More tests needed on Cape herbicide spraying

JANUARY 24, 2015 – Boston Globe Editorials

THE DECISION by NSTAR to resume spraying herbicides underneath the utility’s power lines on Cape Cod has rattled residents, local politicians, and advocacy groups worried about the health and environmental effects of the chemicals used. These concerns merit serious attention, and further study is needed to measure how these chemicals interact with the Cape’s unique environment. Only then can a clear course of action be determined.

Last year NSTAR resumed spraying herbicides after a self-imposed, four-year moratorium. According to the Globe’s David Abel, some residents near the power lines began complaining of rashes, migraines, and putrid tastes in their mouths after the spraying was completed. Advocacy groups worry that the chemicals used could easily filter through the soil and enter the water table — an especially troubling outcome on the Cape, where nearly everyone gets their drinking water from a single aquifer. NSTAR says that its spraying complies with Massachusetts state regulations. Officials from the utility also contend that spraying herbicides, a technique used nationwide, is an effective means of controlling vegetation that can cause power failures.

As the debate unfolds, it’s important to understand just how the cocktail of chemicals used in these herbicides — some of which are also the active ingredients in common household herbicides such as Roundup — interact with the soil. Chemicals not absorbed by plants can stay on the surface, where they are broken down by the sun. While the Cape’s soil is especially sandy — and therefore, especially porous — the molecules that make up the herbicides can bond to minerals in the sand before they reach the water; microbes in the soil also absorb them. It is very hard to predict just how much of the chemicals will end up in the water, or indeed, how those chemicals will operate after they have been exposed to these natural processes.

None of this is to say that the concerns of people on the Cape Cod shouldn’t be taken seriously. But the complexity of the issue does point to the need to collect real data on whether the herbicides are indeed causing environmental damage. Scientists have the ability to test soil and water for traces of herbicides — although the process is expensive, and requires samples to be taken from multiple sites. The results from these tests could be a reliable indicator of just how dangerous NSTAR’s spraying is in a fragile ecosystem like the Cape. Perhaps NSTAR could pick up the tab as a gesture of goodwill to concerned residents, and could promise to reevaluate its methods if studies show that spraying is causing undue damage. But that goes both ways: Residents also need to give the company the benefit of the doubt if repeated testing shows NSTAR’s activities are environmentally responsible.

Comments to the article:

“I thank the Globe for weighing in on this issue. Given where the science is, I’m not sure additional testing is the answer. A key concern is that RoundUp and the other pesticides may be “endocrine disruptors*” and, as a result, long term exposure to very low dosages of these chemicals may cause damage. The EPA is now determining if RoundUp and other pesticides fall into this category.

The issue is one of choice. Every town on the Cape has asked NSTAR to abandon their plans to spray herbicides on the Cape, largely because the Cape is a single aquifer and we all share the same water supply. While people who are concerned about herbicides can avoid these chemicals by choosing organic foods, it’s much more difficult to avoid the water.

NSTAR and others point out that many on the Cape also spray these chemicals on their own properties. We would welcome the chance to work with NSTAR, or “Eversource” as they will soon be called, to lead the way in avoiding these chemicals and in encouraging everyone on the Cape to join them.”

*Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that may interfere with the body’s endocrine system and produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects in both humans and wildlife.Jim McCauley


“NSTAR does not do any testing. NSTAR relies on MDAR. MDAR relies on EPA. EPA allows pesticides on our food. If we wait until we find pesticides/herbicides in our drinking water on Cape Cod, then it is too late. Testing is time consuming and costly – who will do the testing and who will pay for it? A third party? What are we waiting for? Are we waiting for our drinking water to become contaminated before we ban certain chemicals? Are we waiting for our children to be deformed like agent orange? This is another issue of toxins in our environment, right? What will the outcome be? Hopefully not at the expense of our youth. Too bad we aren’t acting on the precautionary principal now. Homeowners, business owners, companies, corporations all must realize there is a tipping point and waiting for that tipping point is waiting too long – you hit the tipping point and it is too late. Studies prove Garlon 4 kills oysters on contact at small doses. And Glyphosate is an endocrine disruptor bringing much harm to humans. The time is now to lessen the amount of chemicals above our aquifer. What you purchase matters. Your dollar is your vote. We all will be drinking it soon.”Laura Kelley


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s