Aspen considers enacting ordinance for pesticides
by Curtis Wackerle, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer
Monday, June 20, 2011
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A man who says he was sickened by pesticides has proposed tougher rules restricting their use, but a state law prevents local governments from regulating the chemicals.
Chris Wurtele said he still suffers from headaches and fatigue nine months after being exposed to the pesticide known as “bifenthrin.” In September, he spent about 15 minutes in his driveway shortly after the chemical was applied to his and his neighbor’s spruce trees. He said he began to feel “pretty funky,” like his lungs were clenching up. That kicked off three weeks of “hell,” when Wurtele, 47, said he suffered from chills and sweats, temple pressure and a “racing nervous system.”
Wurtele spoke during public comment at Monday’s Aspen City Council meeting, lobbying the council to enact an ordinance that would, at a minimum, require the city to use organic or “least toxic” pesticides on city property, and notify the public prior to their application.
“There is a huge over-application of unneeded pesticides [in this community],” said Wurtele, a part-time Aspen resident.
A ban on the private-sector use of pesticides for “cosmetic” purposes would be ideal, along with notification rules, Wurtele said. However, a state law passed in 1994 prevents local governments from enacting their own statutes banning certain pesticides or requiring notification.
Ed Berkheimer is the owner of Earthwise Horticultural, the company that was applying pesticides at the home of Wurtele and a neighbor on the day in question. He points out that anyone with “pesticide sensitivity” can join a state registry that requires contractors to give prior notification if they are applying pesticides nearby.
Berkheimer said his company is “one of the good guys” in the industry, and does all it can to respect folks who want to limit pesticide exposure. For example, he said, homeowners often pre-pay for a year’s worth of service, but the company refunded thousands of dollars last year because it determined that some yards needed less treatment than what the owners had signed up for.
“The bottom line for us is that when it comes to pesticide use, we understand that our No. 1 priority has to be the safety of our customers, the general public and our applicators,” Berkheimer said, adding that his company offers various organic treatments.
The product in question — bifenthrin — was developed by the industry as a safer alternative to a nastier product called “carbaryl,” Berkheimer said. Bifenthrin is used up and down the va