Corte Madera resident Paul Apffel, a former prosecutor, unearthed the violations himself by sifting through public records and delivered the results of his citizen's investigation to county supervisors last week. The violations took place between 1999 and 2007.
"There are many questions that must be answered in the days ahead," Apffel told supervisors Tuesday.
Supervisor Susan Adams said, "I want to find out what happened with the misreporting to us about what was used and why the process wasn't followed."
The supervisors got an earful from a group of outraged North Bay residents who spoke during the public open time segment of their weekly meeting at the Civic Center. The board said it intends to have a public hearing on the matter.
"This is not just a simple mistake, this is an appalling breaking of the existing law exposing our smallest constituents, children, to possible carcinogens," said Yannick Phillips, founder of Mothers Advocating for Children's Health in Sonoma.
The county's Integrated Pest Management ordinance, adopted in 1998, banned pesticides that contain an ingredient known by the state of California or the United States Environmental Protection Agency to cause cancer. The ordinance required the county to shrink its yearly pesticide use by 75 percent by Jan. 1, 2004 - which it did.
The ordinance also created an 11-member Integrated Pest Management Commission, and an IPM coordinator, to oversee implementation of the ordinance. The IPM coordinator, Agricultural Commissioner Stacy Carlsen, prepares an annual report for the Board of Supervisors.
"We have verified that the county has used a class of chemicals that the IPM ordinance identifies should only be used under the exemption process," County Administrator Matthew Hymel told supervisors Tuesday. "Part of the confusion is that these chemicals were not on the state list but they were on the EPA list of possible carcinogens."
Adams said more research is necessary "before we start crucifying someone in the press." It is possible, she said, that some of the pesticides were not on the EPA list at the time that the county used them and have since been added.
Adams also noted that the ordinance contains an exemption process for the use of possible carcinogens.
"The error was not because we sprayed illegal pesticides but we didn't follow the process in the ordinance to allow that use," Adams said.
But Carolyn Cohan, a member of Mothers of Marin Against the Spray, rejected that argument.
"The county law states that a limited use exemption is granted on an emergency basis," Cohan said. "That does not mean every month, except for the rainy season, for 10 years. That's completely inappropriate."
Connie Barker, president of the Environmental Health Network in Larkspur, said that when jurisdictions impose stricter environmental regulations, they often aren't taken seriously at first by people accustomed to the old way of doing things.
"There usually comes a transition period where the people who are in charge of enforcing are not used to this situation and frankly some times don't see the need for it," Barker said. "A problem like this is likely to repeat itself if something isn't explicitly done about that."
Cohan said, "I think these violations of county law strongly indicate that our county's IPM coordinator position should not be part of the role of the already overburdened agricultural commissioner."
Several supervisors asserted that Marin municipalities, businesses and residents continue to use far more pesticides than the county.
"There is more sprayed on homes, gardens and front lawns in a month than the county is using in years, but I don't see the outrage there," said Supervisor Hal Brown.
Supervisor Charles McGlashan said, "If this looks bad, it pales in comparison to what is going on out there in the community."
The audience, however, seemed unimpressed.
"We felt like that's really a red herring," said Debbie Friedman, chairwoman of Mothers of Marin Against the Spray. "We really look to the county for leadership."
County supervisors are tentatively scheduled to review an updated version of the IPM ordinance when they meet June 23.
Contact Richard Halstead via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org