Wednesday, The Telegram started looking at the provincial government’s decision to once again spray large areas along the sides of roads with chemical defoliants.
A great deal of spraying will take place in the next few weeks, and much of it will be done with Tordon 101, a herbicide that contains 2,4-D (2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid). Tordon also used to be known as Agent White, and if you wanted to use it to control weeds, you couldn’t, because it was recently specifically banned for household use by the provincial government. A lot of the spraying will be done in areas that the government cleared last year with mechanical shredders.
Seems like an apt thing to discuss with members of the self-styled “most accountable government in Canada.” But it’s not that easy. We asked Transportation and Works to talk about their spray program, something that’s being undertaken by a subcontractor.
They demurred, suggesting that the issue should probably be dealt with by the Department of Environment. So we asked for an interview with provincial Environment Minister Terry French about the need for the spraying — after all, it was French who recently described 2,4-D, one of the active ingredients in Tordon, as being one of “big five” of dangerous herbicides.
The response from the minister?
Well, sometimes the word “boilerplate” wouldn’t go astray. The minister was not available for interviews, and, in fact, didn’t even answer questions from the paper. Instead, the department issued a statement.
Here’s part of it: “When the residential pesticides ban on specific products, including 2,4-D, was announced in July 2011, it focused on the unnecessary use of pesticides for residential purposes only. It was acknowledged at the time that there are essential uses of pesticides in the province for health and safety aspects associated with the control of vegetation along our road networks, power transmission lines, dykes, dams and related infrastructure, and the use of approved products is necessary in these areas. In all provinces of Canada that have set similar residential bans, roadside vegetation control is still considered a necessary use. Furthermore, the pesticide itself has never been banned from any province.”
The response email was sent by French’s communications staff.
From above, especially on the Avalon Peninsula, this a province of water. There are streams and ponds and bogs, seeps and steadies, rivers and falls. In fact, it’s startling how much water there is, and how often the black lines of the province’s road cross or border on watercourses. The damp swales are perfect for moose, and it is out of those boggy spots on the highway that they often appear.
The spraying on the highway is supposed to clear sight lines — but just in passing, Tordon 101 is not supposed to be sprayed near watercourses. There have also been questions about its persistence and health effects.
One of things we would have asked Minister French is why, with our particular geography, chemical spraying is a regular choice for our government. The answer might have been interesting, had he been willing to take the question in the first place.