Article from the Provincetown Banner Sept 8, 2015
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By Edward Miller
Herbicide spraying to control vegetation along the power lines in Wellfleet and Truro could start as early as the middle of next week, said Rhiannon D’Angelo of Eversource Energy, the successor to NSTAR Electric, on Tuesday. “It’s all weather dependent,” she said. “It could be the next week.”
Eversource is moving ahead with its spraying plans in spite of requests from local officials and citizens’ groups concerned about the potential toxic effects on groundwater and wildlife. The most intensive spraying on the Cape will include rights-of-way in Truro, Wellfleet, Eastham and Orleans, where no herbicides were used last year. The chemicals that may be used in this year’s treatments are glyphosate (trade name Roundup), triclopyr (Garlon 4), fosamine ammonium (Krenite), imazapyr (Arsenal), and metsulfuron methyl (Escort).
Asked to comment on concerns about the safety of the herbicides, D’Angelo said, “All of the herbicides we use have been approved by the state of Massachusetts in environmentally sensitive areas and appear on the Sensitive Area Material List, which is a step we take that isn’t required by the state.”
In March 2015 the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, determined that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
It found “limited evidence” linking glyphosate to non-Hodgkin lymphoma. A recent scientific study suggested that long-term exposure to small amounts of glyphosate can also lead to liver and kidney problems. The IARC also linked glyphosate to the sudden global decline in the number of monarch butterflies.
According to the Center for Biological Diversity in San Francisco, world usage of glyphosate is at an all-time high because of the proliferation of genetically engineered crops like soy and corn. The center says glyphosate residues are now found on 90 percent of soybean crops. Glyphosate destroys milkweed, which is the monarch caterpillar’s only source of food. Monarch butterfly populations have declined by more than 80 percent in 20 years, according to the Center.
Monsanto, the manufacturer of Roundup, disputes these findings. “We don’t know how IARC could reach a conclusion that is such a dramatic departure from the conclusion reached by all regulatory agencies around the globe,” said Philip Miller, Monsanto’s vice-president of global regulatory affairs.
Concerns about glyphosate have nevertheless increased steadily. Last year Vermont enacted the country’s first mandatory labeling law for foods that are genetically modified. And just five days ago, on Sept. 5, the California Environmental Protection Agency announced that it plans to label glyphosate as a chemical “known to cause cancer.”
The U.S. government says the herbicide is considered safe. In 2013, Monsanto requested and received approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for increased tolerance levels for glyphosate.
Triclopyr in the form of Garlon 4, which is manufactured by Dow AgroSciences, has also been approved by both the federal and state governments. But the chemical has been found to be “highly toxic” to Eastern oysters as well as other marine life.
Dow’s labeling of Garlon 4 includes the following warning: “This chemical has properties and characteristics associated with chemicals detected in groundwater. The use of this chemical in areas where soils are permeable, particularly where the water table is shallow, may result in groundwater contamination.”
Almost all the boards of selectmen on the Cape have officially registered their opposition to the power line herbicide spraying, as have state Rep. Sarah Peake and state Sen. Dan Wolf. “We have repeatedly asked Eversource not to spray but to use mechanical and other means of management of the rights-of-way,” said Peake. “The town of Mashpee even offered to maintain the rights-of-way in their town under the supervision of Eversource. The company responded ‘No.’ They have a federal law on their side and so far have ignored the will of the 15 towns on the Cape. We are still pursuing some ideas with the Baker admin-istration, although we are running out of cards to play.”
Protect Our Cape Cod Aquifer (POCCA Cape Cod), an environmental action group based in Eastham, is seeking abutters to the power lines who would be willing to join a court challenge to the spraying under the direction of Orleans attorney Bruce Taub, who has also represented protestors at the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth. Laura Kelley, the founder of the group, is working with Sen. Wolf on a bill that would require Eversource to manage vegetation as local towns wish.
“The easy answer is to mow,” said Kelley. “It could be selective pruning. It’s been two years of toxic chemicals at this point. We’re asking the government for a moratorium. None of the electrical wires will be hindered by vegetation this year, so we have time to plan alternatives. Think about future generations. If it gets in the drinking water it’s too late.” She noted that Eversource is not required to use herbicides. “They just choose to.”
Kelley said that she met with Dennis Galvin of NSTAR (Eversource) last year in an effort to change the company’s policies. “I asked him, Are you willing to go nontoxic without action on the state level?” she said. “Will you voluntarily be a good neighbor? He said, no, they would wait for the state to change its regulations.”
GreenCape, another local environmental group, is also seeking the names of people who may have been exposed to the herbicides for possible legal action.
“People need to know what to do to protect themselves,” said Kelley. “Stake your wells, dedicate a pair of shoes to walking under the power lines and don’t wear them in the house, put your dogs away, harvest your garden, close the windows and doors.”
The period during which Eversource has permission to spray extends from now through December 31, 2015. “A notice was placed in the Cape Cod Times today about our application beginning next week, weather permitting,” said Eversource’s D’Angelo on Tuesday. “Forty-eight hours is required by law — we’ve given folks at least a week’s notice.”
“They have a federal law on their side and so far have ignored the will of the 15 towns on the Cape.”
State Rep. Sarah Peake