Editorial: State should be a bellwether in pesticide use

  • Delta Carney organized a meeting at Elmers Store in Ashfield about proposed herbicide spraying along power line right-of-ways in the area. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Published: 7/10/2019 10:00:57 AM

The publication in 1962 by Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” brought pesticide use into the public consciousness. In that case, it was DDT. In 1972, the newly created Environmental Protection Agency issued a landmark cancellation order for DDT based on its adverse environmental effects as well as its potential human health risks.

This summer, pesticides are once again in the public consciousness in western Massachusetts as a significant number of residents reacted with alarm to Eversource’s published announcement that it would use herbicides to control vegetation near high voltage power lines in 32 towns in Hampshire and Franklin counties.

At issue is the use of one herbicide, Rodeo, which contains glyphosate, one of the most widely-used ingredients in the U.S., commonly sold in popular weed killers including Roundup and Ranger Pro. Glyphosate has a well-documented regulatory history. The European Food Safety Authority wrote in 2015 that glyphosate is “unlikely to represent a carcinogenic hazard for human,” an assessment the EPA agreed with in 2017.

Still, the European Commission announced in March that it would convene a group of member states to study the issue further. Tellingly, our own EPA is revisiting 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.

That alone should raise a red flag for its continued use in western Massachusetts, which contains some of the most pristine land in the commonwealth.

In response to residents’ concerns, three local lawmakers — Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, Rep. Natalie Blais, D-Sunderland, and Rep. Mindy Domb, D-Amherst — spoke to employees of the state Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR), including Commissioner John Lebeaux, last week to learn how the state goes about permitting certain herbicides, including glyphosate.

They learned that MDAR’s Pesticide Board Subcommittee reviews active ingredients like glyphosate before they are first registered. The EPA initially registered glyphosate in 1974. That was 45 years ago. The subcommittee does not review active ingredients on a routine basis after they have been registered, although it may choose to do so.

Eversource has responded to residents’ concerns by saying that its use of herbicides is “strictly regulated” by the state. Given that the EPA is again reviewing the risks of glyphosate, this “strict regulation” seems to be a work in progress, rather than the last word.

Comerford suggested 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.”

Alternatives suggested by residents include the use of goats to clear underbrush. As to the response by Eversource’s William Hayes, supervisor for vegetation management, that goats raise their own environmental concerns in the droppings they leave behind, we find it disingenuous to equate goat droppings with chemical residues.

We agree with Comerford that Massachusetts should do its own analysis of glyphosate. In the meantime, Eversource should remove herbicides from its Integrated Vegetation Management Program.




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