(Beyond Pesticides, September 26, 2012) A citizen’s group in Washington State submitted to its county commissioners a petition that urges a ban of all herbicides or other chemicals on county rights-of-way. The group, which opposes all roadside pesticide spraying, is calling for the adoption of safer management alternatives, citing dozens of studies showing cumulative and recurring damage that may be expected with the continued use of herbicides.
The group, Jefferson County Ecological Roadsides, presented the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners with 4,700 signatories asking the commissioners to create an ordinance to stop the use of herbicides on county roadsides. The 4,700 signatures represent community members (majority), people from nearby counties who shop in Jefferson County, local organic farmers and providers, and local community leaders. According to the group, there was a 30-year moratorium on county roadside spraying due to a previous petition drive by community members. However, the moratorium was broken two years ago with an internal consent agenda by the county commissioners. This year, the herbicide glyphosate, the active ingredient in the commercial herbicide known as Roundup, has been sprayed three times. Roadsides group members call for a strict one-year moratorium on the use of the chemical by the county, during which time its impact could be studied and other weed removal options could be explored, like the removal of weeds by volunteer groups who would do so by hand. Group members have said they are willing to talk with county officials about a compromise solution, but only after a moratorium is passed.
Along with the petition, Jefferson County Ecological Roadsides also outlined a plan to educate the public about the dangers of using herbicides. Along with enacting the ordinance to stop herbicide use on county roadsides, the plan also includes: replanting roadsides with native plants to suppress the spread of invasive plants, creating pollinator pathways to support bee and other pollinators, and creating opportunities for citizens to get involved and conduct research on alternative methods to suppress invasive plants without toxic chemicals. Find out more about Beyond Pesticides‚Äô Pollinator Protection program.
Commissioner John Austin said during the meeting that the names on the petition should be used to create a database of people who are interested in the issue and should be kept apprised of future developments. After the meeting, Commissioner David Sullivan said that he did not see a need to change county policy in the use of the chemical, which he said has been done on a very limited basis over the last few years. According to Mr. Sullivan, commissioners approved limited spraying of herbicides three years ago under the auspices of the weed board.
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. In North Carolina, a utility company nearly destroyed one of the nation‚Äôs oldest and most famous vines, ‚ÄúMother Vine,‚ÄĚ when it accidentally sprayed a part of the plant while spraying the right-of-way.
In 2010, the Alaska Community Action on Toxics, Alaska Center for the Environment, Alaska Survival, Cook InletKeeper and the Native Village of Eklutna was granted a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction for a planned program to treat rail lines with the herbicide glyphosate. The Rail Company argued that its vegetation problem has gotten too out of hand for ‚Äúso-called ‚Äėalternative methods,‚ÄĚ including flame throwers, a steam machine and inmate labor. Environmental groups, including Beyond Pesticides, which submitted comments against the use of glyphosate on the railroad, are opposed to the strategy because they say regulators have not considered the chemicals‚Äô effects on drinking water and streams where salmon live. Glyphosate is a neurotoxicant irritant, and can cause liver, kidney and reproductive damage. It is also linked to non-Hodgkin‚Äôs Lymphoma. Glyphosate has been identified as a common chemical found in acute agricultural worker poisonings, and linked to birth defects and intersex frogs.
Alternatives to Roadside Weed Management
Mechanical methods, which include cutting, girdling, mowing and grazing animals, provide effective means to eradicate unwanted vegetation along rights‚Äźof‚Äźway when used in a time effective manner. These methods can be labor intensive, but can be a source of employment to many. Utilizing herbivorous animals, such as goats, have been proven to be a cost effective and efficient way of controlling vegetation.
Biological methods, such as the use of native vegetation, used in conjunction with mechanical means, create and encourage stable, low‚Äźmaintenance vegetation that is a more permanent vegetation management strategy. The establishment of desirable plant species that can out‚Äźcompete undesirable species requires little maintenance and meets the requirements for management. Although native vegetation may take more time to establish itself, native flower and grass species are better adapted to local climate and stress. Native plant species are especially effective in providing increased erosion control, aesthetics, wildlife habitat and biodiversity. Numerous states have established roadside wildflower programs for these reasons.
Other control methods include the use of corn‚Äźgluten and steam treatments. Corn gluten is a natural preemergence herbicide and is classified by EPA as a ‚Äúminimum risk pesticide.‚ÄĚ Steam treatments involve 800 degrees Fahrenheit temperatures and low pressure. This technique exposes the plant to high temperatures for a short period of time, disrupting the cell functions. Least toxic chemicals such as acetic acid (vinegar) or citric acid are known and registered herbicides and should not be discounted as effective chemical treatments.
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 ‚ÄúTools for Change‚ÄĚ webpage and read The Right Way To Vegetation Management, which contains information about spraying policies along rights-of-way in different states.
Take Action: Sign the petition to ask the Jefferson County commissioners to pass an ordinance to ban the use by county employees, contractors, and volunteers the use of all herbicides and pesticides along Jefferson County roadsides. See here for more details.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.