Following concerns about herbicide spraying, lawmakers ask state agency for info on glyphosate


Staff Writer
Published: 7/3/2019 10:44:28 PM

After a “significant uptick” in concerns raised by residents about Eversource’s use of the controversial herbicide glyphosate, three western Massachusetts lawmakers spoke to the state Department of Agricultural Resources on Monday to understand how the chemical is regulated.

Glyphosate, found in the weedkiller Roundup, is the most widely used herbicide in the country. It is also among the most controversial. Three U.S. lawsuits accusing the herbicide of causing cancer were ruled in the plaintiff’s favor, prompting the company that makes Roundup, Monsanto to pay millions (and billions, in one case) of dollars in damages.

The three state lawmakers — Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton; Rep. Natalie Blais, D-Sunderland; and Rep. Mindy Domb, D-Amherst — spoke to Department of Agricultural Resources employees, including Commissioner John Lebeaux, on Monday. The conversation, Comerford said, focused on how the state goes about permitting certain herbicides including glyphosate.

The DAR’s Pesticide Board Subcommittee reviews active ingredients like glyphosate before they are first registered, the agency wrote in a statement. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency initially registered glyphosate in 1974. The subcommittee does not review active ingredients on a routine basis after they have been registered, though it may choose to do an individual review if it feels it is necessary.

The EPA is again reviewing the risks of glyphosate, releasing an “interim decision” in April saying the herbicide had no adverse impacts on human health but posed some ecological risks, according to a news release. The EPA is accepting public comments on this interim report until July 5 and will decide whether to reregister the herbicide next year.

Comerford suggested that the state do its own analysis of herbicides, separate from the federal government.

“For me personally, I don’t think that Massachusetts has to follow what the EPA says is permissible,” Comerford said. “I think we can have our own analysis in what we want and what we don’t want.”

Comerford said the lawmakers requested the meeting after hearing worries raised by a “significant” number of residents specifically about Eversource’s plan to spray herbicides, including glyphosate, to clear vegetation from right-of-way power lines in about 30 Western Massachusetts communities from June to December this year.

“Because constituents were so concerned, we felt we needed to take immediate action,” Comerford said. “We wanted to understand the process of how they came to the list of chemicals, how they oversee and regulate utility companies like Eversource … We had a very lengthy conversation so that we could better understand how to represent our constituents’ concerns.”

Delta Carney, of Ashfield, said she found Eversource’s advertisement in the Greenfield Recorder last month and immediately began telling her neighbors about its plans to spray herbicides and circulating information via social media. In a previous interview, Carney encouraged Eversource to consider using hand-held machines or even animals (like goats) to clear the way for the high-voltage power lines.

Eversource said that its use of herbicides is “strictly regulated” by the state. Spokeswoman Priscilla Ress said the company follows an “integrated vegetation management plan,” using “both mechanical and chemical means” to remove “incompatible and invasive vegetation.” Eversource’s goal in doing so is to “maintain electrical reliability and encourage growth of acceptable species,” Ress said.

Every five years, utility companies are required to submit a “vegetation management program” to the department and attend a public hearing to discuss its plans. Eversource’s program for 2019 to 2024 was approved this year by the DAR.

Separately, two pieces of legislation were proposed by state lawmakers this year to restrict or ban glyphosate. One bill, filed by state Rep. Carmine Lawrence Gentile, D-Sudbury, would ban the use of glyphosate across the state. Another bill submitted by state Sen. Jason Lewis, D-Winchester, would prohibit the use of glyphosate on public land without a license after Dec. 31.

Views on the health impacts of glyphosate among governments in the U.S. and globally are mixed. The EPA said as recently as April that glyphosate has no human health impacts, though it added that the herbicide has some ecological risks. In addition, the European Commission approved glyphosate use for five years in 2017.

On the other hand, the World Health Organization found in 2015 that the herbicide is “probably carcinogenic” based on “sufficient evidence” in animal studies and “limited evidence” in human studies. Using this assessment, the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment announced in 2017 that glyphosate is “known (to) cause cancer.”

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