COMMENTARY: Pesticides pose risk for island and beyond

  • Tuesday, August 1, 2017 9:49am
  • Opinion

Michael Laurie (Courtesy Photo)

Diane Emerson and I work on pesticide issues on Vashon. We have had some success in working with retailers, talking with island organizations, schools and individuals and showing them how to use greener methods to garden. We are thankful that King County Parks stopped using an herbicide in the Maury Marine Park. We are also thankful that the Vashon Park District used no herbicides last year. And we are thankful for the Vashon Land Trust’s extensive use of physical weed removal and for supporting the idea of a public forum on Vashon herbicide use.

However, we have recently learned that several public organizations on Vashon use herbicides. We are concerned about this because we expect them to set a higher standard and be more transparent about herbicide use.

We are thankful that many groups and individuals only make limited use of herbicides. But others make wider use. And many small uses can add up to a big deal. Hearing how many agencies make use of herbicides on Vashon and knowing that Roundup and weed- and-feed products are some of the biggest sellers on Vashon leads us to think the total island use is sizable.

We have some concerns about their use especially since herbicides do not respect property lines, and we on Vashon share an aquifer, streams, shoreline and Puget Sound. Studies have found many herbicides in aquifers nationwide, in streams in the Puget Sound area and in Puget Sound itself.

A growing body of science is showing that some of these herbicides can be harmful. One of the products being used is Roundup, which science tells us likely causes cancer. Triclopyr is another that the science-based information at the Grow Smart Grow Safe (GSGS) website, growsmartgrowsafe.org, tells us can be harmful to wildlife and humans.

We know that some invasive plants are difficult or time consuming to remove by safe methods and organizations have limited budgets and staff to address weed control. What if 5 to 10 percent of the millions in organization budgets for purchasing land was set aside to fund safe weed removal? Would Vashon residents support 5 to 10 percent smaller public and non-profit land purchases if it meant the lands purchased were managed with very safe methods? Learn about safe alternatives at gardengreen.webs.com.

Is it the policy of all herbicide-using groups to limit use to only very hard-to-manage invasive plants? We don’t know, because not all of the organizations have detailed, publicly available herbicide policies. Not all herbicide use on Vashon has been for hard-to-control plants.

We would like to ask that agencies reveal what their detailed herbicide policies are. If they don’t have good detailed policies, we suggest the following:

No herbicide uses near streams, shorelines or known drinking water sources.

Use GSGS to understand how safe or toxic a product is. We have seen a case on the island of a group relying on a Dow Chemical site that told them an herbicide was safe, but GSGS showed that herbicide to be toxic to humans and wildlife.

Use GSGS to learn about and try the safely rated options first.

Notify neighbors and others that you are planning to spray. Give them the option to do some of the weed control to avoid the need for spraying or avoiding possible spray exposure.

Post signs before, during and after spraying.

Always read labels and follow directions.

Make sure that all herbicide use is only within the boundaries of your property.

Train staff on safer alternatives to herbicides.

The science is evolving, and we are learning that some products are more harmful than we used to think. Very few studies have looked at the breakdown products of herbicides or the interactions between multiple products. So even if we follow the most complete and up-to-date science, there is risk and uncertainty. For most products, we only know what the active ingredient is, and thus we can only review what the science says about the active ingredient. Yet we are beginning to learn that some of the unlisted non-active ingredients are very risky.

It may be that if multiple agencies step forward in a public forum and reveal how much of which herbicides they are using and they present best practice-based herbicide policies, that Vashon residents may decide that the risk is minimal. But right now, with so little information available on which products are used and how much, we are unable to make an informed decision about the risk.

— Michael Laurie has been a sustainability consultant for over 30 years.

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