WAYNE COUNTY, PA — Small signs with black letters line the roadside along State Route 652 between Narrowsburg, NY and Beach Lake, PA. They contain two words only: “No …
WAYNE COUNTY, PA — Small signs with black letters line the roadside along State Route 652 between Narrowsburg, NY and Beach Lake, PA. They contain two words only: “No Spray.”
Most New York State drivers probably think the signs refer to pesticide spraying done to control gypsy moth, spotted lanternfly, or emerald ash borer populations. In fact, they refer to herbicide spraying done to inhibit vegetation growth surrounding guide rails and signposts—places highway department tractor-operated mowing machines can’t easily reach.
Bill Fives of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) explained the reason, the timeline and the process for spraying or, if local property owners so request, the reasons and process for not spraying.
“There are several beekeepers in that stretch of Route 652,” said Fives. “The spray can be harmful to individual bees as well as to their hives. As a gardener myself, I understand the tremendous importance of bees in agriculture. We at PennDOT respect the wishes of beekeepers and others who prefer that we not spray their property.”
The No Spray campaign was begun by Darbytown beekeepers Greg and Sis Paparella who had the signs printed for themselves, fellow beekeepers and neighbors with their own reasons for not wanting their properties sprayed. “I don’t know if the PennDOT spray will harm our bees, but it is known that herbicides, in general, are detrimental to bee health, making them more susceptible to disease and parasites. Mites are a particular parasitic threat to bees in this area,” said Sis.
Because bees travel between two and three miles to do their vital work, all property owners in the vicinity of hives, not just beekeepers, may opt to forego spraying. “That would be of great service to the bees, who make no distinction between beekeepers’ properties and that of their neighbors,” said Sis.
Farmers also commonly seek to protect their livestock. Horses, cows, goats and sheep can all be harmed by ingesting vegetation sprayed with herbicides and by drinking from ponds into which spray has drifted. For obvious reasons, pet owners and parents of young children share the farmers’ concerns.
What’s in the spray? “We use two chemical formulations. One is aminocyclopyrachlor,” said Fives.” Developed by DuPont in 2010, aminocyclopyrachlor is classified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a systemic, persistent herbicide most commonly used to control weeds in rights-of-way and on golf courses. The EPA has found it inappropriate for use in gardens. This class of persistent herbicides will kill a tomato plant at a concentration of one part per billion and will negatively impact many other garden plants. Its widespread use as an herbicide by hay and straw producers makes it increasingly likely that cow and horse feed, bedding and manure will be contaminated with it.
Fives went on, “The other chemical formulation is glyphosate.” Glyphosate is a synthetic herbicide patented in 1974 by the Monsanto Company, and is now manufactured and sold by many companies in hundreds of products around the world. Glyphosate is best known as the active ingredient in Roundup-branded herbicides, and the herbicide used with “Roundup Ready” genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The use of glyphosate has skyrocketed around the world since the introduction of crops genetically engineered to be Roundup Ready (resistant) in 1996.
In 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans” after reviewing years of published and peer-reviewed scientific studies. An association between glyphosate and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma has been sufficiently documented to permit the success of numerous class action lawsuits against Monsanto.
According to the Honeybee Conservancy, “A growing body of research shows that over 40 percent of insect pollinators are highly threatened globally, including our native bees. Pollinators are responsible for nearly one in every three bites of food you eat. At the same time, 40 million people in the U.S. live in food-insecure households.”
The conservancy urges everyone to do their own part in aiding and abetting bees. Herbicides and pesticides are a major cause of bee deaths as they wreak havoc on bees’ sensitive organisms. Everyone should avoid treating plants with synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, herbicides and neonicotinoids, which are especially harmful to bees (www.thehoneybeeconservancy.org/bee-the-solution). Glyphosate, in particular, has been shown to reduce beneficial gut bacteria in honeybees, leaving them more vulnerable to pathogens, parasites and premature death.
When and how often is spraying done? “That varies. In suburban counties, it’s routinely done once a year. In more rural areas, Wayne County among them, it’s usually done once every two years. In both cases, it’s done in late spring, normally between the beginning of April and the end of June,” said Fives.
How do PennDOT road crews know where to spray and where not to spray? “We ask that a ‘No Spray’ sign, supplied by the property owner, be posted at each end of the affected property. The spray nozzle will be deactivated from the first sign to the second.”
Can anyone who owns land adjacent to a state-owned highway submit a “no-spray” request? “Yes. It can be done by contacting us at PennDOT. I can be reached by phone at 570/963-4016 or by email at wfives@PA.gov. We ask in return that property owners making the request take personal responsibility for keeping guide rails and signposts on their property free of weeds and other undergrowth that might otherwise obscure signs and overtake guide rails. Two elderly ladies in one of our counties have done their own weed whacking for years.”
Wayne County PennDOT, 984 Texas Palmyra Hwy. Honesdale, PA 18431, 570/253-3130 (phone), 570/253-7372 (fax).