The Futility of Roadside Spraying

Theresa Peluso

In 2016, when Lanark County began its campaign to eradicate wild parsnip, it included Martin Street North on its list of roadsides to be boom-sprayed.  The County boom-sprayed the same street again in 2017, and yet again last year. After three consecutive years of boom spraying, wild parsnip populations in this part of Mississippi Mills have remained unchanged.  Last August, far beyond the 12-foot reach of the herbicide truck, countless acres of wild parsnip danced in the breeze, completely unfazed. Was spraying really the success that the County proclaimed?

It seems Mississippi Mills has been so taken with this “success” that it is replacing its previous policy of mowing with spraying. In fact, this year Roads and Public Works has allocated $80,000 of our taxes to boom-spray both sides of a total of 27 km of roads and spot-spray a total of 10 km of roads.

Besides just squandering this money, there are serious concerns about roadside spraying.  Organic farmers fear contamination of their fields with herbicides and loss of their organic certification.  Although they will opt out of having their stretch of roadside sprayed, the danger of wind-drift and operator error is always present.  The livelihoods of our beekeepers are also at risk. Mass destruction of all roadside plants with herbicides will deprive their bees of important sources of nectar and pollen.  Besides, roadside spraying further degrades our ecosystems and puts even more species at risk of extinction.

ClearView, the herbicide being used for spraying, has been tested, but only by the manufacturer.  No independent certification has been done. The two main chemical components, aminopyralid and metsulfuron, were tested individually, but not together, or in combination with the adjuvant, Gateway.  This adjuvant, which contains highly toxic aromatic petroleum distillates, is used to improve dispersal of the herbicide. The long-term effects of ClearView are also not known.

Following ClearView’s appearance on the market, subsequent testing by independent bodies has confirmed its persistence, especially in water.  If manure, hay, compost or grass clippings with the slightest trace of aminopyralid or metsulfuron are used as soil amendments or crop cover, they will contaminate the crop being cultivated.  Furthermore, given the prevalence of fractured bedrock and wetlands in our municipality, and the fact that the water in our roadside ditches ends up in our waterways, this persistence in water will jeopardize the safety of our drinking water and the health of aquatic organisms.  It is also not known what the long-term effects of ClearView are on human health, especially when added to the many tonnes of pesticides currently being used annually by conventional farmers. It would stand to reason that chemicals designed to kill a living organism are toxic to people as well.

Then there is the problem of weed resistance. There are now 36 known Roundup-resistant weeds globally, 4 of which are present in Ontario. A dozen weeds in Ontario have developed a resistance to other herbicides, such as 2,4-D, atrazine, paraquat, linuron, and ALS.  ClearView is classed as both a Group 2 and Group 4 herbicide, which means that a weed developing resistance to a Group 2 or 4 herbicide already used on a farm can accelerate its resistance as a result of exposure to ClearView.

The effectiveness of spreading herbicides on our roadsides is at best doubtful, and the toxicity of this herbicide is clear.  Why take the risk? Let’s spend our taxes on educating the public on how to deal with wild parsnip, just as we’ve learned how to avoid poison ivy, and how to prevent Lyme Disease by checking for ticks.  In the meantime, we can mow unwanted weeds before they set seed, and tarp them or pull them out, taking precautions to wash off with water any parsnip sap that comes in contact with our skin. The $80,000 is better spent on useful tasks, like keeping our ice-covered roads and sidewalks safe to navigate.

If you share my concerns, please write to Guy Bourgon, Director of Roads and Public Works (gbourgon@mississippimills.ca) and to our Council, care of the Clerk, Jeanne Harfield (jharfield@mississippimills.ca).   More information on this issue can be found on the Friends of Lanark County website (friendsoflanarkcounty.ca).

See County Council agenda item