Stop the Spray :: Herbicides along the Roadsides.

Stop the Spray ::

Have you seen evidence of roadside broadcast spraying along your stretch of the coast? Roadside spraying appears as a brown defined boundary, between asphalt of the road and the private property line, where the grasses by the side of the road were sprayed with a chemical herbicide.

The excuses for roadside spraying are that it’s cheaper than mowing, it’s necessary for fire risk reduction and for keeping ditch drainages clear. It’s an effective way to kill invasives. This is what the County Road Service Division tell us, this is what CalTrans explains. One does the county roads, the other does the state routes. County road agencies report information regarding herbicide use to the county agricultural commissioner, while Caltrans reports its use directly to the Department of Pesticide Regulation.  When our group here tries to work with the mindset that is FOR SPRAY, we are met with defense and letters of response that spray “occurs within the limits…”

Truths about roadside spraying are that each herbicide product has different weather conditions under which it may be “safely applied.” Sometimes diesel fuel is mixed with herbicide to reduce drift. Some chemicals in some herbicides are linked to prostate and breast cancer, other products/chemicals are linked to Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.

Rather than spray by daylight hours, San Mateo County recently performed, over the course of several weeks, its 315 miles of rural roadside spraying between the hours of 2 a.m. to 7 a.m., because the County says they, “…have found these hours to be advantageous, as it generally eliminates conflicts between our slow moving spray truck and vehicular and bicycle traffic. In addition, winds are typically lightest during the overnight hours which is significant since we cannot spray in windy conditions.”

While We Lay Sleeping ::

Products used roadside are:

  • Round-Up
  • Aquamaster
  • Milestone
  • Garlon

You can read about Round-Up and Aquamaster on the Monsanto website and Milestone and Garlon on Dow’s website. Google for the Material Safety Data Sheet for each product, but know that the MSDS only provides what the manufacturer has analyzed.

There are counties/areas that do not allow roadside spray:

  • Thurston County, Washington
  • Lane County, Oregon
  • Humboldt County, California
  • unincorporated areas of Mendocino County, California
  • NOAA allows no herbicide of any concentration on the Russian River when the salmon are spawning.
  • Marin Municipal Water District does not allow herbicides to be sprayed in their watersheds.

Maybe more, my list is still being added to.

Here in San Mateo County, CalTrans District 4 mowed Highway 1 just south of Half Moon Bay.   Why the selectivity of roadside mowing south of Half Moon Bay versus roadside spraying in Big Sur?  The mowed roadside here is an agricultural corridor with Brussels sprouts and artichokes growing on the other side of the fence.  The sprayed roadside in Big Sur is a transportation corridor along which commuters and tourists traverse.  People stop roadside all-along the coast to access viewpoints.

Know When To Walk Away::

The Road Services Division of San Mateo County has an agreement with Pescadero to not spray at all within the Pescadero Watershed. Mowing is provided once a year. Grass grows roadside. No fires have been reported when cars pull over. Site distance is clear along the curves of the road. Pampas grass is excavated by hand or smothered with black garbage bags. Some residents mow the roadside along their property line.

582 petition signatures in the La Honda/San Gregorio Creek Watershed asked the county to not spray, but that was violated this year, after a 2 year observance. At minimum, this agreement in this watershed asked the County, that if they ever feel spraying is mandatory, then they must notify the public one week before, the day of, and for one week after, by posting the sawhorse signs along the roadway where cyclists, horseriders, walkers and drivers would see the signs and receive notification. The worst is that the public is not informed, doesn’t witness the herbicidal spray occur and then walks their dog that evening in the fresh spray. The County did not put up these signs this year when they sprayed without notice in January.

Round-up and other herbicide products have not been tested by the EPA to discover what, if any, harmful environmental affects occur.  There have been no tests completed to ensure that herbicides do not also kill bugs, earthworms, spiders, water plants, amphibians and fishes once the product flows into the watershed through culverts and drainpipes that drain the roadside. Many environmental groups and local watershed groups have filed letters with the intent to sue, or have filed suit against the EPA, to demand that the EPA studies the effects of herbicide products on the environment.

Herbicides along the Roadsides ::

Gardeners at my property recently used Round-Up on the gravel walkways where weeds were popping up in abundance. Where spray occurred all the earthworms died, along with the weeds.

Solutions to the Solution ::

The irony in CalTrans’ roadside spraying activity is that their website boasts a Native Vegetation program as part of their Roadside Toolbox.

The irony is in the first paragraph, “Ongoing research has shown that certain species of native plants can function in the harsh environment of the roadside and over time when conditions are favorable to the native vegetation can out-compete weeds and annual grasses which require extensive maintenance to manage.”

Related, CalTrans has a Stormwater Run-off study site.  “For this study, fish will be used as laboratory models to see how herbicides function in fish. Several chemicals contained in herbicides can have negative effects on fish reproduction by interrupting normal hormone function (endocrine disrupters). Some endocrine disrupters mimic female hormones while others block the activity of these female hormones. These are relatively recent discoveries.”

Groups that can/should help:
Californians for Alternatives to Toxics
Local watershed groups
Department of Fish & Game
County Agricultural Commissioner
County Supervisors (depends)
Pesticide Action Network
State Water Resources Control Board

As wonderful and helpful as CalTrans is to keep our roads clear and functioning, CalTrans does some wacky roadside management, beyond the roadside herbicide spraying, like allowing Toyota to landscape roadside areas with giant flower beds designed as roadside murals, in Marin, and in San Jose.

Perhaps it’s best to have CalTrans concentrate on, “We’re here to get you there,” and it’s time for communities, counties, or set statewide policy, to address safe practice of roadside vegetation management. The only trick here is, your neighbor could still spray herbicides about his property.

We’re trying to get San Mateo County Road Services Division and CalTrans to see a chemical-free coastside rural area.  The County’s Road Services Division tells us it costs $189,000 a year to spray the 315 miles of unincorporated San Mateo County.  A separate budget exists for the county to mow one time a year.   How about, Keep the $189K to use elsewhere (“repairs” perhaps), and just mow that one time a year?  At home, I’ve asked my gardeners to weed by hand.  They’re not happy with this manual labor either.

5 thoughts on “Stop the Spray :: Herbicides along the Roadsides.

  1. Please stop poisoning our environment …animals and people walk along the walkways where these herbicides are being sprayed.. There is scientific evidence that we have a lot of these type of dangerous chemicals in our systems.. Even infants are being born with herbicides in their!!!

  2. Thank you for coveirng this extremely important (and pervasive) issue.

    I would like to add my two cents and confide that I am one of the hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, who are chemically sensitive, and pesticides/herbicides pose a huge health risk for me. After a pesticide overexposure at work that attacked a severe case of acute pancreatitis, I became hyper-sensitive to all manners of chemicals and synthetic fragrances. While much of my sensitivity has ebbed (after 2+ years of having to live a very secluded life), the one class/type of chemical that I remain severely reactive to is pesticides.
    Every spring, in particular, I suffer terribly from the RoundUp and other herbicides and insecticides that some neighbors use (I live in California). It’s torture; I often have to evacuate my home when closing the windows is insufficient to keep the airborne VOCs from the pesticides out. Since I seem to be reactive t a wide swath of pesticides/herbicides, I suspect that I am likely hypersensitive to some highly toxic substance that is common among them, like a surfactant or adjuvant (in the “Scientific American” article cited below, you will see just how lethal some of these additives are). Who knows, though, since pesticide manufacturers are not required to disclose the vast majority of substances in their products. The point being, though, that even very low doses, as in less than what is measurable with standard tools (which capture only ppm) seem to trigger pancreatitis attacks as well as depositing an odd, bitter taste on my lips and tongue/palate. It’s very disturbing (let’s just say that I know what the bugs and weeds must feel like being sprayed with these toxins).
    Pesticides are woefully understudied for adverse effects, and the few studies that are done are performed by the industry shilling them. How many pesticides were initially deemed safe only to emerge later as major toxics, e.g. DDT, Agent Orange, Dursban, and now, RoundUp (and so many others)? Seriously, it’s common sense folks-if it’s designed to kill living organisms by messing with the nervous or endocrine system, it’s going to harm us as well. We actually share most of the same enzyme and nervous system traits with these lower organisms. Moreover, most of these poisons bioaccumulate over time, so what may seem like a low-dose now becomes a megadose over the course of a few years. Better safe than sorry. You won’t know that you’re “oversensitive” until it’s too late and you come down with either a bad case of sustained hyper-chemical sensitivity or cancer or Parkinsons. You do not, I repeat, NOT want to go through what I went through. Horrible, horrible experience, and I have yet to really recover from it.
    In “Scientific American,” June 23, 2009. “Weed-Whacking Herbicide Proves Deadly to Human Cells”

  3. The landscape advertising is weird. Highway 84 through Cupertino/Saratoga received a beautiful “natural” landscaping when it was constructed and landscaped. I like the idea of nothingness.

  4. Great article, Ani. Thanks for sharing it here, where hopefully many people will see it, and respond to the problems of roadside spraying.

    On another note, I must say the landscape advertising is a unique idea. I actually like it.

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