Ashfield group heading to State House for hearing on herbicide use

ASHFIELD — On Monday morning, Delta Carney of Ashfield recalled the haze of pesticides that were sprayed to kill mosquitoes in the 1950s.

At the time, “the companies (that made pesticides) and government agencies (said) ‘Don’t worry about it, it’s all safe,’” Carney said.

DDT is now listed by the Environmental Protection Agency as a probable carcinogen. The pesticide was banned in 1972, a decade after Rachel Carson’s book, “Silent Spring,” activated widespread public concern about pesticide use.

“That was my first experience in life (understanding) that the government is not always the best (informed),” Carney said.

Today, Carney and other members of the organization People Against Toxic Herbicides (PATH)-Ashfield are feeling pesticide déjà vú.

Instead of DDT, the chemical at the forefront is glyphosate, which is found in herbicides like Roundup.

PATH-Ashfield will meet Thursday night, 7 p.m. at the Belding Library, to finalize arrangements for a trip to the State House on Tuesday, Nov. 12, to attend a hearing where the use of glyphosate will be discussed. Both Thursday’s meeting and the trip to Boston are open to the public.

Other organizations are coordinating trips to the hearing, like the Massachusetts chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) and the Berkshire Environmental Action Team. Four bills that would ban or limit the use of glyphosate will be discussed during the hearing of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture.

“(Two of the four bills) range from banning it statewide to returning power to local communities,” said PATH member Mollie Babize in reference to a bill (S.447, H.776) that would allow municipalities to establish their own rules about glyphosate.

The remaining two bills would update the list of prohibited chemicals used on school grounds and child care centers (H.791) and would allow glyphosate to be applied in state-owned parks and facilities only if the pesticide would abate an immediate threat to human health or the environment (S.499).

Globally, Roundup has been at the center of thousands of lawsuits, many of which allege that glyphosate caused non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In 2019 alone, Bayer, the company that owns Monsanto, the maker of Roundup, has been ordered to pay over $2 billion to plaintiffs in California.

What’s driven many PATH-Ashfield members is their concern about herbicide spraying along power lines by Eversource and other power companies.

“We’re at the intersection here between the energy and the pesticide industries,” said fellow PATH member and Ashfield resident Judy Hall.

“(Glyphosate) is being applied and affecting (everyone), our water, our (environment),” Babize said. “I think the precautionary procedure (should be), first do no harm.”

Carney said she spoke with Eversource contractors who spray herbicides and was shocked to learn that their contracts specify that if vegetation regrows the next year, contractors must spray again for free.

Eversource spokesperson Priscilla Reis confirmed, “We work closely with the contractors during the initial . . .  herbicide application and re-inspect those areas the following year to make sure we had the intended results and vegetation control. If something was missed, the contractor is required to return and do the work at no cost.”

PATH-Ashfield member Ken Kipen has prepared remarks to testify at the Nov. 12 meeting, which also touch on his history of activism against Roundup spraying in Western Massachusetts. In 1998, Kipen and other activists achieved an exemption from the state’s spraying of Roundup west of Worcester. (This was before spraying was contracted out, Kipen said.)

For PATH-Ashfield members, their activism in this and other issues has shown them that their efforts can be successful.

“I came from a perspective that I was powerless,” Hall said. “I learned that we do have this power, but we have to get together (to wield it).”

For more information, contact Delta Carney at delta0406@hotmail.com.

Reach Maureen O’Reilly at moreilly@recorder.com or at 413-772-0261, ext. 280.

Author: Going Green

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