Saturday, December 04, 2010

May the Chemical Wars begin!

Yesterday I drove down to Barnstable for one of the final Ad Hoc Vegetation Management Risk Analysis Committee meetings. It was organic landscaper Laura Kelley’s turn to speak. Laura described walking the rights-of-way passages, under the power lines, and finding evidence of past herbicidal spraying, barren areas where nothing has grown back, one of which is in Wellfleet. She explained how rights-of-way passages are used by folks walking dogs, and by children at play. The State of Massachusetts Children’s Act of 2000 protects kids at school. Shouldn’t children also be protected while walking the power lines? She then described three of the five herbicides the utility company intends to use and warned that testing has not been done on a combination of these products. In Holyoke, MA, the area beside the town’s water supply has been granted an exemption from spraying. Laura argued that here on Cape Cod, we sit above our water supply. Polluting it with traces of toxic chemicals makes no sense. Alternatives are possible, like what she called a “Green Carpet” plan, where low-growing natives species, like blueberries, could be encouraged to grow. “It’s clear we can live without herbicides,” Laura concluded and suggested following the Precautionary Principle because, “we don’t fully know what the effects may be.”

I was watching the representatives of our utility company, present at the table, who became more and more agitated as the presentation went on. I got the impression that these men truly do not understand what the fuss is all about. “It’s the purity of our drinking water that’s at stake here,” I wanted to shout.

Chair County Commissoner Sheila Lyons pointed out that Barnstable County looked into banning herbicide spraying, as did individual Cape Cod towns. “We don’t have that ability,” she declared. The utility company is simply “one entity that will contribute to the problem. The biggest contributor is ourselves.”

Did you know Mashpee is one of the two Cape Cod towns where the spraying will not take place? This fortunate situation is due to the fact Mashpee enacted a ban in 1981, before the State Preemption laws were created. Some background: I learned from the film “A Chemical Reaction” that Hudson, Canada, succeeded in banning herbicides in 1991, and this act of defiance made the chemical lobby push back hard to prevent similar bans by individual towns in the USA. Only nine states were able to resist. (Check whether your state adopted the State Preemption Laws.)

We all have a lot to learn about toxic chemicals in the environment. I admit I used to be ignorant. A dozen years I tried to kill my mother’s Virginia creeper with Round-up. Now I know how dangerous Glyphosate can be. During Laura’s presentation, turf specialist Finbar Phelan explained how he had switched from using pesticides to compost tea for the safety of his staff. He described restoring biology to the soil, mentioned how toxic Glyphosate is, and stated, “There’s a better way to do it.”

No two ways about it. Herbicides kill. (“Cides” indicates a product that kills. Anyone who has studied Latin will remember this suffix comes from the verb caedo.)

A few months ago I went to town hall and checked the annual reports dating back to the early 1980s. I discovered Wellfleet did not enact a similar ban to Mashpee’s. What I found fascinating, however, is how worried Board of Health members were at the time. They detailed the herbicides to be used in town and used several paragraphs to describe each synthetic chemical. It’s tragic that the chemical industry has managed to make the world believe herbicides are safe. They aren’t.

Science is catching up slowly. The old maxim “the dose makes the poison” no longer applies. Now researchers are realizing even trace amounts of endocrine-disrupting chemicals have negative effects when ingested or absorbed through the skin, as with BPA.

I learned this week that the California legislature has had the bad sense to allow a new pesticide for strawberries, one that is a neurotoxin, methyl iodide. Read about it here.

If you want to join the struggle against pesticides, I suggest making a contribution to one of the many environment groups now active in the county. The one I support is Environmental Working Group, which has a great pre-Christmas offer. Check it out!

The good news is more and more people are waking up and becoming educated on the dangers of living in a toxic world. They are demanding that Congress rein in synthetic chemicals, of which thousands exist now with no regulation whatsoever. We must stop this chemical madness and protect our planet and ourselves. May the Chemical Wars begin!