Some residents of Durham have expressed concern about the town’s use of herbicides, and there’s a growing number of people who would like to see some changes made.
Tina Hurlbert is one of them.
The spraying done by the town, Hurlbert explained, is part of the Road Resurfacing Program, and uses an herbicide on curbs and cracks in order to kill weeds before the road is resurfaced. There’s an exemption at the state level that allows municipalities to spray 10 feet from the curb, onto the homeowner’s property, without any notification. It’s called the rights of way.
The herbicide used is over-the-counter Roundup. Its main ingredient is glyphosate, which studies have shown can kill human cells, and can cause hormone production problems and abnormal fetal development.
During a Board of Selectmen meeting Aug. 11, Public Works Foreman Kurt Bober explained that the town uses Roundup, although municipalities are permitted to use chemicals the average homeowner does not have access to. Also, Bober explained that although the town has the right to spray 10 feet from the curb, they have been using herbicides on the road and the curb during resurfacing, and have not been spraying 10 feet into residential property.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) claims glyphosate doesn’t cause cancer, has low toxicity when used at the recommended doses, and is not dangerous to public health or the environment.
Hurlbert disagrees with that assessment.
“That’s not true,” she said. “Ask yourself who funded the study by EPA or any other organization, who were the lobbyists, who in the government has a vested interest in the study’s outcome. The argument for this issue is that it’s legal, over-the-counter, cheap, and nothing else works. It’s just not true that nothing else works.”
There’s been a moratorium on the spraying, in response to public concerns. Meanwhile, townsfolk are looking to other towns for some solutions, such as Cheshire, which uses organic products for maintenance (fertilizing, pest management, weed management, etc.). Bob Ceccolini, a Cheshire town official, is willing to talk to Durham’s task force, which has been formed to seek safer alternatives to spraying with herbicides.
Diane St. John, who is accredited by the Northeast Organic Farmers Association (NOFA) as an organic land care professional, voiced her concerns regarding herbicides. “As a resident of Durham and an organic landscaper, with a 100 percent pesticide-free property, I was upset when I heard they were spraying on my street,” she said. “My neighbor saw them spraying and asked them to stop, and they did. She told them the lady at the end of the cul-de-sac – that’s me – would be really upset. They were very agreeable, and they stopped when they saw that people were getting upset.
“We have sewer drains on this street that empty into Parmelee Brook, and this will affect the frogs and the tadpoles and the dragonflies. And we all worry about the herbicide getting into our well water.
“I’m grateful to the town for listening to us and agreeing to stop the spraying until more research is done.”
“We know what we need to do,” Hurlbert said. “We need to be forward-thinking and learn from experience so that we don’t make the same mistakes. Durham has a history of ground water contamination (on Tuttle Road and Main Street) and its resulting health implications. The contamination that came from Durham Manufacturing and Merriam Manufacturing continues to leach into the ground water. And everything that Merriam Manufacturing was doing at the time was legal.
“Durham led the way in the state for its use of solar panels. I want us to be in the news again, as leaders in safer toxin-free treatment of our land. And I’m hopeful. There are so many people in Durham who are passionate and knowledgeable, like my friend, Jill Mulvey. She’s a nurse and a medical reference librarian, and she says if weeds and poison ivy are a problem for the town, she’s willing to pull them up by hand rather than be exposed to an herbicide. People are willing to put sweat equity into a cause they feel strongly about.”
Anyone wishing to be part of the task force should contact First Selectman Laura Francis.