Thursday, 1 April 2010

People power check on chemical killers

Rachel Carson's Silent Spring. Its overriding theme is the powerful - and often negative - effect humans have on the natural world

[It's now almost half a century since the publication of Silent Spring, the best-selling book by the American marine biologist and nature writer Rachel Carson (1907-1964) which inspired widespread public concerns with pesticides and pollution of the environment.

It seems that the impetus for the book was a letter written in 1958 by Carson's friend Olga Owens Huckins to The Boston Herald describing the death of numerous birds around her property resulting from the aerial spraying of DDT to kill mosquitoes. Carson's response to the letter, so her publicity stated, was to then turn her attention to environmental problems caused by chemical pesticides.

Brewster residents are worried about chemical residues in the ground under the power lines Picture credit:
No surprise then that Carson's legacy lives on particularly in the New England area, in the form of concerns about damage to the environment caused by the careless use of chemicals in pesticides and herbicides.

In Budleigh Salterton's sister-town of Brewster, Cape Cod, they're up in arms about Boston-based power company NStar that transmits and delivers electricity and natural gas to 1.4 million customers in Eastern and Central Massachusetts, and its policy of using chemical sprays under its power lines.

Fears for the possible contamination of the area's freshwater ponds are real and constant in Brewster and other Cape Cod towns

Last Monday 22 March Brewster selectmen (UK: town councillors) expressed their concerns as reported in the following article in The Cape Codder newspaper.]

Brewster selectmen vote to request Nstar spray moratorium

The Brewster selectmen voted to request a one-year moratorium from spraying along NStar’s right-of-way Monday. The letters was sent out Tuesday including one to Scott Soares, commissioner of the Department of Agricultural Resources.

“We’re a single source aquifer and NStar must be sensitive to that,” said selectman Peter Norton who made the motion for a one-year moratorium.

NStar has honored a one-year moratorium voted for in Eastham last Summer – it expires June 1.

NStar’s Integrated Vegetation Management Plan, in Brewster will include spraying with three of the five herbicides they could use along with mechanical (pruning and cutting).

“After we reestablish the right of way we maintain that investment with chemical control, a selective use of herbicides applied to the stems of plants we’re targeting, oak, pine, poplar, cherry,” explained NStar arborist Bill Hayes.

Hayes noted trees 50-70 feet high alongside the power lines can fall into towers and knock out power. That happened in the 2003 blackout and the Federal government stepped in and rewrote the maintenance rules.

Hayes said they’d use Arsenal (Imazapyr is the active ingredient), Krenite S (fosamine) and Escort XP (metsulfuron-methyl) – all of which are sprayed on the leaves. Arsenal is also used on cut surfaces.

“We want to keep the blueberries, bearberry, ferns and grasses,” Hayes said. “Eliminating all the vegetation actually increases the stem density.”

Hayes noted cut vegetation (oaks, locust) springs back from the roots and can be 15 feet high in three years.

“Selective treatment using herbicides is a 2-4 year maintenance program,” he said. “It’s compatible with transmission lines, encourages wildlife.”

Sprayers will wear backpacks, the chemicals will be mixed off-site, and they’ll apply them to the foliage. The herbicide is transmitted to the roots where it kills the system.

“We do not apply within 50-feet of private wells and public wells not within 400 feet, surface water not within 10 feet,” Hayes said.

Krenite can be applied at rates up to 128 ounces an acre, Escort less than an ounce and Arsenal up to 8 ounces per acre. They’ll make one application during the summer.

Residents and others in the large crowd of 100 or so people were uniformly unhappy with the plan.

Elbert Ulshoeffer noted the property owners under the right of way could ask the sprayers to cease and then cut their own property.

Pam Russell urged people to write commissioner Soares.

“Cancer in the Cape is the highest in the United States,” she said. “We have a history of putting chemicals down here and we have to stop and look at alternatives.”

“We have lots of tools in our toolbox. Why take the worst thing,” agreed Laura Kelley. “They’ve been mowing every seven years before. Why can’t they go back to mowing? Chemicals do not remain where they are applied.”

“NStar sprayed my property three years ago and as you can see everything was killed. My land is dead under the right of way,” declared Toby Stamm. “I’ll tell you – your eyes don’t lie.”

“What happens to property values if the soil becomes contaminated,” asked Christine Vanhooft.

Others wondered why they couldn’t trim their own property, what about chemical residues and why such a wide swatch had to be cleared.

“I don’t want it on my property. I don’t want it on the wetlands abutting my property,” Elizabeth Taylor said. “Please think carefully and ask for a moratorium like other towns have done.”

Selectman Ed Lewis noted people walk their dogs across the powerlines and could get herbicides on the paws.

“I could vote for a moratorium but I don’t know what good that does,” Lewis said. “Thank you for providing the electricity but I’d rather you didn’t destroy everything to get the electricity here.”

By Rich Eldred
Reprinted with permission from The Cape Codder newspaper

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