whatcom county spraying

Whatcom County roadside Roundup spraying data from Whatcom County Public Works records

Nancy Swanson

Seattle GMO Examiner

As the war on weeds gears up for summer, the London-based Institute for Science in Society publishes a Manifesto on Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup®. The Manifesto was published today, June 8, and already 155 scientists and medical professionals have signed, calling on all governments to ban glyphosate-based herbicides. The Manifesto states in part:

We, the undersigned international scientists and medical professionals, call on governments at all levels to ban the spraying of glyphosate herbicides. As professionals who have read the literature on glyphosate herbicides and their effects, we have concluded that they are causing irreparable harm.

The World Health Organization’s recent reclassification of glyphosate as a ‘probable human carcinogen’ is only a small part of the known toxicity of glyphosate herbicides. Chronic exposure to glyphosate herbicides is associated not only with cancers, but also with infertility, impotence, abortions, birth defects, neurotoxicity, hormonal disruption, immune reactions, an unnamed fatal kidney disease, chronic diarrhoea, autism and other ailments.”

Signature collection is ongoing. If you are a scientist or medical professional, you may sign the Manifesto here. Non-scientists can sign a separate list in support of the Manifesto. If your local government is spraying toxic herbicides in a war on weeds, you can print out the Manifesto and present it to your officials.

In Washington state there are six counties that have adopted a no-spray policy. They are: Thurston, Snohomish, Clallam, Jefferson, San Juan and Island. If you don’t live in one of these counties, then your county is likely spraying a highly toxic substance, increasing exposure for all life forms, at taxpayer expense.

In Whatcom County, the Public Works department announced on April 8, 2015 in the Bellingham Herald that they will begin their annual program of spraying herbicides on more than 250 miles of roads maintained by the county. Whatcom residents: are they spraying glyphosate next to your property? Check the map and see. The green areas on the map are designated ‘no spray’ zones. The red indicates where the Whatcom County Public Works department sprayed in 2014. Residents can sign an agreement whereby the county won’t spray in front of their property if property owners agree to maintain the roadside themselves. However, Public Works staff admitted last June to County Councilman Carl Weimer that they were “not closely following county protocol for ‘no-spray’ areas.”

According to Whatcom County Public Works records, an aquatic mixture of Roundup Custom (1.5%), Dupont Perspective (0.1%), and the surfactant Induce (0.25%) was sprayed in 2014. The Whatcom County Integrated Roadside Vegetation Management Plan specifies three areas that have Executive Exemptions for specific aquatic approved herbicide treatments for ‘noxious’ weeds in designated ‘no-spray’ areas: Acme Valley, Lake Samish Watershed and Lake Whatcom Watershed. In these watersheds, Public Works last year used a mixture of Roundup Custom (5%) and surfactants Liberate or Induce (0.5%). The surfactant Induce clearly states on the label that it “is not approved for aquatic use in the state of Washington.” Herbicide applications in the watershed areas are targeting Japanese knotweed, which is apparently more dangerous than poison.

Why should you be concerned?

The EPA evaluated 271 case reports of injury resulting from glyphosate exposure between 2002 and 2008. The reported exposures were primarily from people who had sprayed glyphosate in their yards and gardens. The EPA reported 98 (36%) cases of neurological symptoms, including seizures, unconsciousness, neuropathy, dizziness, tremor, malaise, anxiety, slurred speech, loss of coordination, numbness & tingling, lethargy, confusion and difficulty concentrating; 80 (30%) cases of dermal symptoms, including blisters, lesions, hives, rash, redness, swelling, peeling, burning, itching and soreness; 13 (5%) cases of gastro-intestinal symptoms, including vomiting, nausea, abdominal cramps, blood in urine & stool, and diarrhea; 28 (10%) cases of upper-respiratory symptoms, including fluid and blood in lungs, pneumonia, bronchitis, sore throat, congestion, sinusitis, coughing, choking, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing and heavy breathing; 39 (14%) cases of ocular symptoms, including corneal abrasion, redness, burning, swelling, itching, blurred vision; 1 case of cardiovascular symptoms of chest pain, tachycardia, irregular heartbeat and palpitations; 10 (4%) cases of some combination of the above; and 2 cases of no adverse symptoms. Also reported were: vomiting blood, low platelet count, fatigue, loss of appetite, fever, chills, salivary gland swelling, muscle and joint pain.

Because glyphosate readily binds to metals, it causes mineral deficiencies in our bodies. It bioaccumulates in our organs and muscle tissue. Glyphosate has also been detected in our urine and breast milk.

Several studies have shown that glyphosate is an endocrine disruptor. There are no “safe” levels of endocrine disruptors. Endocrine disrupting chemicals act at extremely low concentrations and this response invalidates the dogma of ‘the dose makes the poison.’ In 2009 Gasnier et al. published an article in the journal Toxicology citing evidence that glyphosate-based herbicides are endocrine disruptors with “…the first endocrine disrupting actions at 0.5 ppm [parts per million].” Compare this to the EPA ‘safe’ level of 0.7 ppm for drinking water. Monsanto, maker of glyphosate, has lost lawsuits that challenged their claim that glyphosate is biodegradable in both New York and France. A report by Mercurio et al. showed that glyphosate can persist in sea water for up to 315 days!

What about EPA approval of glyphosate?

World-wide government regulatory authorities only require that the active ingredient be tested for toxicity. The actual product, containing surfactants and ‘inert’ ingredients is not tested. This allows the manufacturers to change the formulation at any time without any oversight.

According to Vallianatos & Jenkins, authors of Poison Spring: The Secret History of Pollution and the EPA, the scientific credibility of the EPA has been damaged due to the history of fraud in the testing of these toxic chemicals that has been going on for decades. Vallianatos quotes the EPA scientist Adrian Gross as saying that EPA scientists don’t actually read the studies they get from the chemical companies, but it’s a “cut-and-paste business.” According to Vallianatos, “Staff scientists were openly using industry’s own in-house (and therefore inherently biased) science in the formal approval process of dangerous chemicals. This was not oversight, it was rubber-stamping” [p. 123]. Chapter 7 gives a hair-raising account of how data is fabricated and falsified in these industry studies. According to Gross, such studies are unreliable “because EPA toxicologists don’t really review them. … Instead, they go straight to the company’s summary and lift it word for word and give it as their own evaluation of those studies” [p. 130].

A new assessment report has been due out by the EPA for some time now. One reason for the delay is that the European reassessment has been delayed and the EPA is relying on renewal in the EU as part of their justification for renewal. Germany is the rapporteur member state (RMS) responsible for the safety review on glyphosate in Europe. The RMS submits the renewal assessment report to the European Food Safety Authority with a recommendation on whether or not to renew registration for glyphosate use in the EU.

The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (Bundesinstitut für Risikobewertung) is responsible for advising the European Food Safety Authority on glyphosate. The Glyphosate Task Force, a consortium of chemical and biotechnology companies in Europe, headed by Monsanto Europe, prepared the dossier that was submitted to Germany requesting the re-approval of glyphosate. The toxicology section consists, almost in its entirety, of the word-for-word assessment submitted by the Glyphosate Task Force. In the toxicology portion of the report, it clearly states: “Due to the large number of submitted toxicological studies, the RMS was not able to report the original studies in detail and an alternative approach was taken instead. The study descriptions and assessments as provided by the GTF were amended by deletion of redundant parts and new enumeration of tables. Each new study was commented by the RMS. These remarks are clearly distinguished from the original submission by a caption, are always written in italics and may be found on the bottom of the individual study summaries.” In other words, the German Institute did’nt even bother to cut and paste. They just added a few comments in italics. The German reassessment of glyphosate was performed by the chemical companies via the Glyphosate Task Force. In the US, the glyphosate review dossier was submitted to the EPA by the Joint Glyphosate Task Force.

An Environmental Protection Agency memo dated October 30, 1991 states that the EPA classified glyphsate as a possible carcinogen in 1985. In this 1991 memo, without any justification, this classification was changed to Not Carcinogenic. Three scientists refused to sign, two of whom wrote beside their name: Do Not Concur. This document contains data that clearly shows a statistically significant increase in tumors in laboratory animals treated with glyphosate. But because there weren’t more tumors in the group of animals who received a higher dose of glyphosate than there were in the group that received a lower dose, Monsanto, relying on the the ‘dose makes the poison’ dogma, made the claim that the tumors could not be related to glyphosate.

What is the Whatcom County Council doing about this?

They are waiting for the new EPA report.

A year ago, on Tuesday, June 3, people who opposed the use of glyphosate attended a meeting of the Whatcom County Council. Councilman Pete Kremen stated that the use of Roundup was an issue when he began as County Executive 19 and a half years ago. Councilman Carl Weimer stated that they revisit this issue every year or two because it’s an ongoing concern of the community.

Laurel Baldwin, who coordinates the county’s Noxious Weed Control Board, gave a presentation explaining why the county uses herbicides along the roadside: it protects the pavement and the safety of drivers, it improves drainage, and it eliminates invasive weeds that can poison livestock and degrade wildlife habitat. Apparently, plants are more destructive to livestock and wildlife than poison.

The subject came up again in a committee meeting on April 4, 2015. Councilman Ken Mann stated that the European Union is about to come out with a report and the EPA is about to come out with a report and he will wait to see what they say. “The EU is saying it’s not a problem. The World Health Organization is saying there might be a problem but it’s on the same level as drinking coffee or something. It’s a question of acceptable risk. I’m not going to ban it based on unclear data.”

One has to wonder how much data is needed to convince the council. Meanwhile, the EPA has subsequently confirmed that the release of their report on glyphosate has been postponed until next fall. Now would be a good time for the council to show some leadership and remove herbicide usage from the county’s Management Plan. However, upon being notified that the EPA report would not be available until next fall, County Executive Jack Louws confirmed in an email, “Public Works will continue to follow the Council approved Integrated Vegetation Management Plan.”

Council has also been waiting to find out how well the roads are holding up in the no-spray counties in the state. That report will be presented tomorrow, June 9, at the Whatcom County council meeting.

What sort of place we have come to where we think it is an ‘acceptable risk’ to poison the land and all its inhabitants? It seems intuitively obvious that a chemical that can kill a plant can also harm or kill other living beings. The chemical does not distinguish between plant and non-plant. It causes harm wherever it goes. For years Monsanto has claimed that glyphosate ONLY harms plants, yet a class action lawsuit was filed in California on April 21, 2015 disputing this claim.

When did we decide that some plants are dangerous and invasive and others not? We use words like ‘threat’ and ‘invasive’ and ‘noxious’ to instill fear and justify using truly noxious means to kill these plants. When did we decide to wage all out chemical warfare on these plants?

There is an alternative viewpoint that nature takes care of herself. Plants come into an area for various reasons. According to Timothy Lee Scott in his book, Invasive Plant Medicine, the plants ‘invade’ for a reason: “…some cleanse the water (Common Reed, Purple Loosestrife, Water Hyacinth), some rejuvenate degraded lands (Wild Mustard, Russian Olive, Scotch Broom), and some breakdown and clean up toxins and pollutants from the soil (Japanese Knotweed, Salt Cedar, Kudzu) and air (Tree of Heaven, English Ivy). The plants are here for a reason. They are here to serve essential ecological functions.”

If Japanese knotweed has shown up in Whatcom County in response to toxins and pollutants, it is madness to attempt to eradicate it with toxins. We should instead welcome it. Nature does and always will maintain balance. Nature knows what she is doing, while we do not. The counties should confine their efforts to maintaining safety and declare a truce in the war on weeds, saving money in the process.

Nancy Swanson


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3 Responses to “It’s time to declare a truce in the chemical war on weeds”

  1. irene says:

    It’s very hard to convince people that round up/ 24D is dangerous when the county mandates you spray it next to the water ways and in the ponds to kill the milfoil water plants. The fish seem to survive at least a season but on closer inspection they all turn female and are sterile. Folks come to Montana to experience the pure clean nature and fishing. That is why the importance of killing the water milfoil plant that is an import from aquarium plants shipped from eastern asia. Just 1 small segment of a milfoil plant on a boat will infect a whole water system up stream and down, choking boats, and making the fishing impossible. Of course we could introduce zebra muscles to help…

  2. Abe says:

    Checked out my lake yesterday. Just by dead fish on the shore, I figure about 50K dead fish just on the shore! Contacted the city big shots, of which I personally know 2 , and a couple reporters. That GMO Zebra Muscle killer Zequanox is a fish killer. I think I’ll get a h2o and freeze some fish tomorrow, and call the cops and DNR. We don’t drink water from the lake, so them muscles would actually clean it’s water up. They did it with out public knowledge let alone input.
    I’ll see if that reporter did a follow up about Xmas Lake. The last time I fished that lake, I’d drink the water straight from the lake. Although I’ve never gotten sick, I’ve stopped that practice a while ago now.