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The Valley Reporter
P.O. Box 119
Waitsfield, VT 05673

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GMP and herbicides


By Sylvia Knight

Thank you, Waitsfield Citizens Against Toxic Sprays for your work in the mid-1980s, convincing Green Mountain Power (GMP) to not use herbicides on their rights of way. This work is true participatory democracy.

In 2003, GMP tried a biological alternative to prevent sprouting from cut stumps in Bolton, VT. The timing of the application was not optimum and provided mixed results. A later trial by Central VT Public Service in Stockbridge, VT, with better timing has shown more promising results.

Ms. Schnure of GMP cites dangers (See "GMP notifies..." 2/28/08) from oil and gas from four-wheelers and chainsaws. She omits mention of petroleum products mixed with Garlon used in wetlands on cut stumps to prevent resprouting and allowed up to 15 feet of water. Then there's Basal Oil, a petroleum product used on the base of trees to kill them slowly instead of cutting the trees. These substances are toxic to amphibians and can kill or deform nestlings of birds who get oil on their feathers and then sit on their eggs.  A majority of herbicides used by maintenance crews are foliar sprays, or sprayed up into trees that grow tall.

Glyphosate-based herbicides (used up to 10 feet from water) mixed with surfactants (chemicals that help herbicides penetrate leaves) are much more toxic to amphibians than glyphosate used alone and have been banned from areas near water in Australia.

Herbicides have indeed changed since the 1980s. Sulfonylureas (SUs) and other new types of herbicides are more powerful at extremely low concentrations. They are mobile in soil and can leach to groundwater. They can do harm at extremely low concentrations in drift to crops or protected plant communities. EPA scientists were very concerned about the danger from drift of SUs and recommended that they not be registered. Some of the new chemicals may be hormone disruptors.   

Let's encourage GMP to limit their vegetation management to cutting and cut-stump control only, use a biological alternative, and do the work in an appropriate time of year. With an initial large investment in labor and a biological alternative, they could achieve reduced sprouting over subsequent years, provide safer jobs for Vermonters, and protect Vermont's wildlife and water quality.

Isn't that a goal worth working for?

Sylvia Knight is an environmental researcher and advocate who lives in Charlotte.

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