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By Shirley Murtha
At the Aug. 7 meeting of the Granby Board of Selectmen, resident Marge Goslee requested that the town look into the Public Works Department’s use of the herbicide glyphosate (RoundUp) to control roadside vegetation. She noted that it is being sprayed on the vegetation on the bridges over various town streams and brooks, thereby entering the watercourses where it can cause harm to the animal life as well as good vegetation and presumably eventually make its way to residents’ water sources. Goslee remarked that the town was very proud back in 2009 to be the first in the state to use organic land care, but that the current use of this herbicide cancels that designation.
Having already been made aware of the situation through the letter sent by Goslee to him and several town commissions and organizations, Town Manager Ward replied that Public Works Director Kirk Severance said that the DEEP approves the use of glyphosate as long as the person applying it is certified for that job and assured that was the case for Granby. Ward noted that he would be looking further into the matter.
As residents become aware of the issue, concern is mounting. Several of them attended the August 21 BOS meeting to speak to the matter. Goslee reiterated her concerns and added that a letter from the Farmington River Watershed Association implored the town to reconsider the use of glyphosate. Especially as it applies to use on the bridges over water, it is not known how it combines with road salt and vehicle oil, perhaps exacerbating its effect.
Goslee noted that the town’s Plan of Development and Conservation has as one of its goals to protect our watershed. She quoted from a state report that said we don’t yet know the long-term effects of the chemical, but evidence is mounting that it is appearing in products that lead to concern, such as some of our foods, including ice cream.
Other residents who spoke in favor of discontinuing glyphosate use included Bobbie Sullivan, who in addition to noting the harmful environmental effects, said that the treated areas are not at all attractive. Jim Glenney remarked that studies have shown that glyphosate has detrimental effects on humans, animals and insects, especially the pollinators. He quipped that once the public, particularly the organic gardeners, hears about this issue, the town hall meeting room will be full. Al Wilke added the anecdote that recent visitors from Colorado questioned the dead vegetation over the bridges, saying it looked truly “ugly.” “Let’s find another way,” said Wilke.
Town Manager Ward said that his research has shown that some studies indicate glyphosate is not unsafe. Regarding fish, one report says it is “practically non-toxic.” A study of its wide-scale use in Midwest farming, however, showed a deleterious effect on monarchs butterflies.
Severance (who was praised by Glenney and Wilke for his otherwise excellent leadership of Public Works) reported that Granby and other neighboring towns began using RoundUp last year as it is a cost-effective way to clear specific areas of unwanted vegetation. Spraying it takes one-tenth the man hours needed for manual removal.
Since the spraying is completed for this growing season, no action was taken at this time. Selectman Sally King noted that “DDT and PCBs were once thought to be a good thing,” and called for a committee to be formed to study the issue. The board unanimously approved. Mark Neumann said that there might be some specific places where glyphosate could be permitted, but limits were needed. Ed Ohannessian noted that Granby prides itself on being an agricultural town, with many following organic practices. “We should be on the forefront of stopping the use of RoundUp even though other towns may still use it,” he said. Having a career in risk management, First Selectman Kuhnly said this issue definitely falls into that protocol: “let’s find another product as effective but less toxic.”
Residents who would like to be on the glyphosate study committee should contact Jim Lofink (860-810-0274), Mark Neumann (860-978-4808) or the Town Manager (860-844-5300).