Monday, November 17, 2014

Irrational, Anti Chemical Fears Drive Bad Press in "Ecological Crime"/ Aquatic Herbicide Case

Why not follow up our post from a few weeks ago with yet another example of the irrational fears of herbicide use, this time in an aquatic setting.  Around the same time as our blog posting, "The Responsibility of PFPs.....", we saw yet another case of the general public and their intense fear of things that they don't necessarily understand.  Treatment of nuisance aquatic plant species in Buckley Dunton Reservoir in Becket, MA have lead to claims of an "ecological crime" which led to the "sterilization of life" in said Reservoir.  The Berkshire Eagle brought us the breaking news on October 10th...

Before we wade too far into this (pun intended), lets take a look at the facts to investigate this crime:

  • Buckley Dunton Reservoir (aka Lake) is a 160-acre water body. 
  • Herbicide treatments were performed in an 8-acre cove (5% of the lake’s surface area).
  • The cove supported nuisance growth of aquatic plants, dominated by bladderwort and watershield.
  • Hydro-raking, a mechanical means of management, was tried in the past with limited success and considerable cost.
  • The treatment was intended to thin-out weed growth and increase open-water habitat. 
  • One treatment of diquat and two applications of fluridone (both registered aquatic herbicides) were performed.
  • Application process covered by required state permits and performed by licensed and experienced aquatic applicator
So back to this claim of sterilization.  Was this an observation of local or state agencies?  How about an individual researching the lake's aquatic communities?  No.  The newspaper chose to go with a local homeowner named "Carl", hopefully because (as we are going to generously infer that) the two former were unavailable.  Carl concludes that "All forms of life appear to have been killed off" in his home lake after the herbicide application took place.  That is extremely interesting, for if we back pedal to our facts above, the treatments only occurred in a very small (less than 5%) portion of the Lake.  Furthermore, the two products used are labeled for control of the two nuisance species mentioned and have few, and short lived water use restrictions following application not to mention that rates used for control of these species are WELL below label rates.  So why exactly has the lake been "sterilized"?  Was this a carefully planned survey of aquatic organisms in the Lake, or simply a peep over the edge of his dock on a tuesday morning....I surely hope someone asked Carl for his data sheets...  

You will notice that the reporter also mentions dogs who swam in the "tainted water" in the days following herbicide application.  ".....people reportedly took their dogs swimming in the pond immediately after the chemical treatments." says Carl.  We sure wish Carl would have taken a look at the product labels again here as Diquat simply requires no swimming during actual application, and Fluridone has no swimming restriction whatsoever.  We shall await an update on the status of the dogs from this reporter, but given that no "new" news has arisen since the initial article, I assume that our furry friends are currently just fine.  

Yet another week has passed and another example of PFPs (Pesticide Fearing Peoples) in the news.  In the past week however, another article came across our desk that surprised us a little courtesy of the blog, Soapbox Science.  A chemist by the name of Dr. Joseph A. Schwarcz spoke out in 2013 in the blog entitled "The presence of a chemical is not the same as presence of risk".  Schwarcz is a world renowned chemist  who has received numerous awards in his field and currently serves as the Director of McGill University's Office for Office for Science and Society (this is one of the types of folks that the Berkshire Eagle should have thought of, perhaps after interviewing "Carl").  In the blog, Schwarcz discusses the use of the word "chemical".  We'll leave you with an excerpt from this blog and sincerely hope you take the time to read it, hopefully following a critical review of the Berkshire Eagle article.  

"...“Chemical” is not a dirty word. Nor is it a synonym for “poison” or “toxin.” Chemicals are the basic building blocks of all matter and classifying them as “safe” or “dangerous” is inappropriate. But of course there are safe or dangerous ways of using chemicals. In any case, chemicals are not to be feared or worshipped, they are to be understood. And perhaps the most important point to understand is that the presence of a chemical does not equate to the presence of a risk...."  

For the entire newspaper article from the Berkshire Eagle, click HERE

For the blog posting featuring Dr. Schwarcz, click HERE

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Stay tuned for more from the AERF Update:  the latest in aquatic plant management, science, and innovation!

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