Get ready for this year’s chemical burn

Russell Wangersky
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Yesterday morning, they were supposed to start up again — you can call it a kind of toxic followup. The chemical second part to a one-two punch, maybe.

In any event, in a province where chemicals are being ruled out for use in lawn beautification, the provincial government is once again using a persistant mutagenic chemical (a herbicide called Tordon 101 — known as Agent White, Agent Orange’s little brother) to clear the edges of highways all over the province.

Just to be clear: the spraying is being done for the provincial Department of Transportation and Works, much of it to control vegetation on areas where the department used mechanical brush-clearing last year.

Just to be clear on something else: the chemical the province’s subcontractors are going to be using in this year’s spray program includes the same active ingredient, 2,4-D (2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid) that the provincial government specifically banned for use by homeowners in April.

It will go ahead without any form of environmental assessment, because the spray’s been used for so long that its approval for use is essentially a government rubber-stamp.

The chemical involved is a mutagen, designed to make plant cells divide in uncontrolled growth. (Sounds a bit like a vegetable cancer, doesn’t it?) There have been persistent questions about the chemical’s effects on children and pregnant women, and there have been questions about its persistence.

How broad is the spray program? There’s a large section along the Trans-Canada: between Adeytown and Clarenville, from the Bonavista underpass to Port Blandford Route 210, from Goobies to the North Harbour intersection, from Birchy Narrows to McIsaacs Brook, from North Branch River to McDougall Brook, from the Burgeo Road Intersection to Route 490 Intersection, from the Route 490 Intersection to the intersection with Route 461 Intersection from Grand Falls-Windsor to Badger, at the Botwood Airport and, perhaps most obvious to the majority of the province’s population, from Foxtrap and Paddy’s Pond to Butterpot Park.

Off the Trans-Canada, there’s even more. Hold your breath (or, actually, don’t bother to hold your breath: it’s too much road): “Botwood Highway Route 350, Bay D’Espoir Highway Route 360, Route 401 towards Howley off TCH, Route 420 Clam Pond Road to Taylors Brook Road, St. Andrews Airstrip, Route 100 Argentia Access Rd. at TCH to approx. 300 metres west of Route 101 to Long Harbour, Route 92 at North Harbour intersection to Branch, Route 100 south of Pointe Verde to south of Ship Cove, Route 75 Veteran’s Memorial Highway from TCH to North River, Route 10 Southern Shore Highway from Cape Broyle to Renews-Cappahayden, Route 63 Avondale Access Rd. from TCH towards Route 60, Route 13 Witless Bay Line from km 13 to TCH, Route 101 — Long Harbour. Road from Route 100 intersection to Route 202 intersection.”

The provincial government hasn’t rolled out the size and breadth of the spray program in its regular news releases: the only hints you can find about the spraying is in small localized advertisements placed by its subcontractor.

Since May, the department has issued 21 news releases about highway and bridge maintenance, many of them in the exact same areas as the spray program.

Chances are, the spray program will only be announced after it’s over, if at all.

Some of the spraying is already done, but the bulk of the program is starting right now — so how will you know when they get to you?


Everything with a leaf turns black and dies.

Standing woody stalks — like alders — will stand in place for a number of years, like the area had been swept with a small and precise brush fire.

It’s a fire, all right.

It’s a chemical burn.

There are better ways, like mechanical brush clearing. We’re already using them — and, irony of ironies, the provincial government that explicitly recognizes 2,4-D as being one of the “big five” of dangerous lawn chemicals, is probably going to be one of this province’s largest users of the material this year.

Maybe it’s time they practised what they preach.

Russell Wangersky is the editorial page editor of The Telegram. He can be reached by email at

Organizations: Trans-Canada, Department of Transportation and Works, Botwood Airport The Telegram

Geographic location: North Harbour, North River, Long Harbour Adeytown Clarenville Port Blandford Route Foxtrap Route 420 Clam Pond Road Taylors Brook Road Ship Cove Cape Broyle

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Recent comments

  • Ashley
    August 01, 2012 - 19:44

    While I agree with the points about the risk to health, I belive this draws attention to a bigger issue... Cutting the drees along highways and roads in moose / wild life prevalent areas... Many other provinces with wildlife have a system in which highways and roadways are maintained safely. As motorists we have to watch for moos, watch for potholes, try and figure out where the middle of the road is because we can't seem to figure out how to buy road paint that lasts longer then a year .... oh yeah and other cars! Toxic spray is par for the course I'd say

  • NA
    August 01, 2012 - 12:07

    Can anybody tell me if this chemical was sprayed around Quidi Vidi Lake? I planned to pick some of the Saskatoon berries/Churckly Pears that grow there (this year they are in abundance) but I noticed the berries and are full of a white powdery substance.

  • Kelly Porter Franklin
    August 01, 2012 - 10:39

    It may interest readers that news of this planned spraying of Agent White in NL is being discussed all over the world (even in Da Nang, Viet Nam). When will the Department of Transportation and Works learn that spraying Biological Warfare weapons on the countryside is unwise to the point of endangering the public? During the Vietnam War, even Monsanto scientists objected to the use of Agent White (AKA Tordon 101) in Southeast Asia (see Picloram in Vietnam, published in Scientist and Citizen, September 1968). What does that tell you?

  • A
    July 31, 2012 - 19:41

    It has taken NL a long time to recognize the dangers of pesticide use, yet the battle for healthy air free of toxins has just begun. Add to the mix residential wood working chemicals, tenfold the danger of pesticides, as wood workers often use such every day, all day, in the outdoors. Banning pesticides is fruitless if other toxins are allowed to roam freely and poison citizens unknowingly. Laws and education are necessary to inform and protect the innocent public. Please ban pesticide spray, but regulate like chemicals, or the ban of pesticides is redundant.

  • Geoff Eaton
    July 31, 2012 - 19:28

    So disappointed to learn of this news... important to ask questions on this issue and get answers. Thanks for raising this issue Russell!

  • Anonymous
    July 31, 2012 - 17:29

    Well Mr. Rogers, that's great for New Brunswick. But we still have an ecosystem here and I for one do not want to see my highways lined with fences and chemicals because of a few butt-hurt townies who can't drive according to the conditions or deal with a few dandelions by hand.

  • S Dean
    July 31, 2012 - 15:39

    Thanks for this article. It is absolutely inexcusable that our provincial government is engaging in this kind of spray program. I intend to contact the Depts. Of Health, and Transportation to express my concerns.

  • Cyril Rogers
    July 31, 2012 - 11:26

    Mr. Wangersky, like most everything else done by this government, it is all about short term gain for long term pain, even if it means "do as I say, not as I do". The abysmal efforts of this government in proper road construction and maintenance are nothing short of appalling! How is it that New Brunswick, with far fewer resources, can build the Trans Canada Highway to a four-land standard across its entire length PLUS install moose fencing along virtually the entire route? Here we have fifty miles out to Whitbourne and another 15 or so from Pasadena to Corner Brook, at a time in our history when money is not in short supply, relatively speaking. It is clear that they have spent BILLIONS, but on what? Certainly not our highways, that in any way makes them safer or brings them up to a standard equivalent to other jurisdictions. There is a need for a higher standard, for effective fencing to prevent many of the moose-vehicle collisions that occur at alarming rates, and effective roadside landscaping to allow for the wide and gradual tapering tapering of ditches where possible. Designs should allow for grass to replace the foliage that chokes our roadsides and for a broad expanse to the tree line to make moose spotting more effective. In the long term, they would save money by establishing a solid foundation and better runoff that would preserve roads that now get only a couple of good years before the inevitable ruts and potholes become the norm. THAT would be a solid investment, and certainly would be more appealing to our tourist trade, instead of the ugly eyesores that we now call highways.

    • Too funny
      August 01, 2012 - 08:02

      "The abysmal efforts of this government in proper road construction and maintenance are nothing short of appalling!" You must have been born yesterday. Otherwise you'd remember how bad the roads were under previous governments.