July 13, 2016

It almost went by under our radar – if not for a Metroplex doctor who has long kept an eye on environmental changes that could affect her town and family. When public notice of the state’s renewal of its General Permit for pesticide use landed in her mailbox two weeks ago, she looked closer. Then she put out an alert to several environmental organizations and two reporters.

We heard about it. Now you will. We encourage you to add your comments below and, more importantly, to Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the permitting agency. Public comment ends Aug. 1.

Entomologists, zoologists, biochemists, agriculture experts, public health experts, licensed pesticide operators and environmentalists both professional and community may all see points for questions and comment in this wide-reaching measure. It’s a renewal of a 2011 General Permit, with five years’ advancement in science and public health since, and possibly changes in public opinion.

Texas General Permit TXG 870000 appears to potentially affect Texans near most any water body around the state where pesticide operators may discharge pest controls, including into or beside water, sprayed aerially over farm fields or watercourses, or broadcast over forest canopies.  The term “pesticide” here includes herbicides to kill unwanted plants.  “Pest” includes seven categories of living organisms, from mosquitos and other insects to aquatic plants, fish, mollusks and rodents.

The most obvious fact about this permit is that it is as much about pesticide use across the state as it is about water quality. Under its terms, water in which pesticides land is not even tested.

A reading of the draft permit prompts many questions. Those shared here were raised by two early respondents to the mailed notice and review of the 41-page permit itself and accompanying Fact Sheet.   

Next steps in the process for the General Permit’s consideration allow for a public meeting, depending on requests by individuals, an agency or association, before the public comment period ends. A public meeting is granted when TCEQ’s executive director, currently Byron Shaw, determines public interest warrants it based on requests.

“All significant comments” raised during the public comment period receive a response from the executive director. First the general permit is filed with the appointed commission for their final consideration.  At least 10 days before the commission’s action on the permit, the executive director’s response is made available to the public and filed with the Chief Clerk. 

Here are links to the official text of General Permit No. TXG 870000. It’s official title is “General Permit to Authorize Point Source Discharge of Biological Pesticides and Chemical Pesticides that Leave a Residue in Water” No. TXG 870000. Wade in…the water’s…deep and in places, murky.  

Contact information for public comment here.


Here are some issues that a scan of the document raised:


The reach of the general permit is statewide—Texas waters not covered would take a geographer and economist to identify. The text states that it applies to all “waters of the U.S.” in Texas, defined as those that run into the sea, and their tributaries. Ten of 12 Texas rivers, including the Brazos, Trinity and Colorado, all flow to the Gulf. The permit also pertains to “intrastate” waters (from rivers to natural ponds, playa lakes and mud flats), if their loss or degradation could affect interstate or foreign commerce.  “Interstate waters” and wetlands are covered as well—including ones that don’t span state lines but are used in interstate and foreign commerce, fish production, tourism and recreation.  


The general permit does not apply only to farmland. Covered land includes that of political subdivisions such as counties, municipalities and school or college districts. So treatment areas can conceivably include golf courses, public parks and recreational areas, municipal landscapes and school grounds. Pesticide use on areas of less than specific size is covered under the general permit. A Notice of Implementation (NOI) is required for land areas “greater than or equal to 6,400 acres” and, in water, areas of at least 100 acres, or 200 linear miles at water’s edge.


“Provisional authorization” to discharge pesticides can be effective before the request is reviewed. Authorization is requested by sending a Notice of Implementation form to TCEQ. A provisional authorization to discharge begins 48 hours after the NOI is postmarked—or, immediately upon confirmation of receipt of an electronic NOI. What value does retroactive denial of pesticide discharge have if the pesticide application is already complete?  


Evaluation at every stage of pesticide application is visual. On page 26 of the permit, only “Visual Evaluation” is required—prior, during and “within a reasonable period of time” after pesticide application. That’s right—operators are to “visually examine” the area, first to determine if “target pest” population levels call for treatment and if conditions are suitable, during treatment, and then sometime or other after application, “for observable toxic or adverse effects.” No field testing, samples, surveys. No deadline.


Page 33 covers notification of TCEQ in the event of an “adverse incident” or a “spill or leak.”  Two words that typify these provisions are “slack” and “vague.”  Evaluation of incident impacts is by visual inspection only, without any testing. “Slack” describes the 24-hour deadline to alert TCEQ of an accident—possibly enough time for detectable pollutants to have dispersed. 


A “Declared Pest Emergency Situation” to be treated beginning within 10 days can be called by any “federal, state or local government that has determined that there is a pest problem that requires control through the application of a pesticide.” Seven general bases for declaring an emergency are given, including “significant” health risk, environmental risks, threat of economic loss and threat to “quality of life,” with no specific criteria. Per page 18 of the general permit, authorization is immediate in a “declared pest emergency,” and the Notice of Implementation is due within 30 days.


The latest entomology, epidemiology and ecological science research? These don’t appear to be considered in the strategies the permit addresses. This may be business-as-usual regulation of an industry based on its conventional past practices rather than on current state-of-the-art pest management that includes ecological methods and sustainable outcomes. Public and ecosystem health concerns other than mosquito-borne diseases and protection of threatened/endangered species are not evident.

The permit’s aerial spraying parameters may not have input from surveys of long-term results of aerial spraying such as was conducted during North Texas’ 2012 West Nile outbreak. Research to support aerial spraying and broadcast ground spraying, not only for short-term “effective control” of the “target pest”— but also for long-term effects on mosquito predators (dragonflies, wasps, reptiles, amphibians, birds) that protect against massive mosquito repopulation – is not evident from an internet search.   

Anecdotal reports from some North Texas neighborhoods say that since 2012’s aerial and ground spraying, populations of mosquito predators such as wasps and dragonflies remain almost absent or much reduced, and valuable pollinator bee species no longer appear. 

Also what about pesticide resistance? 


Do other public health concerns enter in, for issues such as bioaccumulation in the environment and in animal and human bodies? What about the health impacts for vulnerable populations with lung disease or immune deficiencies?


Intangible, subjective criteria for pesticide permitting include:  “significant threat to quality of life” (page 4) and “aesthetics.” How are these evaluated?

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