May 30, 2011

Herbicide spraying will be limited

By Keith Edwards
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA -- The city plans to continue with limited herbicide spraying on major thoroughfares this summer, but not in neighborhoods, as it studies how to respond to residents' concerns the chemicals are putting people at risk.

This will be the second straight summer the city has conducted a limited herbicide spraying program, cutting back on the amount of herbicides sprayed previously, and not spraying at all in residential neighborhoods.

City officials cut back on spraying after a few residents complained people and pets could be harmed by herbicides. Also in response to residents' concerns, a herbicide committee was formed to study the issue and make recommendations.

Herbicide committee members said this week another summer of not spraying in neighborhoods will give them time to determine how many weeds grow along streets and sidewalks when herbicides aren't used.

"This is going to give us a chance to see, over a two-year period, what happens when we don't use herbicides," said Councilor William Stokes. "If we give it another year of no spraying in neighborhood areas, we'll have some data so we can look at whether we have an issue that needs to be readdressed."

The city will spray roadsides in a neighborhood if a neighborhood requests it, in writing, signed by a neighborhood association officer or signed by a majority of residents in the neighborhood.

Leif Dahlin, community services director, anticipates the herbicide committee will come back to council in September or October with recommendations for a new policy.

Dahlin said herbicides are only used on city streets, sidewalks and parks when necessary, as other weed-removal methods are generally used first.

City staff have previously expressed concern not spraying at all would leave the city looking unsightly, letting weeds grow unchecked could cause costly damage to streets and sidewalks, and removing weeds like poison ivy without herbicides could expose workers and the public to health hazards.

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

Herbicide application is expected to start soon -- to be most effective, experts recommend application be completed by June 30.

Herbicide committee members said they would also like to experiment with some test areas, where the city might spray one section, but not an adjacent section, to see what differences there are between the two sections over time.

Keith Edwards -- 621-5647

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