August 5, 2010

Augusta to resume some herbicide spraying

Limited spraying program for the rest of the summer

By Keith Edwards
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA -- The city is about to restart limited herbicide spraying despite some residents' concerns the chemicals could harm people.

City Manager William Bridgeo is authorizing a limited spraying program for the rest of the summer, after the city staff expressed concerns that letting weeds grow unchecked could cause costly damage to city streets, sidewalks and parks and expose workers and the public to poison ivy and other hazards.

The city's herbicide program had been suspended this summer after residents had approached councilors with worries that spraying could harm the health of adults, children and pets.

The program could be restarted on a limited basis as soon as Friday.

Bridgeo said spraying will be limited to the city's major arterial streets and sidewalks, parks and areas such as the Kennebec River Rail Trail. Streets and sidewalks in residential neighborhoods will not be sprayed, Bridgeo said.

Among the areas that will be sprayed: a ropes course near Cony High School where posion ivy is growing.

"I think there is a fair amount of sympathy on my part, and of city staff, to folks who have concerns about the use of these chemicals," Bridgeo said. "On the other hand, we're trying to use best practices so the situation doesn't get out of control here."

In the meantime, Mayor Roger Katz is expected to appoint a committee to study the herbicide spraying issue and make a recommendation to councilors.

Residents have said numerous studies have shown substances such as the commonly used glyphosate -- an ingredient in many herbicides, such as Roundup, a generic version of which is to be used by the city -- may cause different types of cancer and genetic and reproductive system problems.

Mary Owen, president of West Side Neighbors, a residential group, said they'd like to see Augusta stop its widespread use of Roundup and similar herbicides.

The group sees Bridgeo's plan as a "forced step in that direction."

"I am pleased the city is considering an advisory committee, and hope that residents will hold this committee to task," Owen said. "Augusta needs a pest management plan that puts the public's health first, not the aesthetics of our city streets.

"We are just learning about the epigentic effects of environmental pollutants on human health. After all, it has taken generations of exposure to understand the connection. What we are asking council to do is look for reasonable alternatives."

While Bridgeo has authorized spraying on a limited basis, it won't begin until at least Friday.

With an Augusta City Council meeting scheduled Thursday, Bridgeo said the reinstatement of spraying could still be held off if councilors express reservations about it.

Keith Edwards -- 621-5647

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