Chemical spraying by State threatens health, environment and wildlife along Texas highways

Chemical sprays by State highway workers cause concern for residents of Texas Hill Country. (Photo by Jack Dennis)

 

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Is the Texas putting the health of children, wildlife, the environment, and water supplies at significant risk with chemical spraying in favor of special interest groups?

When nutritionists, scientists, and researchers from many other countries, or those in American not influenced by special interest groups, questionable politics, or powerful agricultural-chemical companies are asked, the answers are frightening.

If if the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDot), Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, CEOs or spokespersons from chemical corporations, related contractors, and even some involved–and possibly influenced– in politics and academia are asked, the response will be standardized with well-prepared answers indicating ‘no.”

A real Texas cowboy, Terry “Tex” Toler, was traveling in his truck in the Hill Country on Highway 29 from Llano to Kingsland and few years ago and noticed something out of the ordinary. Trees alongside the highway not far from the Llano River appeared to be dying with abnormal rotting on some branches. A minute later, he noted more failing trees “along a creek crossing, a few hundred feet from the Llano River.”

Folks around the area of Buchanan Lake and Inks Lake are particularly sensitive to anything that might do harm to their surroundings. Not only because of health, but because of the famous “Texas 29” nesting bald eagles  that roost there each fall and winter.

Eagle near Lake Buchanan, Texas.

Just weeks before, Dale Schmidt, a Texas Park and Wildlife Department wildlife technician, discovered that the pecan tree the male and female eagles use to set up their nest had buckled over.  Speculation was the rotting tree and high winds were the culprit.

Toler, from Llano, called a TxDOT office after he noticed most of the trees impacted appeared to be near the shoulders and greenway next to the highway.

“The TxDOT official to whom I spoke explained that this is called ‘Chemical Pruning,’” Toler recounted. “I asked the purpose, and he explained that the poison defoliant used is targeted only on the branches to which it is applied, to kill the branches in order to make it easier to mow the right of way under the trees.”

“The over spray killed everything it fell on, the runoff–especially alongside every creek and draw on which they sprayed–carried the spray into the Llano River, cattle tanks, and would seep into the aquifers,”

“I noted that even with the leaves gone, it takes oak trees years for the branches to rot and fall off, so even without leaves, the branches would remain,” Toler continued. “The branches would need to be cut off to improve mowing access. The TxDOT official acknowledged that, and added ‘yes, we will return and remove the branches.’”

Concerned, Toler “mentioned that not only was that doubling the work, adding the expense of the poison defoliant, but that the poison also affected the health of the trees.”

“The over spray killed everything it fell on, the runoff–especially alongside every creek and draw on which they sprayed–carried the spray into the Llano River, cattle tanks, and would seep into the aquifers,” he observed. “To this he had no response, other than to suggest that complaints can be made to the TXDOT regional offices where the chemical pruning is taking place.”

Texas Hill Country is a haven for wildlife. Photo by Jack Dennis

The Llano cowboy’s concern quickly spread across the Internet. It was obvious the unease of using chemicals to ‘prune” branches reached far beyond the Texas Hill Country.

A vegetation company chemically pruning in states like Arkansas, Kentucky, and even in Texas was the target of comparable complaints. The Auburn, Alabama based company, Roadside, was dismissed or settled with local officials in these cases according to contract details.

Roadside CEO Corey Craig was quoted in a Daily Independent newspaper in Kentucky stating the company uses “a broadleaf herbicide that is produced by Dow AgroSciences, a subsidiary of the Dow Chemical Company.”

According to Craig, the Environmental Protection Agency, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and TxDot, this herbicide is approved to use, if used properly. In their 2013 guidelines, TxDOT lists Roundup PROMAX as the approved herbicide for this “vegetation management.” Brazos County, Texas contract specifications requires “Oust plus Roundup” in their first round of spraying, which continued through December.

Nearby Lake Buchanan is popular tourist attraction for families. Photo by Jack Dennis

Records reviewed by News Legit show that 41 “Local Let Maintenance Contracts” for mowing along local highways totaled $6,746,918.71. In Brazos County, where Texas A&M students, and residents in and near the College Station-Bryan area were complaining about the spraying, Roadside was to be paid $107,000 to spray a maximum of 120 miles according to the contract.

Texas officials and the contracted chemical applier’s standard response to citizens with concerns is that these chemicals will not kill the trees and are harmless to fish, livestock and bees. They usually site responses to defend the use of the herbicides:

The herbicide glyphosate, is the active ingredient of these approved herbicides, “can be used safely with no harm to humans, pets or wildlife when applied properly.”

Medical studies and journals globally dispute this assertion. Glyphosate, found in many genetically-modified (GM) food sources, has been linked to cancer, birth defects, DNA damage, autism, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other neurological disorders.

The company that conducts the safety tests for the EPA, Monsanto, is also the manufacturer of Roundup and GM seeds. Particularly troubling are the donations to politicians from Monsanto’s Political Action Committee, also known as the Monsanto Citizenship fund. The Center for Responsive Politics showed donations to many U.S. politicians the past decade including $3500 to Charles Stenholm (D), $3000 to Henry Bonilla (R), $1000 to Randy Neugebauer (R), and $1000 to Mike Conaway, from Texas.

“Glyphosate is allowed to be present in 160 different food items according to the EPA and is also in our water supply at levels that are many times higher than what has been scientifically proven to cause breast cancer and damage to the health of animals,” writes Moms Across American (MAA), a national coalition of ‘Unstoppable Moms.’

“We have seen the paper by Samsel and Seneff, the report from Dr. Swanson, and studies by Dr. Thongprakaisang which links glyphosate to cancer, autism, allergies, autoimmune disorders, ADHD, COPD, Parkinsons and Alzheimers,” noted MAA.

 

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