(Beyond Pesticides, August 13, 2009) The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation is currently reviewing a request by the Alaska Railroad for permission to use the herbicide glyphosate along a 90 mile stretch of its track between Seward and Indian. The herbicide is set to be applied on Railroad operating property (rail yards, spurs, sidings, etc) and along the mainline and branch line right-of way for four feet out from both sides of the track in the summer of 2010. Despite the fact that previous requests have been met with opposition, the railroad states that its vegetation problem has gotten too out of hand for “so-called ”˜alternative methods.’” They also state that the Federal Railroad Administration, the railroad’s federal regulatory agency, will impose fines and operational restrictions such as reducing speeds or emergency closures of some sections of track if they aren’t cleared of the overgrown vegetation.
Current methods of weed management utilized by the railroad are mechanized rail-based brushcutters, off-rail hydroaxing, wayside manual cutting. The extents to which these methods are used are unknown, however, and the railroad states that these are effective””but only within limited ranges. Beyond Pesticides has an entire factsheet on least toxic control of weeds which also includes the use of biological controls, or least-toxic sprays such as acetic acid or herbicidal soap, and are not mentioned anywhere in the Alaska Railroad’s proposal. In addition to the aforementioned tools, one thing that advocates suggest the railroad consider, which is gaining attention nationwide as an effective control of, is the use of goats along its railroad ties.
Furthermore, the Alaska Railroad plans to implement the glyphosate spraying prior to the completion of a two-year study on herbicides in the Alaska environment, done in conjunction with the Alaska University Transportation Center. While the railroad purports that this chemical will be safe and nontoxic to the surrounding environment, including waterways and the soil, studies have shown that it is moderately persistent in soil, with an average half-life of 47 days, though field half lives have been found up to 174 days. Residues are difficult to detect in environmental samples and due to lack of availability and economically feasible methodology, most labs are unable to perform these services. EPA acknowledges that glyphosate has the potential to contaminate surface water because it does not readily break down in water or sunlight. Evidence of this has been found in water samples taken by the U.S. Geological survey Toxic Substances Program in a survey of Midwest streams in 2002 that showed glyphosate contamination from Spring through Fall, when many researchers presumed it would have degraded so late in the growing season. Current reports of glyphosate contamination in bodies of water, such as the Chesapeake Bay, strengthen this data.
Glyphosate is also a known carcinogen, neurotoxin, irritant, and can cause liver, kidney and reproductive damage. In recent news, glyphosate has been identified as a common chemical found in acute agricultural worker poisonings, and linked to intersex frogs. For more information on the harmful effects of glyphosate, please refer back to our page on the pesticide gateway.
TAKE ACTION (NATIONAL): For more information on herbicide right-of-way policies and tools on how to organize for the adoption of such policies at the state or local level, please contact Beyond Pesticides by email [email protected] or call 202-543-5450.
TAKE ACTION (LOCAL): Show your disapproval of toxic herbicide use by writing to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation to tell them the dangers of glyphosate and the benefits of alternatives that the Alaska Railroad has not yet considered. Written comments are accepted until Sept. 15. They should be mailed to Stephanie Stewart, ADEC Pesticide Program, 555 Cordova St., Anchorage 99501, or e-mailed to [email protected]