Tuesday, May 21, 2013
AUGUSTA — City councilors appear to be seeking balance between concerns herbicides are putting residents’ health at risk and the need to prevent weeds from damaging sidewalks and other public areas.
Residents who worry that the herbicides the city uses to kill weeds could also be harming humans urged the councilors Thursday to put citizens’ safety first and limit them as much as possible, not use them near schools, and stop dragging their feet and look further into research done on their hazards.
“These are toxins, and toxins are deadly,” said Susanne Hawkins, a registered nurse and resident of the Mayfair neighborhood. “And deadly is deadly.”
Hawkins said numerous studies have shown substances such as the commonly used glyphosate, an ingredient in many herbicides such as Roundup, may cause different types of cancer, genetic and reproductive system problems “and all kinds of nasty stuff.”
Meanwhile city department heads responsible for maintaining the city’s streets, sidewalks, parks, ballfields and playgrounds urged councilors to lift a moratorium on herbicide use in the city instituted late last year after residents first raised the issue.
Jim Goulet, director of parks, cemeteries and trees, and John Charest, public works director, said not using herbicides as part of the city's plant management plan makes parts of the city appear unsightly. They warn that, if left unchecked, the weeds could have a destructive effect on the city's infrastructure. They said herbicides are just one way, but an important one, that the city controls weeds.
They also said several city parks employees recently suffered from acute exposure to poison ivy while using mowers and other mechanic methods to remove weeds.
Charest said he is “ashamed” at the appearance of city sidewalks this year.
But appearance is hardly their only concern.
“If we went three to five years without any roadside spraying to get rid of these weeds, we’re going to have some major destruction of blacktop,” Goulet said. “Costs could rise to more than $500,000. That’s far more costly than having a good roadside vegetation management program.”
Goulet said organic products to control weeds require multiple applications and are up to 10 times more expensive than the glyphosate-based synthetic products.
Mary Owen, president of the West Side Neighbors, a residential group, noted major cities in Canada have adopted rules against the use of pesticides, as have Castine and Camden in Maine.
She suggested the city: Restrict the use of herbicide except in situations that pose an imminent threat to property, people or agriculture; ban herbicide use at the city’s schools; and form a committee to study the issue.
The city received, in a July 15 letter, a delayed, incomplete response to its inquiry, last fall, about the safety of herbicides from Lebelle Hicks, a toxicologist with the state Board of Pesticides Control.
Hicks said she plans to have her findings reviewed by a committee of her peers, which will recommend, to the Board of Pesticides Control, whether to take regulatory action regarding glyphosate-based herbicides. She said, however, she has "not found sufficient negative effects to warrant regulatory action on the part of the board.”
Hawkins chastised councilors for not taking action and waiting for Hicks’ findings.
Councilor David Rollins said councilors have listened to Hawkins and others’ concerns but acknowledged they haven’t been proactive.
“We have been sitting back,” Rollins said. “I, personally, apologize to you and the community that we aren’t down the road with this.”
Keith Edwards — 621-5647