Friday, April 24, 2009

TDA considers wide range of pest control issues

Texas Department of Agriculture officials met yesterday with the Structural Pest Control Advisory Committee (SPCAC) to discuss school IPM rules and other areas of improvement for pesticide regulation. The SPCAC was created last year as an advisory body/sounding board for the Structural Pest Control Service (SPCS)--the regulatory agency that oversees all structural pest control activities in the state.

I have discussed the committee's activities in previous blogs, but wanted to give you an update on this most recent meeting. The first order of business was reviewing proposed legislation that could probably affect pest control in Texas. Catherine Wright-Steele, legislation director for TDA reported on five bills related to TDA/SPCS.

The SB 1016, the TDA Sunset Bill passed the Senate 4/16/2009 and has been referred to the House Ag & Livestock Committee. This year the TDA has been subjected to the same sunset review that the old Structural Pest Control Board faced during the last legislative session two years ago, before it was shut down and responsibilities transferred to TDA. The sunset process looks at state agencies and determines whether the agency is doing it's job and needs to be continued or shut down. Sunset review frequently also results in the legislature making changes to the way an agency's rules and regulations. According to Ms. Wright-Steele, the sunset process is going well for TDA and consists of mainly of ensuring that provisions of the Agriculture Code that apply to TDA programs also apply to the Occupations Code. No major changes to TDA operations are expected from the sunset process.

Other bills are generating some interest, comments and concerns by some in the pest control industry. Senate Bill 768 and HB 2038 make modifications in who might be exempt from regulation by the SPCS. Examples include those who use raptors (e.g., hawks) to control nuisance birds, anyone who uses live catch traps, chimney sweeps, and other non-pesticide (low risk) methods of controlling pests.

These bills illustrate the debate in the industry between those who want to require a license for nearly every kind of pest control action, and others who call for more freedom from regulation (especially for non-pesticide-related activities). The Texas Pest Control Association, for example, is concerned about exempting all activities that involve minimal risk to the public, as in SB 768. These are significant issues at stake here and it would be good for all readers to look these bills over and comment to their legislators very quickly. According to Catherine Wright-Steele, SB 768 appears poised to move forward quickly for full vote.

The committee also reviewed comments received in response to the proposed new rules for school IPM. In contrast to the first draft of the rules, when over 200 comments were received by TDA, less than two dozen comments were made. It appears that schools and PMPs appeared to be relatively satisfied with the new rules, though there were in fact few explicitly favorable comments received. Another difference with this round of comments was that most of those received appeared to come from community activists concerned with minimizing or eliminating pesticide use in schools. The committee went through all of the comments, and for the most part declined to recommend any significant changes in the proposed school IPM rules.

Finally, the committee considered three new areas of concern identified by Jimmy Bush and TDA. The areas of concern included unethical and illegal termite pre-treatments, inadequate insurance coverage by many Texas PMPs, and wood destroying insect reports. These issues were discussed at some length. Both pre-treatments and WDI reports have been dealt with at length in recent years by the Structural Pest Control Board. Three committee members volunteered to form the core of a committee to look into those three issues and make recommendations to the whole advisory committee and TDA. The problem with ensuring that termite pre-treatments are done properly is one that is repeated in states throughout the country. One of the public participants at the meeting, Mitch Wassom, recommended that TDA focus on improving the quality of residential pre-treatments instead of focusing on commercial pre-treatments. The termite risk is generally higher for residential homes, consequently the economic impact of poor or incomplete treatments is greater for new home buyers. This will be an extremely difficult problem to solve.

Background checks on all certified pesticide applicators in the state are nearly completed. Only a handful of licenses were revoked after consideration by a committee of five TDA employees. This has been a very time-consuming and ambitious undertaking but should serve to make professional pest control a safer and more secure service industry.

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