Caltrans officials: Spraying was a mistake, won't happen again


Caltrans spokesman Bob Haus on Friday (March 18) said that a worker recently mistakenly broadcast-sprayed herbicides in the area off Highway 84 near La Honda soon after the agency had promised to do only spot spraying there this year.

"We promised not to do any broadcast spraying," Mr. Haus said. "One of our staffers misunderstood the directives. He was doing some broadcast spraying," he said. "That was a mistake on our part."

"That won't happen again," he said.

Mr. Haus said that the spraying was done by employees "who thought we were doing the broadcast spraying that we used to do."

"We are doing something new," he said. "We're always looking for more effective ways of doing things, and sometimes there's a learning curve."

Patty Mayall, director of Protect Our Watershed San Mateo County, said "this 'mistake' is one more reason to end this toxic way of weed management." Ms. Mayall said the continued spraying also risks a "road accident spilling toxic chemicals into drinking water sources and contaminating our watershed."

Residents who live close to and use Highway 84 in rural San Mateo County said they saw Caltrans on March 2 applying herbicides in violation of the label instructions that say only workers in protective gear should be in the area when the chemicals are applied.

Residents were also upset that chemicals had been sprayed near ditches and drains when rain was forecast.

After years of pressure from residents, road users, environmental groups and ranchers and farmers to stop broadcast spraying, Caltrans said on Feb. 10 that it would try another way to remove roadside weeds along Highways 84 and 35 in rural San Mateo County -- manual removal of vegetation, plus some spot spraying.

Caltrans is working with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) and the California Conservation Corps to cut and remove low-lying tree branches, weeds and undergrowth to reduce the potential for fires, Caltrans spokeswoman Gidget Navarro said when the announcement was made.

Mr. Haus also clarified that the gear employees were seen wearing, white protective coveralls and hoods, is not required to spray herbicides. "It's because of the danger of poison oak," he said. Only long sleeves, long pants and footwear are required for protection, along with rubber gloves, according to the labels of the herbicides Caltrans had said it was applying -- Accord and Capstone.

Mr. Haus said the general rule followed by Caltrans about spraying herbicides when rain is forecast is: "If we are 24 hours in advance of anticipated rainfall of a half-inch or more, we don't spray."

There was rainfall that week, but it's unclear whether Caltrans' general rule was followed; 0.6 inches of rain was reported in the area by the end of the day on March 4.

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16 people like this
Posted by concerned resident
a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Mar 19, 2016 at 5:55 pm

Was this really a "whoops" our employees took off with the broadcast sprayer unbeknownst to management? And "whoops" they didn't know other workers should be in protective gear as per the label? And "whoops" we didn't know here was rain in the forecast? Or was it more of a "whoops" we didn't think we'd get caught? Regardless, it hardly inspires confidence.

Bravo to the residents who discovered and documented it. But really, we shouldn't have to work so hard to protect ourselves from governmental agencies, should we?

8 people like this
Posted by Pam
a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Mar 21, 2016 at 11:54 am

There is no excuse for this "mistake," and I have little faith that it won't happen again. Who is going to hold Cal Trans responsible? This is all the more reason to make broadcast spraying illegal in San Mateo County. And it should be done now, so there are no more toxic mistakes.

6 people like this
Posted by pogo
a resident of Woodside: other
on Mar 21, 2016 at 2:36 pm

pogo is a registered user.

Had a private company spread poisons, after being pilloried in the press and held in contempt by every environmental governmental body (I can only imagine the legislative hearings...), the company's management would have been charged, handcuffed, jailed and arraigned.

But when a government employee does it, a "sorry, it won't happen again" seems to be perfectly acceptable.

Go figure.

4 people like this
Posted by local resident
a resident of Woodside: other
on Mar 21, 2016 at 2:49 pm

It looks like Caltrans has switched from broadcast spraying from a truck to broadcast spraying by hand. Is this the version of "spot spraying" that they promised? Perhaps it was an unintentional mistake, but it does not help improve their already tarnished reputation for untrustworthiness and exclusion of public concerns -- which is worrisome for a public agency paid for by everyone's taxes.

2 people like this
Posted by Betsy Aida
a resident of another community
on Mar 22, 2016 at 11:50 pm

Impeach caltrans! LOL ;) Seriously, their words have zero meaning and their track record, lacking any transparency and accountability, is the white elephant hiding behind a cup sized vase. caltrans we can see exactly what's going on and you are not fooling anyone!

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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