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Issues Of The Environment: Washtenaw Moves On From Herbicides In Controlling Roadside Vegetation

Aug 21, 2019

Natural roadside vegetation
Credit Wikipedia Media Commons / wikipedia.org

The Washtenaw County Road Commission has terminated its use of herbicides in dealing with weeds and overgrowth along area roads.  In this week’s "Issues of the Environment," WEMU’s David Fair talks with county commissioner Sue Shink about controlling roadside vegetation and what is being done to better address the myriad of chemicals that are a part of our daily lives.


Overview

  • The Washtenaw County Road Commission maintains a rigorous schedule to keep roadside brush to a minimum as a manner of public safety and to allow for snow removal and proper drainage.  Part of the clearing method has included regularly spraying herbicides that are approved as “safe” by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  The spraying was set to begin August 1st, 2019.
  • An online petition to end herbicide spraying had nearly 1600 supporters at the time of this report.  The petition lists concerns about the negative impact of herbicide spraying on pollinators such as insects, birds, and butterflies; the fact that the EPA has deemed certain chemicals to be safe only to recall them decades later (Agent Orange was mentioned as an example); and fears that herbicides would migrate onto adjacent private properties that are maintained without chemicals, particularly gardens and organic farms. 
  • Bowing to public pressure, in July, the Washtenaw County Road Commission (WCRC) announced that it was terminating its herbicide spraying program.  The county will now use a combination of roadside mowing and specialized “boom mowing” to keep roadside vegetation in check. 
  • Of particular concern to the petitioners were the herbicides used by the WCRC including, Tordon K, Escort, and NU-Film-IR.  These are synthetic chemicals, which the petition claims “are harmful to humans, animals and insects.”
  • Although the WCRC has chosen additional mowing to maintain the roadsides for now, the petitioners hope the commission will consider planting wildflowers as an alternative to herbicides in the future.  The State of Ohio has appreciated a savings of over $2 million per year so far by replacing mowing with wildflower plantings that benefit pollinators and do not require regular maintenance.
  • Sue Shink, Washtenaw County Commissioner for District 2, represents the District where the petition to end spraying initiated.  She is a lawyer who also raises her own food and has been involved in land preservation issues and served on the HRWC in the past.

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at 734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu