Residents say Caltrans herbicide spraying may have violated federal law

Caltrans has not kept promises about spraying, residents charge

Residents who live close to and use Highway 84 in rural San Mateo County say Caltrans has not only gone back on its promises not to broadcast-spray herbicides to kill weeds along the state highway this year, but that the state agency also may have violated federal law by unsafely applying herbicides.

A resident of Half Moon Bay who works in La Honda, who has asked that her name not be used because she fears retaliation, told the Almanac that on Wednesday, March 2, in mid-afternoon she saw a crew that included at least 10 workers, with only a few of them wearing protective gear, spraying near where Old La Honda Road meets Highway 84, across the highway from the iconic red barn.

Photos taken 10 days later clearly show large swaths of vegetation killed by the chemicals, despite the fact that Caltrans had sent out notices saying it would not broadcast-spray herbicides along Highway 84 this year. Residents say the dead vegetation covers at least a quarter-mile of roadside.

Caltrans spokeswoman Gidget Navarro said in February that Caltrans would do "spot spraying soon but no broadcast spraying." She said that spot spraying is done on isolated small areas, or at the base of plants that have been removed, to prevent re-sprouting.

The labels for the chemicals Caltrans had said it planned to use in the area, Capstone and Accord, both state that only workers in protective gear should be in the area when the chemicals are applied. "Only protected handlers may be in the area during application," the Accord label states.

"Do not enter or allow others to enter the treated area until sprays have dried," the Capstone label says.

The labels also both say: "It is a violation of federal law to use this product in a manner inconsistent with its labeling."

The witness said she saw workers with California Conservation Corps logos on their uniforms and vehicles; they were cutting and removing weeds by hand. With them, as part of the same crew, were people "in white protective gear ... with their spray stuff."

"I realized the conservation corps people had no protection," she said. Other workers were nearby chipping debris and directing traffic, which was reduced to one lane, she said.

The Capstone label also has a number of cautions about using it when it could contaminate water supplies, yet the weather prediction on March 2 was for rain within the next 48 hours, and by the end of the day of March 4, it had rained 0.6 inches in La Honda.

Photos taken on March 12 by local residents clearly show dying vegetation along ditches flowing with water.

The Capstone label says: "Do not contaminate water intended for irrigation or domestic purposes. Do not treat inside banks or bottoms of irrigation ditches, either dry or containing water, or other channels that carry water that may be used for irrigation or domestic purposes."

When contacted last week Caltrans officials said they were busy working on other projects and couldn't do anything until Monday, which is after the Almanac's deadline.

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7 people like this
Posted by Nancy: LoveThisReporter
a resident of Woodside: other
on Mar 14, 2016 at 12:37 pm

You've been a bulldog on this topic, Barbara -- THANK YOU for your advocacy and reporting.

7 people like this
Posted by betsy
a resident of another community
on Mar 14, 2016 at 2:01 pm

I live 1 mile away from 84 in Cuesta, La Honda. I drive 84 every single day into Woodside or toward Half Moon Bay depending on my errands. This Caltrans stunt is seriously beyond disturbing. The leadership has made it crystal clear that they lack any accountability and believe they wont be held accountable and have zero transparency whatsoever. We do care, we are watching and you will be held accountable for your actions.

6 people like this
Posted by David Strohm
a resident of another community
on Mar 14, 2016 at 4:13 pm

So many words to describe this blatant infringement of Federal law: Disturbing, infuriating,mindboggling...

CalTrans has demonstrated a complete disregard for the communities it serves, and the fragile ecosystem it is so carelessly endangering. I believe it is time for a lawsuit to bring CalTrans into compliance with Federal Law. In addition, heads of those responsible should roll.

For years we argued against the county's use of broadcast spraying. Like CalTrans, our public works department pleaded economics for its need to introduce toxic chemicals into our watershed. San Mateo County supes ultimately joined our cause and ordered public works to find another way to accomplish its duties. And guess what? They did. Government agencies are not allowed to create environmental havoc to save money. We, the residents need to bring in the heavy artillery to get CalTrans to cease their dishonest and egregious behavior.

4 people like this
Posted by Jean
a resident of another community
on Mar 14, 2016 at 4:31 pm

I recognize that there are differences but, when I read this article, the word "Flint" kept going through my head. Isn't this another example of a governmental agency doing something expedient/inexpensive without taking into consideration the
bigger picture?

10 people like this
Posted by Alison
a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Mar 14, 2016 at 7:31 pm

Sadly, this has probably done in the pair of coyotes that frequent that area, due to poisoning the gophers they eat. Just one example of what these poisons do to our ecosystem, please stop the spraying. I would weed the whole roadside area by hand myself if I were able.

2 people like this
Posted by Another
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Mar 14, 2016 at 9:45 pm

[Post removed; stick to the topic.]

3 people like this
Posted by Mr. murray
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Mar 16, 2016 at 8:18 pm

[part removed. Please make your point without negative characterization of other posters.]

I don't know about caltrans but I have been an applicator for years and have seen just how stupid people can be when it comes to pesticides.

[part removed.] once a year fire suppression by killing grass along the roadside keeps wildfires to a minimum. I like my house and don't want it burned down because someone flicks out a cigarette and catches the grass on fire.

Isn't that a fair trade very small amount of product sprayed one time a year? Let see no government reg? Some idiot said applicators need to follow federal regs? Really state laws are tougher, another said her coyotes died? I guarantee no weed chemical killed them it was some jerk in an SUV or Prius driving about 80 mph.

Another said hand pull the weeds? So how long shoulld 84 be closed for 3 months to pull weeds sorry for inconvenience ? [part removed.]

2 people like this
Posted by Jacklyn Defoe
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 16, 2016 at 8:57 pm

Mr Murray seems passionate about this topic and definitely does let everyone know how he feels. I agree with him on fire prevention it is a little amount of pesticide to save a lot of our way of life. I lived through the Oakland hills fire and afterward the place was a moonscape and if some roundup or capstone could be sprayed to prevent the huge loss I am all in with that. I didn't know that the state was tougher than the Feds but I checked with the department of pesticide regulation and he was right !

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