Milford Daily News (Milford, Mass.), June 24, 2007
ACTIVISTS: HERBICIDE SPRAYING A RISK
[Rachel's introduction: "There have been studies that have shown that road salt and oil from roads can get into water supplies. Our concern is the same thing could happen with the herbicides. We're sort of practicing a precautionary principle. Is it really a risk they want to take at all if it could get into the water supply and cause all these problems?"]
By Amber Herring, Daily News staff
Bellingham, Mass. -- With toxic herbicide spraying on Interstate 495 scheduled for late summer, state and local officials are weighing in on potential harm to local residents.
"There have been studies that have shown that road salt and oil from roads can get into water supplies," said Dan Dilworth of the Toxics Action Center in Boston. "Our concern is the same thing could happen with the herbicides."
The Toxic Action Center is working to mobilize local groups to stop spraying in their own town, said Dilworth.
The spraying will begin in August in targeted areas of I-495 in Bellingham and Franklin that have been approved by the town's Conservation Commission, said Erik Abell, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Highway Department.
The spray is used to kill weeds on the side of high speed highways, so workers won't be put at risk. Cutting them manually was the sole form of weed control until 2004, said Abell.
"In 2004, they began using herbicides citing the danger that manual labor posed to the workers and also the costs," said Dilworth.
Workers do the spraying from trucks, said Abell.
"The financial part we would just say is not worth the health risks. It's not worth the money saved," said Dilworth.
"We're concerned that eventually they can contaminate the water and if the residents drink the water -- there's all sorts of health problems associated," said Dilworth.
Studies show that exposure to the active ingredient in Roundup, the spray used by MassHighway in the past, can cause eye and skin irritation, headaches, nausea, numbness, elevated blood pressure and heart palpitations, said Dilworth.
Abell said there's a big difference between the amount of road salt and spray used.
"Road salt is applied to far more locations because it's designed to treat the road as a whole. You're dealing with a higher volume there," said Abell.
The herbicides are only used in certain "dangerous areas" -- which adds up to about 1/2 to 1 percent of state roads, said Abell.
The town also knows the danger and reviews the targeted spray areas to make sure it's not near the public water supply, said Conservation Commission Chairman Clifford Matthews.
"They are limited to using this in a particular area where there's no danger of contaminating the public water supply," said Matthews whose board approved the spraying several years ago.
"They came to us saying can we do this or not, and it's our feeling that they're entitled to do it," said Matthews.
MassHighway has sprayed the same areas every year since approval, said Matthews.
If they changed it, the commission would call them back to review the new plan, said Matthews.
"Every few years, we'll touch base with them," said Matthews.
MassHighway also works in a controlled environment when spraying, said Abell.
"If it's too windy outside we won't go out and spray. We operate in a controlled environment so not only is the application done as safely as possible, but we prevent it from drifting into other areas," said Abell.
Toxic Action Center understands the workers are being careful, but it's better to be safe than sorry, said Dilworth.
"We're sort of practicing a precautionary principle. Is it really a risk they want to take at all if it could get into the water supply and cause all these problems?" said Dilworth.
The public comment period held by the Department of Agriculture Resources begins June 25 and closes Aug. 9, said Abell.
Concerned residents could contact the Board of Health or Conservation Commission, said Dilworth.
Amber Herring may be reached at email@example.com or 508-634-7546.
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