The Bethel to Waterbury, Connecticut high-voltage power lines pass through
part of our farm. The power company's easement was signed by the previous
farmer, Joe Solar, back in the early 1900s. Every five years or so, the
Connecticut Light and Power company, which owns the lines, contracts with a
landscaping firm to manage the vegetation on its right-of-way.
CL&P and I agree on the necessity of keeping trees from growing into their
transmission lines. We do, however, disagree strongly on their method of
choice this year- spraying a chemical which kills all green plants. This
will leave a 25-mile long scar of brown, dead vegetation about as wide as a
football field. Today's toxic substances were unknown at the time the
easement was granted.
The regional arborist visited us ahead of time because CL&P knows that we
can't have any herbicides used on our organic farm, and that we don't want
them to cut down the low-growing, decorative and edible plants on the right
of way here. He couldn't tell me which herbicide will be used nearby,
however, because the "as-yet-to-be-selected low-bid contractor" gets to
choose its chemical weapons from a list provided by the power company.
That a low-bid contractor selects a chemical to spray across this region
based solely on narrow economics is one very big problem. The contractor
will choose an herbicide with a name like "Stalker(R)," or "Vanquish(R)."
Its workers will spray up to 12 feet in the air from backpack tanks.
Raspberries, blueberries, multiflora roses, autumn olives, hazelnuts,
daisies, poison ivy and bittersweet-all will die. Very likely no
distinctions will be made.
Herbicides are usually made up of one or more active ingredients, blended
together with so-called "inert" ingredients. One likely active ingredient
for this job, glyphosate, was created by Monsanto, the same corporation
that developed PCBs. It thought that PCBs were safe, too. Last year,
after six years of effort, the New York State Attorney General got Monsanto
to agree to remove such phrases as "environmentally friendly" and
"biodegradable" from ads for its version of glyphosate called Roundup(R).
In laboratory tests, the National Toxicology Program found that glyphosate
has shown a wide spectrum of chronic toxicity. Between 1984 and 1990,
glyphosate was the third most frequently reported cause of illness related
to agricultural pesticide use in California.
According to its manufacturer, glyphosate herbicide can persist in the soil
for more than four months and may drift up to 400 yards. That amount of
drift on each side of the easement means that the zone of danger for
sensitive plants is one-half-mile wide. Tomatoes, grapes and other
backyard favorites are especially sensitive to this toxic substance.
Herbicide residues were found in lettuce, carrots and barley planted one
year after treatment.
Despite their name, inert ingredients can be even more dangerous than some
active ones. Inerts, often kept secret, aren't even subject to the
inadequate regulations and testing that active ingredients receive. A
report just last month from the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to
Pesticides revealed that over one quarter of inerts are hazardous to public
health and the environment. Some inerts are active ingredients in other
Last year, <I>Consumer Reports </I>revealed that one of Roundup(R)'s inert
ingredients, polyoxyethyleneamine, is acutely toxic. It can cause adverse
gastrointestinal and central nervous system effects, and damage red blood
To have these questionable and dangerous chemicals sprayed across our
towns, without notification except to a few who have made a fuss before,
like us, doesn't seem just. Grass roots groups in North Carolina thought
so, too. They just signed an agreement with utilities there that gives
citizens the right to refuse herbicide spraying.
There are other ways to manage the easement's vegetation. CL&P's arborist
has seen wildflower meadows maintained so that tree growth is inhibited.
Removal of invasive species, encouragement of low-growing native fruit and
nut-bearing plants, and more regular inspection and care could create a
beautiful strip under the power lines which would actually be beneficial to
wildlife and humans. Some at the power company even support this approach.
Unfortunately, when bottom-line decisions which don't include the
environmental, health and aesthetic costs of herbicides, combine with
uninformed citizens, low-bid contractors and poorly-paid, out-of-state
workers, we end up with toxic ugliness.
If you don't want herbicides sprayed in your communities, call CL&P and
your government representatives. Just say no!
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
(C)1998, Bill Duesing, Solar Farm Education, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491
Bill and Suzanne Duesing operate the Old Solar Farm (raising NOFA/CT
certified organic vegetables) and Solar Farm Education (working on urban
agriculture projects in southern Connecticut and producing "Living on the
Earth" radio programs). Their collection of essays Living on the Earth:
Eclectic Essays for a Sustainable and Joyful Future is available from Bill
Duesing, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491 for $14 postpaid. These essays first
appeared on WSHU, public radio from Fairfield, CT. New essays are posted
weekly at http://www.wshu.org/duesing and those since November 1995 are
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