Group pushes to stop use of chemicals to kill weeds; Demonstrators target program used by state.
WORCESTER - Environmentalists gathered outside City Hall yesterday said they want state officials to stop using chemicals to kill roadside weeds here and in more than 50 other cities and towns in Massachusetts.
The state Highway Department used herbicides to control weeds in the 1990s, stopped using them for a few years in the early 2000s, then resumed using them in 2003, spokesman Erik Abell said.
Members of the Coalition for Pesticide Reduction maintain that state-condoned chemical use is harmful to people and the environment.
Sylvia Broude, community organizer for the Toxics Action Center, said toxic chemicals such as the ones the state Highway Department uses can harm more than just the intended target. The chemicals can migrate off highways, seep into the water supply and eventually lead to health problems in humans, ranging from eye problems to learning disabilities to some forms of cancer, she said.
Chemicals used over the last couple of years would have already ended up in our water supply and our bodies, she said. "Thousands of people in Massachusetts drink water with pesticide levels that would have some kind of threat."
Ms. Broude said she and her colleagues recently met with state Executive Office of Transportation Secretary Bernard Cohen but that Mr. Cohen did not indicate that he would change current plans to apply herbicides.
"I think he feels the wheels are already turning," she said.
Officials at the state Highway Department said they use herbicides on less than half of 1 percent of all the land they treat. The rest is treated with weed whackers and by other non-chemical means.
State officials work closely with local officials, spokesman John Lamontagne said, and they would not use chemicals that might be unsafe to humans.
"While it is more cost effective to use herbicides to eliminate weeds in difficult-to-reach areas of the highway, cost is not the motivating factor in Mass Highway's decision to use them," he said. "It is primarily a safety issue. ... It's very difficult for someone to get out in those areas with a weed whacker."
The state Highway Department uses herbicides along guardrails and barriers in high-speed and high-traffic areas - places where using mechanical equipment, such as weed whackers, would be unsafe for workers.
Mr. Lamontagne said removing weeds mechanically in some of those areas would require closing down a lane of traffic and hiring a police detail to ensure the safety of workers and motorists.
Patches of Routes 20 and 146 and Interstates 190 and 290 that run through Worcester are among the areas scheduled to be sprayed with herbicides this year. Transportation officials have not announced exactly when they intend to start applying the herbicides.
Although the state has been treating weeds with herbicides since 2003, the coalition to reduce chemical use said they were launching their public campaign yesterday.
"This year we wanted to launch a broader message so the state knows people are not behind this," Ms. Broude said.
Members of the statewide coalition are asking residents to show their disapproval of herbicide use by signing a petition or writing letters to the state secretary of transportation. They said the state plans to use two herbicides called Oust Extra and Accord Concentrate.
Transportation officials said they use chemical products that are available at hardware stores.
Bernadette Giblin, an organic land care expert, said chemical programs are not as effective in controlling weeds as some other techniques. "There really is a much more sustainable way," she said.
The state Highway Department is operating under a five-year vegetation management plan adopted in 2003. It is scheduled to draft a new five-year plan that will go into effect in 2008 and will include a strategy to control "invasive species" and "nuisance species" of weeds along highways. Officials said they will consider the recommendations of an ongoing study at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst on herbicide alternatives when they devise the new plan.
Contact Priyanka Dayal by e-mail at email@example.com.
ART: PHOTO; CHART
CUTLINE: (PHOTO) Sylvia Broude, community organizer for the Toxics Action Center, speaks at City Hall yesterday about herbicide use along highways. (CHART) Weed spraying
PHOTOG: (PHOTO) ALEX WITKOWICZ (CHART) T&G Staff
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Title Annotation:||LOCAL NEWS|
|Publication:||Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)|
|Date:||Aug 15, 2007|
|Previous Article:||Plan to stop preliminary is shelved; Council rejects candidate's proposal.|
|Next Article:||Man faces drug, break-in, charges; Suspect tells police he forgot key.|