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Alaska Supreme Court Issues Restraining Order on Herbicide Spraying By Railroad

(Beyond Pesticides, July 21, 2010) Alaska’s Supreme Court halted plans to use glyphosate to kill weeds along track owned by the Alaska Railroad, which is believed to be the only herbicide-free stretch of rail in the country. This decision is in response to an emergency petition filed by Alaska Community Action on Toxics (ACAT) and others against the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation and the Alaska Railroad Corporation (ARC) who requested the use of glyphosate for weed control.

Source: www.denaliaccommodations.com

Source: www.denaliaccommodations.com

On June 2, 2010, ACAT joined with other community groups in challenging a permit that would allow the Alaska Railroad to spray toxic herbicides along the railbelt from Seward to Indian for the first time in 26 years. On July 14, 2010, the court ordered a temporary temporary restraining order and prelminary injunction for the planned spray program, in response to an emergency petition (and memorandum of points and authorities) filed by Alaska Community Action on Toxics, Alaska Center for the Environment, Alaska Survival, Cook InletKeeper and the Native Village of Eklutna.

The Alaska Railroad Corporation requested permission to use the herbicide glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup and Agri-Dex, along a 90 mile stretch of its track between Seward and Indian. The herbicide application was set for summer of 2919 for railroad operating property (rail yards, spurs, sidings, etc.) and along the main line and branch line right-of way for four feet out from both sides of the track. Despite the fact that previous requests have been met with opposition, the railroad states that its vegetation problem has gotten too out of hand for “so-called ‘alternative methods,’” including flame throwers, a steam machine and inmate labor. ARC also argued that the Federal Railroad Administration, the railroad’s federal regulatory agency, will impose fines and operational restrictions such as reducing speeds or emergency closures of some sections of track if they are not cleared of overgrown vegetation. The company insists herbicides are the only way to control the plants, which can decay railroad ties and force the tracks apart. However, the uses of biological controls, or least-toxic sprays such as acetic acid or herbicidal soaps, were not considered in the Alaska Railroad’s proposal. Read Beyond Pesticides’ Least Toxic Control of Weeds.

The court said more information was needed on the plan. Environmental groups, including Beyond Pesticides, which submitted comments against the use of glyphosate on the railroad, are opposed to the strategy because they say regulators have not considered the chemicals’ effects on drinking water and streams where salmon live. Glyphosate is a neurotoxin, irritant, and can cause liver, kidney and reproductive damage. It is also linked to non Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. In recent news, glyphosate has been identified as a common chemical found in acute agricultural worker poisonings, and linked to intersex frogs.

The railroad was granted the permit that would have allowed it to start spraying last week, but a temporary stay delayed that until July 15. The railroad had until Jul 20th to file with the court and challenge a review of the case. Groups say a majority of residents oppose the spraying, and the village of Eklutna protested the permit. The permit specifies that spraying cannot happen within 200 feet of groundwater sources or within 100 feet of a stream or pond.

Source: Alaska Community Action on Toxics

Photo: www.denaliaccommodations.com


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