Editorial: The right decision on herbicide spraying | March 21, 2012 | Almanac | Almanac Online |



Viewpoint - March 21, 2012

Editorial: The right decision on herbicide spraying

Patty Mayall, a La Honda resident who has worked tirelessly for many years to convince county supervisors and Caltrans to stop using toxic chemicals to control roadside weeds finally won a round last week, when the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously, with Rose Jacobs Gibson absent, to stop an abatement program that covered more than 300 miles of county roads.

After many starts and stops, supervisors finally agreed to buck the recommendation of their own public works director, James Porter, to make the decision. Mr. Porter had requested approval for use of a combination of chemicals and mowing to control roadside weeds. Without the chemicals, he said, it could cost the county as much as $800,000 a year more than it is now spending to maintain its roads.

But supervisors obviously felt strongly that the time had come to end herbicide spraying.

Supervisor Dave Pine said the department needs to "really think outside the box. We should put a challenge to the department of public works that they should do as much as they possibly can with their budget."

"The risk of chemicals is a great concern to me," he said. "There's been tremendous growth in childhood neurological disorders, which more and more are being tied to chemicals."

Carole Groome said the ban is compatible with other county efforts to improve public health. "We know that spraying can increase the chances of asthma; that children and seniors who have asthma are deeply affected by chemicals in the air," she said. "I think that's another reason we should stop spraying ... so we will be a healthy county."

For many years, Ms. Mayall has been persistent in her efforts to convince the county and Caltrans to stop using herbicides to control roadside weeds. She has circulated information about the toxic chemicals contained in most of the sprays used, and lobbied for the county and Caltrans to post on-road notifications before, during and after spraying to warn the public.

But while the county has agreed to halt roadside spraying, Caltrans remains on the fence. The agency has said in the past that it would abide by whatever county regulations are in force for roadside spraying, but so far it is only committed to stop during the month of March. After that, a spokeswoman said Caltrans could resume spraying, although a possible exception could be made on Highway 84. Spraying would occur if weeds impede safety devices, there is fire danger, or site distances need to be cleared.

We hope supervisors follow through and pass the needed resolution calling for Caltrans to end spraying programs as it has in the North Bay counties of Marin, Del Norte, Sonoma, Humboldt and Mendocino.

Last year, nearly 600 county residents signed a petition asking that twice-a-year roadside spraying be stopped and supporting a program of annual mowing that has proven to be effective to control weeds. The county has stepped up and agreed to end spraying on its 315 miles of roads, including Sand Hill, Alpine, Old La Honda and others. Now supervisors need to pass a resolution asking Caltrans to follow suit by ending any chemical applications under way now along Highways 35, 84, 92, 280 and 101 in San Mateo County. There is no reason to continue spreading these toxic chemicals that could harm thousands of residents.


Posted by Patty Mayall, a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Mar 22, 2012 at 3:30 pm

Thank you for this important and helpful Editorial ! I would like to add some information with regards to Caltrans and DPW Director Porter's comments. Since beginning this effort to end broadcast, roadside herbicide spraying, we have supported the mowing and maintenance work for these roads, as MOWING has always been done with or without the spraying and is MOST effective for visibility and reducing fire danger. Drive on Hwy. 84 now and notice the Scotch Broom growing into the roadway and actually hitting cars and blocking road signs. Spraying would do nothing for this: it needs to be MOWED. We live in a watershed, these chemicals pose serious health risks on the coastside and the bayside where all the roads drain into creeks, the ocean, or the bay. For these reasons that the supervisors supported with their vote, Caltrans needs to end the spraying in San Mateo County now.
With regards to Mr. Porter's assertions of higher costs for mowing, he has claimed that without spraying, the DPW would need to mow 2-3 times more often which we have NEVER requested. The DPW will save thousands of dollars NOT spraying and can continue mowing within the existing budget, as the supervisors have advised. On my road, when it was sprayed and since it has not been sprayed, it has only ever been mowed once a year. Many residents in other areas that were sprayed and on roads not sprayed (Pescadero area) have reported the same: Mowing is done once a year and that is all that is necessary. I commend the DPW for all the crucial road work that they do throughout the year which makes it possible for many of us to live in the unincorporated county areas. I thank the Almanac and the Board of Supervisors for representing all of us working to protect the public's health and watershed by ending this unnecessary toxic risk ! I urge people to contact Caltrans to do the same.