(Beyond Pesticides, August 12, 2010) In an effort to convince NStar Electric and Gas Corporation to stop using herbicides on rights-of-way, like-minded environmental activists, citizen groups and business owners formed a coalition on Cape Cod: “Cape Cod for a Truly Green NSTAR.” Due to the increased pressure from local activists and residents, NStar made an agreement with regionally planning authority, Cape Cod Commission to postpone the use of herbicides on rights-of-way until 2011. The Commission reasoned that with more time, Cape towns could develop maps to identify areas and drinking water supplies more sensitive to herbicide use. Several organizations and business have signed on to the coalition in support of a ban on herbicides along rights-of-way, such as Clean Water Action, Cape Cod Organic Gardeners, the Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition, and the Sierra Club (see the full list online).
Ever since NStar started using herbicides in 2004, local residents have worried about potential contamination of the Cape’s underground drinking water supply. Even though NStar has a “green” commitment statement on its website, pledging to lessen impacts to the environment as much as possible, the coalition argues that the company’s use of herbicides on rights-of-way violates this promise. NStar representative Michael Duran said that the herbicides are part of a state-regulated integrated vegetation management plan to help ensure reliable power to its 200,000 customers on the Cape and Martha’s Vineyard.
“We know that NStar can manage without pesticides. They did for decades. For them it comes down to cost,” remarked Sylvia Broude of Toxics Action Center to the Cape Cod Times. Before 2004, NStar used effective non-chemical methods for controlling weeds along its rights-of-way, including mechanical cutting and hand-mowing.
Besides contaminating drinking water, many of the chemicals used by NStar have hazardous effects on humans, pets, and the environment, such as Fosamine ammonium, which EPA has found to cause kidney and liver damage, and could leach into groundwater. Triclopyr ester has been found to have effects on reproduction, the kidney and liver, and is toxic to fish. Studies have also shown that another chemical used by NStar called glyphosate causes cancer, reproductive effects, and is a neurotoxin.
Each year, millions of miles of roads, utility lines, railroad corridors and other types of rights-of-way are treated with herbicides to control the growth of unwanted plants. Unfortunately, drift from the application of these herbicides can negatively affect organic farmers and chemically sensitive residents. Rights-of-way include roads, utility lines, and railroad corridors, although different states have varying policies for maintaining rights-of-way. Recently, a utility company in North Carolina nearly destroyed one of the nation’s oldest and most famous vines, “Mother Vine,” when it accidentally sprayed a part of the plant while spraying the right-of-way.
Some states allow residents the right to refuse herbicide use on their property and people can post their property with no spraying signs provided by the utilities. For example, Maine, North Carolina, and Oregon all have no-spray agreements. If you are interested in becoming active in your community to stop spraying on rights-of-way or other public spaces such as parks and schools, please refer to our “Tools for Change” webpage and read The Right Way To Vegetation Management, which contains information about spraying policies along rights-of-way in different states.