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Boulder Activists Successful in Delaying Herbicide Spraying

(Beyond Pesticides, November 19, 2007) Boulder, CO, officials will delay spraying herbicide in a community park for at least a year, after activists protested last Wednesday the pesticide application to control the spread of a noxious weed. The herbicide Plateau, whose active ingredient is the ammonium salt of imazapic, would have been sprayed over jointed goatgrass, an invasive, non-native plant. About a dozen people, including children, gathered Wednesday morning at Foothills Community Park to distribute information on their concerns about the health effects of spraying the herbicide. More people called in to express their opposition, prompting officials to halt the spraying, said Paul Bousquet, spokesman for the city’s parks and recreation department.

Boulder City Manager Frank Bruno said the decision to delay herbicide spraying at the park was made because the weed situation is not a life-threatening one. “This isn’t a situation where the people pushed and the city blinked,” said Bruno. “We’re all in this together. We can take a strategic moment to explain what we’re doing.” Bousquet said that the herbicide is safe, but that officials want to better educate the community on its health and safety information. The delay will allow the city to distribute information, as the window during which the herbicide is effective will close soon.

Protesters called on Boulder to not go ahead with spraying because of negative effects the herbicide could have on people and animals nearby. “Citizens for Pesticide Reform has researched Plateau and is concerned about possible deleterious health effects on neighbors, dogs, wildlife and aquatic life,” said Betty Ball, spokeswoman for the citizen group. In laboratory studies, imazapic and imazapic-containing herbicides have caused eye irritation, muscle degeneration, liver damage, anemia, increased blood levels of cholesterol and a birth defect called rudimentary ribs. “This is the most potent herbicide on the market,” said Randall Weiner, an environmental lawyer who protested the spraying. Though imazapic is of low toxicity to birds and mammals, it is moderately toxic to fish. Ball added that the herbicide lingers in the area for months after spraying. Imazapic has an average half-life of 120 days in soil, and it can damage crops up to 40 months after application. BASF Corporation, the manufacturer, warns that Plateau “has a high potential for runoff for several months or more after application,” which makes it likely to contaminate groundwater.

Residents also complained about the city’s notification efforts. “Neighbors did not receive sufficient notice to take adequate precautions to avoid effects of this toxic herbicide,” said Ball. Some neighbors said that the fliers left on their doorsteps were too vague, and officials with the nearby Shining Mountain Waldorf School said they were not informed about the spraying at all. Several children from the school joined the protest. Bruno said the city is only required by law to post a notice at the spraying site, and that officials went beyond their duties by notifying neighbors.

Colorado law also requires city officials to do research on the best way to eliminate pests, including troublesome plants, and officials said that they have tried to eradicate the jointed goatgrass by mowing, weed whipping and mulch-covering. “There are lots of non-toxic alternatives,” said Ball. “People are always in too much of a rush to do what’s easy.” (See the Beyond Pesticides’ Lawn Care page for least-toxic control of weeds and prevention of weeds).

Bruno said the city has spent five years trying to eradicate the goatgrass at Foothills Community Park through “mechanical” means, but to no avail. “We have spent years whacking away at it – literally,” he said. “But we’ve not been successful.” The need to exterminate jointed goatgrass is so extreme that Plateau is the best option, according to Bruno. He stresses that the city only uses chemicals when other options have been exhausted. “This is a long-held value of the city of Boulder,” he said. “We seek the least toxic route if we’re going to use herbicide.” Around the nation, other cities have set a higher standard by passing laws that prohibit the use of pesticides in parks.

Bruno points to the Boulder’s mosquito control plan as an example of how chemicals are used only as a last resort. Despite the danger of the West Nile virus, spread by some kinds of mosquitoes, the city does not spray chemicals to kill them, he said. Boulder will hold off spraying chemicals over the jointed goatgrass for at least a year, and in the meantime officials can consider what alternatives are available. Ball said the group of concerned citizens is “very excited” about the city’s decision to delay spraying. “Now we have to figure out what is next and make a plan,” she said.

Ball offered grazing goats as a non-toxic, environmentally-friendly alternative method of control. Goats could eat the unwanted plants, and they would add fertilizer to the area and aerate the soil with their hooves at the same time. (For more on goats as an alternative for weed management, see Beyond Pesticides’ Daily News blog post from May 10, 2002.) Boulder County has used goats and other non-chemical solutions like bio-controls for years to combat noxious weeds on open space. Bruno said goats are not likely a realistic solution at the park because the area is active with people and pets.

Sources: Daily Camera (November 14, November 15), Colorado Daily News


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