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Bins should not be used for storing pesticides. The Department of Agriculture can bring all the necessary equipment to the farm to dispose safely of old pesticides.

Bins should not be used for storing pesticides. The Department of Agriculture can bring all the necessary equipment to the farm to dispose safely of old pesticides.

Mike McCormick wants your old pesticides. Cancelled insecticides? Great. Leaking containers? Even better.

Legal pesticides you no longer need? Those are fine, too, says McCormick, agricultural chemical specialist with the Washington State Department of Agriculture’s waste pesticide disposal program.

What McCormick doesn’t want is for the pesticides to end up in a landfill with the potential to get into rivers or streams. “People get desperate,” he said.

There are two ways the department can help you dispose of pesticides. You can sign up for the next free collection event in the area. Or, if you are just overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task or don’t have the physical stamina to haul the ­containers around, McCormick can visit your orchard with the proper equipment to take care of the problem at no charge to you.

You are allowed to give legal pesticides to another grower, but if they’re restricted-use pesticides you must give them to someone who has a pesticide handler’s license and knows what the pesticide is, McCormick said. “Be careful who you give the product to. Don’t let it get into the hands of the general public.”

One of the advantages of disposing of pesticides through the state’s program is that the Department of Agriculture becomes the generator of the waste. Growers who try to dispose of pesticides themselves still own the materials after they’re in the landfill. And if the landfill ever needs to be cleaned up in the future, they are still the owners.

McCormick would particularly like to hear from people who have old pesticides in leaky or glass containers, which are risky to transport. He can supply overpacks or drums to put them in.

And if you have a whole shed of pesticides that you need to get rid of, that’s a job McCormick relishes. Each customer, on average, has more than 400 pounds of material to dispose of.

Farmers, he says, don’t always realize how hazardous some of the materials are, and they’re often not in the original containers. He collects a lot of DDT (dichloro diphenyl trichloroethane), which actually has a lower mammalian toxicity than something like parathion or endrin, and there is still some lead arsenate around.  The old rodent poison Compound 1080 (sodium fluoroacetate)
is highly toxic and has no known ­antidote.

A food-safety certification inspector might fail a grower on an audit for improper pesticide storage. However, McCormick can go to the farm and package up unwanted pesticides in plastic bags or drums ready for the next waste disposal collection. As long as they are packaged up, the grower should pass the audit, he said.

Joe Hoffman, the state’s pesticide disposal program coordinator, said the program has been so well used that it does not have enough funds to hold any more pesticide ­collections until after the new biennium begins on July 1 this year, when it should have a new budget. Funding is appropriated by the Washington State legislature from the state’s Toxics Control Account. The budget has been $1 million for each ­biennium since 1992.

The program still has funding for McCormick to work with growers to package up pesticides in readiness for future collections, however. Hoffman said collections in tree fruit production areas would be a priority once the program is refunded because the chemicals used in tree fruits have changed greatly over time. Fruit growers have had to switch to newer pesticides because registrations of many older pesticides have been cancelled, whereas growers of other crops have been using the same pesticides for a long time and have fewer disposal problems.

The relatively small size of orchards, each with its own pesticide storage, is another reason the tree fruit industry is a priority. A common scenario, where the department can step in and help is where a grower dies, leaving the spouse, who might not know much about the pesticides or how to dispose of them. Another is where a grower switches to organic production and no longer needs conventional products.

Some people might be reluctant to get rid of old pesticides because they think everything’s worth something, Hoffman said. “Our job is to make people realize when their asset has become a liability. Once it doesn’t have a use, it’s a liability, and the sooner you can remove it from your farm the better.”

Hoffman said the program has been popular with both the growing community and the environmental community. “The whole goal of this program is to prevent people from getting injured from 40-year-old products that are highly toxic and prevent it ­needing to become a major clean-up site.”

The program is strictly nonregulatory. Staff members only visit growers when invited, he said. “We have no authority to go on anyone’s property who doesn’t want us.”