My Plants?
A landowner whose use of pesticides, weed killers and other chemicals causes damage to neighboring properties may be liable for nuisance. Liability for nuisance is based on the idea that one landowner’s actions on their property may not unreasonably interfere with the use and enjoyment of another person’s property.
A nuisance may be either private or public. If a nuisance is private, it means that only a few property owners suffer damage. If a case goes to trial, the court applies a cost-benefit analysis based on many factors in order to determine if the alleged interference with property rights was unreasonable.
Landowners engaged in agricultural operations may be sued for nuisance if the effects of the operation excessively interfere with neighboring property owners’ rights. Some states have so-called “right-to-farm” statutes that may offer some protection to farmers. But the priority of a farmer’s interest is not certain, even if the farmer does everything according to law and the applicable regulations. A neighboring landowner may win a lawsuit for nuisance and if they do, the farmer may have to pay damages or even cease operations.
If a neighbor contracts with someone who spreads insecticides in a negligent manner, they may be held responsible to adjoining land owners for harming them or damaging their land. Generally, if a landowner hires another person to conduct a dangerous activity on the landowner’s property, such as spreading an insecticide, the landowner may be liable for the actions of the person hired.
What Are Examples of Products that May Blow on My Land?
A neighboring private landowner’s use of chemicals can cause harm to surrounding properties. Examples of products that can be released and travel through the air, causing harm on neighboring properties include not only insecticides and other pesticides, but also the following:
- Weed Killers.
What If the Spraying Is Done with an Airplane?
Again, landowners who apply insecticides with airplanes, as well as the people who operate the plane, must be especially careful to prevent the spread of the chemicals onto a neighbors’ land. They can be held liable for nuisance if the spraying interferes with an adjoining property owner’s rights in an unreasonable manner.
Do I Need a Lawyer?
If you, or your property, have been harmed because of a neighbor’s spraying of insecticides, an experienced real estate lawyer can advise you of the laws in your state and the remedies available to you.
If you have been sued for causing damage to a neighbor’s land, or having harmed them because of an insecticide you sprayed, a property attorney can ensure your rights are protected.