Residents in the Codroy Valley are raising concerns about a plan to spray pesticides on the side of the road between North Branch and MacDougall’s Brook, as well as at the St. Andrew’s Airstrip.
The chemical being sprayed - 2,4-D (also known as Tordon 101 or Agent White) - was banned for residential cosmetic use in July 2011 by the province. The ban does not extend to industrial uses such as the spraying program by the government.
Shelley Gale works and lives in the South Branch-Coal Brook area, just off the Trans-Canada Highway.
She has a young daughter and another child on the way. She heard about the planned pesticide spraying through Facebook and doesn’t want the chemical sprayed around her home or business.
“People’s wells are here,” she said. “They grow potatoes in the field just next to this house. Everyone here has their own well, and most are dug, not drilled.”
Mrs. Gale’s list of concerns didn’t end there. From employees who work near the road for her family’s business, to a neighbourhood boy who snares rabbits, to worries about moose eating treated vegetation. She said there are just too many unknown to be spraying a chemical where people live and work.
“Why don’t they pay people to cut the brush down?” she asked.
A fact sheet on Tordon 101 by the Dow Chemical Company says the pesticide is less toxic than vitamin A, aspirin, or nicotine. The fact sheet recommends not eating berries treated with Tordon 101, but says scientific studies of accidental ingestion of sprayed berries showed no adverse affects.
Mrs. Gale is skeptical of such claims.
“My parents told me how the schools used to wash their head in DDT to get rid of lice that used to be safe too,” she said.
She tried once contacting the company that won the spraying contract but was unable to get through. She plans on continuing to call. She wants the option to opt out of spraying near her home.
A spokesman for the Department of Transportation replied to questions on the spray program in an email. He wrote that spraying pesticide is the best option because it prevents the regrowth of alders and other deciduous plants for up to ten years.
“If the department were to undertake only brushcutting to clear all roadways, it would have to constantly monitor the condition of roadsides to see if new vegetation had appeared, and would have to constantly revisit areas to redo brushcutting work, which would be inefficient and ineffective,” wrote the spokesman.
There are buffer zones around rivers and other water zones according to the spokesman. He said homeowners living near spray areas do not need to take any special precautions.
No press releases or public notices of the spraying were provided on the provincial government’s web site. A spokesperson for the Department of Transportation said the contractor is responsible for issuing public notices in newspapers before spraying, and posting signs in spray areas.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Environment said the company responsible, Newfoundland and Labrador Vegetation Control, has met all requirements for notifying the public.
Dr. Ian Simpson, a cabin owner in the Codroy Valley and co-chair of the Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides (CAP-NL), said there is lots of scientific literature that suggests health risks from casual pesticide exposure.
“These things are cumulative,” he said. “The chemical problems of the environment are going to be the tobacco of the next twenty or so years.”
Dr. Simpson, who is now a semi-retired family physician, worked with CAP-NL to issue a press release on the spray program because he was concerned the general public was not aware of the plans.
He noted a study released in June by the Ontario College of Family Physicians which cautions the public to reduce its exposure to pesticides whenever possible.
The study found positive associations between general pesticide exposure and reduced neurodevelopment in children under three, as well as negative repertory and reproductive symptoms.
Dr. Simpson said exposure may not produce any immediate ill health effects, but scientists are just beginning to understand the long-term dangers of even casual exposure.
“I do an enormous amount of reading in these areas and I do believe in the past two years particularly, there are a number of studies that should make us phase out 2,4-D or make us stop using it, period.”
His advice is to not walk or pick berries in areas that have been sprayed.