Test finds no glyphosate, spraying raises big questions

Posted 9/11/19

In a county that’s home to environmental activists, organic farmers, non-organic farmers, shellfish companies, and a range of forestland harvesters, glyphosate raises difficult questions.

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Test finds no glyphosate, spraying raises big questions

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In a county that’s home to environmental activists, organic farmers, non-organic farmers, shellfish companies, and a range of forestland harvesters, glyphosate raises difficult questions.

After Pope Resources aerially sprayed acres of land—and people, some claim—in Jefferson County with herbicides, some citizens wondered: why are we still doing this?

After all, In 2015, the World Health Organization determined that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup(™), is a possible cancer-causing carcinogen.

But in Jefferson County, the timber industry and even some conservation organizations view it as the best option to knock back the understory and selectively grow timber, such as douglas fir, making for a fast turnaround time after a clearcut.

It is hailed as the only thing that will kill Japanese knotweed, an invasive weed that wipes out wetland plant diversity.

“It’s one of the safest and easiest to use herbicides,” said Brendan Whyte, who is the forestry program coordinator with the Washington State University Extension in Jefferson County. “There is a lot of misinformation about it out there. This results in people not using glyphosate and instead using even more dangerous chemicals.”

Why use glyphosate?

Herbicides are generally used just after a harvest has taken place, Whyte said. Glyphosate, which is the active ingredient in the herbicides used by Pope Resources during its most recent spray, absorbs very quickly to soil particles, Whyte said.

“Within an hour or two it is no longer biologically active,” he said. “This means there is no runoff effect. For other chemicals, it’s not the same.”

After Pope sprayed a section of land located next to City Lake, which supplies water for the City of Port Townsend, officials with the city’s public works department tested the water and found no traces of glyphosate.

The city sent a water sample for testing on Aug. 20 and Aug. 26 to Edge Analytical, a certified water testing facility in Burlington.

Results of the test showed no glyphosate was detected in the city’s drinking water, according to a press release from the city’s Public Works Department.

“As with any water sample, results concluding ‘not detected’ are good results,” said Greg Lanning, Public Works Director.

While no glyphosate was detected in the water, citizens are still concerned about drift.

After clearcutting wrapped up in June, Pope announced it would be aerially spraying sections of its Hood Canal regional holdings and released 16 maps that showed areas to be sprayed in Jefferson County, including clear cuts near Tarboo Lake, Anderson Lake and Eaglemount. During one of those sprays, near Discovery Bay on Aug. 16, several protesters claimed they were sprayed with drift from the helicopter.

According to the Washington Department of Agriculture Public Records Officer Pamela Potwin, the Department of Agriculture investigation will not be complete for several weeks. The Leader has submitted a public records request for all information regarding the incident and will follow up with a story when the information becomes available.

Repercussions for drift are large, Whyte said, which is why many companies are extremely careful with herbicide application.

Investigators can, upon completion of their report, make recommendations if they find sprayers broke state rules. That can lead to penalties or even license suspension for spray pilots

Drift is an operator error that should be investigated, Whyte said. But use of glyphosate in general can be a helpful tool, not only for the timber industry, but also for conservation groups trying to knock out noxious weeds.

“The timber industry is a very low margin industry and it can be done very sustainably compared to other industries,” he said. “We do have to make some concessions allowing it to be profitable.”

Whyte works with the WSU Extension to help small-time forest owners take care of their forest land, by using thinning processes to keep their forests healthy.

“I try to encourage people to view tree farms as just that. They’re farms,” he said. “When you see a clear cut, it looks dramatic. But that’s not a dead forest, that’s just a young forest… If we can keep it economical for people to own forestland, that is preserving a fairly functional part of our native ecosystem.”

Occasionally, this means prescribing a small dosage of glyphosate, if necessary, he added.

Why not glyphosate?

Another local forester, Malloree Weinheimer, owner of Chickadee Forestry, is hoping to help the county move away from the modern forms of timber industry and cultivate more diverse forests.

“Plants are becoming resistant to glyphosate because it’s used so heavily,” she said. “Plants evolve, especially noxious weeds like knotweed are becoming more and more resistant.”

Weinheimer gave a presentation to the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners on Aug. 5 showing results from a forestry study and suggesting the creation of a forest management plan, which will include a process of thinning and planting a diversity of native trees and shrubs on county forestland.

Jefferson County faces increasing development pressures and an average of 0.75% of forest land is lost per year from development.

Weinheimer, like Whyte, is hoping to promote sustainable timber farming. For her, the use of glyphosate is an issue because it creates monocultures.

“The practise of clearcutting and the management itself is harmful,” she said. “It’s creating monocultures and encouraging more weeds.”

But Weinheimer has an even bigger concern when it comes to pesticides than just glyphosate.

“Glyphosate is touted as a major concern, because it’s listed as the active ingredient on the pesticide but there are also inert ingredients, which make up 80 to 90% of the total ingredients,” Weinheimer said. “The EPA doesn’t require those to be listed anywhere.”

These additives help glyphosate, or another active ingredient, bind to the plant in order to be effective. The formulation of pesticides is a mix of the active ingredient (glyphosate in most cases) and these additives.

A study from the University of Caen’s Institute of Biology from 2014 found that eight formulations out of nine were up to 1,000 times more toxic than their active ingredients.

The results of this study challenge the relevance of the acceptable daily intake for pesticides because that amount is calculated from the toxicity of the active ingredient, such as glyphosate, alone.

Tests on pesticides may not reflect relevant environmental exposures if only one ingredient of these mixtures is tested alone.

These additives don’t enhance the effects of glyphosate, Whyte said. There are many different ones that can be added to a mixture and they have many different effects.

“They warrant study on their own,” he said. “Some can have much larger effects on aquatic areas.”

While glyphosate might not have been found in the water near the spray areas, there are other ingredients in the herbicide mix that were not tested for.

“It’s difficult to find concrete information about pesticides,” Weinheimer said. “It’s a lot of gray area. The implication I get is that it’s darker than what we see.”

Weinheimer is continuing to study the county’s forest management and hopes to work with the county commissioners in the future for a forest management plan to generate revenue and manage the environment at the same time with the timber industry.

To read Weinheimer’s full study, go to co.jefferson.wa.us.

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Justin Hale

What about the loss of habitat for all the forest critters? I've seen the effects of spraying round-up and no way is that stuff healthy for the Earth or its critters.

Wednesday, September 11