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Public Speaks Out as Alaskan Corporation Seeks to Spray Pesticides
(Beyond Pesticides, June 17, 2004)
Over 2,000 acres of land regularly used for recreation, fishing, hunting and food gathering in southeastern Alaska may be aerially sprayed with herbicides this August if approved by the Alaska Department of Environmental Health (DEH). The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC) is concerned about the application's potential impact to human health and the environment. Especially of concern is the health of humans who harvest food from the area and live nearby, as well as the local salmon stocks, which provide both subsistence and commercial value for local residents.

Klukwan, Inc., an Alaskan corporation that owns the land on Long Island for logging purposes, has requested a permit to spray pesticides from a helicopter. The proposed herbicides, Arsenal (active ingredient imazapyr) and Accord (active ingredient glyphosate), are intended to restrict the growth of alder and salmonberry trees and promote timber growth, as part of their forestry management program.

New policies regarding pesticide use permits were adopted in Alaska in November 2003 in order to provide specific laws addressing herbicide spraying for Forestry Vegetation Management. This is the first aerial spraying permit application to be considered under the new regulations and the decision will set an important precedent for future cases. This example could determine whether or not large scale aerial spraying of forests can happen on a regular basis

As part of the permit application process the DEC has held three public hearings on June 2-3, and will also be accepting written comments until June 21, 2004. At the three public meetings, no one testified in support of the proposal and almost a quarter of the population of one town, Hydaburg, testified in opposition.

Glyphosate is a groundwater contaminant and is toxic to insects and aquatic organisms, including fish. A 1999 American Cancer Society study, "A Case Control Study of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma and Exposure to Pesticides" found that people exposed to glyphosate are 2.7 times more likely to contract non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. In a study published in the March 2004 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives, detected levels of glyphosate in human urine samples collected from farmers, their spouses, and their children. Symptoms following exposure to glyphosate include swollen face, burning and itching skin, rapid heart rate, elevated blood pressure and chest pains.

Imazapyr is a non-selective herbicide and therefore likely to kill many untargeted plant species, which would further impact the ecology of the region. In humans imazapyr is an irritant and causes rashes, swelling and redness of the skin and eyes. It also breakdowns slowly and is very persistent in soil and water.

It is important to note that glyphosate and imazapyr are only the active ingredients in Accord and Arsenal, respectfully. The majority of ingredients in these products are "inert" ingredients and may be just as or even more toxic than the active ingredients.

Pesticides drifting from the target site is almost inevitable when they are aerially sprayed. According to the National Research Council, up to 40% of the pesticide can be lost to drift. This problem is multiplied by the often unpredictable weather of southern Alaska, increasing the likelihood that large amounts of the pesticides would end up in the ocean, soil and non-target species.

Klukwan Inc. has proposed non-spray zones of 85 feet around all water-bodies in an attempt to prevent drift. However, this area is significantly smaller than the normal state requirement for buffer zone size (between 100 feet to 2 ½ miles). The possibility of pesticides drifting has raised concerns for the health of the local salmon industry, and SEACC claims that drift into the ocean could either kill salmon directly or lower their breeding and survival rates.

In January 2004, the U.S. District Court in Seattle required buffer zones of 100 yards for aerial applications of pesticides near salmon-inhabited waters (see Daily News from 1-26-04). The buffer zones proposed by Klukwan Inc. are clearly inadequate by these standards and would not be sufficient to prevent pesticide drift.

TAKE ACTION: The proposed spraying of pesticides on Long Island poses unacceptable risks to humans and wildlife. Send comments by June 21, 2004 to Rosemarie Lombardi, Division of Environmental Health, Alaska DEH, 1700 East Bogard Rd, Building B, Suite 202, Wasilla, Alaska 99654.