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 email@example.com.