updated Sept. 13, 11:40 am
Despite the efforts of selectmen, health agents, and town water officials from several Cape Cod towns, Protect Our Cape Cod Aquifer (POCCA), and lobbying by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC), the Massachusetts Pesticide Board (MPB) voted 6 – 1 to take no action on a proposed one-year moratorium on Eversource herbicide spraying on the Cape and Islands at a meeting last Thursday in Boston.
Michael Moore, a representative from Department of Public Health (DPH) was the lone dissenting vote, voting that the board should make a recommendation. Chairman John Lebeaux abstained from the vote. The pesticide board is an advisory board to the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources. The 13-member board consists of representatives of the Department of Agricultural Resources, Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Food and Drugs, Department of Fish and Game, Department of Conservation and Recreation, and Department of Public Health, as well as farming, commercial pesticide applicators, pesticide toxicology, the environmental community, the medical community, and citizens at large.
Lucy Morrison, assistant to MVC executive director Adam Turner, who represented the commission at the meeting, told The Times the pesticide board denied the motion on the basis that there was already an appeal of Eversource’s Yearly Operational Plan, initiated by the towns of Chatham and Brewster and a private citizen, one of several separate lawsuits against the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources and Eversource. However, she said, the tentative date for the appeal hearing is Oct. 13, which is after Eversource is scheduled to spray on the Cape and Islands. “The appeal process is failing everybody,” Ms. Morrison said.
Exact dates of Eversource spraying on the Vineyard have not been released, but a company spokesman told The Times on Monday it will “probably be at the end of the month.” By law, Eversource has to give the public 48 hours’ notice before spraying.
Ms. Morrison said the pesticide board also concluded there was not enough proof that the application of herbicides would be a potential threat to the aquifers, “even though members conceded that they never considered some of the area is maybe five feet to groundwater when they developed the [333 CMR 11.00].”
“It’s ridiculous that they allow Eversource to use these pesticides,” Mr. Turner told The Times. “We’re disappointed that they didn’t at least slow it down to look at all the impacts. That’s all we asked.”
In a two-page “Motion to declare a one-year moratorium anywhere on the Cape and Islands” filed against the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources in Suffolk Superior Court, Orleans-based attorney Bruce Taub, representing Brewster, Eastham, and Orleans, wrote, “Approval of the use of five of the herbicides by the [Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources] is based on research from the 1970s and 1980s … many of these studies were conducted by the industries that manufacture the chemicals in question. Since that time, more rigorous scientific studies have been accumulating and increasingly suggest that these agents do harm to humans, the environment, and the entire ecosystem.”
In a five-page expert-testimony affidavit from John Stark, professor of ecotoxicology at Washington State University, Mr. Stark stated, “Because herbicides are being applied to areas of Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard and herbicides have been shown to contaminate groundwater aquifers and damage nontarget organisms in other areas of the country, based on precautionary principle, the burden of proof that aquifers will not be contaminated or that nontarget species will not be negatively impacted by these pesticides falls on those making the decision to apply these pesticides.”
Rodeo, one of the herbicides used by Eversource, has been a source of controversy due to its active ingredient, glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicide.
In 1992, the Environmental Protection Agency concluded glyphosate is not a carcinogen. However, in 2015, the cancer-research arm of the World Health Organization announced that glyphosate is probably carcinogenic to humans. The debate has been ongoing ever since.
In an April 19 letter to William Hayes, senior transmission arborist at Eversource, Mr. Turner wrote, “We understand that the only herbicides to be used have been approved by the state for sensitive areas; but the use of any herbicides, including those approved by the state for sensitive areas, might be detrimental to the health of the Island’s vibrant, natural environment, and would have extremely harmful consequences if they were to seep into the [sole source] aquifer.”
In a July 10 letter to Chairman Lebeaux, Mr. Turner cited the World Health Organization’s 2015 declaration that glyphosate was “a probable carcinogen”: “The designation now puts glyphosate in the same category as DDT. Triclopyr is identical to Agent Orange except one carbon has been replaced by a nitrogen … Per the Dow Chemical Co., Triclopyr is labeled ‘highly toxic to estuary/marine fish.’ It is even more toxic to marine invertebrates, and has been shown to kill 50 percent of oysters at a concentration of 0.00001 percent. Its use is further complicated, as Dow data have shown: ‘The use of this chemical in areas where soils are permeable, particularly where the water table is shallow, may result in groundwater contamination.’ In short, triclopyr moves through the soil and is toxic. There is absolutely no place for these compounds on Martha’s Vineyard. Their use is even more egregious as Eversource is proposing to apply in close proximity to municipal well and recharge areas, home wells, and waterways.”
Mr. Turner also expressed concern for the effect the spraying would have on the wildlife in Manuel F. Correllus State Forest.
According to Jon Regosin, chief of conservation science at the Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program, the forest has approximately 30 species of flora and fauna listed on the Endangered Species Act — one of the highest concentrations in the state.
Responding via email to an inquiry from The Times, Katie Gronendyke, press secretary for the Massachusetts Department of Energy and Environmental Affairs, wrote, “The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources is committed to protecting public health and the environment through its enforcement of pesticide laws and regulations throughout the Commonwealth, and looks forward to continuing to communicate with individuals and groups that have expressed concerns about Eversource’s Yearly Operational Plan and monitoring all available science on this issue.”
“We’re pleased the board decided to take no action,” Eversource spokesperson Priscilla Ress told The Times on Tuesday. “On Cape Cod and across our Eastern Massachusetts service area, we only use herbicides approved by the state for use in environmentally sensitive areas. We do this voluntarily. We use a combination of mowing and hand-trimming, and apply herbicides using backpack sprayers. Estimates show our program accounts for less than 1 percent of the total pesticide use on Cape Cod. Vegetation management is a critical part of our commitment to continued electric service reliability, and it also promotes a native plant population of low-growing shrubs and grasses by selectively eliminating tall-growing and invasive species. We work very closely with the Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program.”
Updated with reactions from the Massachusetts Department of Energy and Environmental Affairs and from Eversource.