Pesticides rarely used along Guilderland highways, says super

GUILDERLAND — Some residents have been asking, on social media, who has been spraying weeds along the sides of roads throughout Guilderland, reporting seeing brown grass along the sides of state routes 20, 146, and 156, in the areas around guide rails, telephone poles, and road signs. 

The town of Guilderland’s highway superintendent, Gregory Wier, said that the town sprays very little, and only under guide rails, where a mower cannot reach. When the town does this, Wier said, it uses FarmWorks Grass and Weed Killer, which contains 41 percent glyphosate. It has not sprayed at all this year, he said. 

Spokesman Bryan Viggiani of the New York State Department of Transportation said that that agency uses herbicides “selectively,” applying “the smallest amount necessary,” and that it uses only herbicides registered for use by the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation.  A list on the DOT website of the herbicides it approves includes Roundup and a number of other chemicals that contain 41 percent, or in some cases, 50.2 percent, glyphosate.

“The New York State Department of Transportation selectively applies herbicides to enhance motorist safety and visibility as necessary in instances where mechanical control methods would contribute to the spread of invasive species or expose NYSDOT personnel to traffic hazards or injury,” Viggiani said in a statement sent to The Enterprise. 

The statement continued, “NYSDOT only uses herbicides that are registered for use by the State Department of Environmental Conservation, and applies the smallest amount necessary to achieve our vegetation management objectives in accordance with State and Federal regulations. Herbicides are applied by appropriately trained and licensed staff using application methods and equipment that allow them to precisely target undesirable vegetation and reduce drift.” 

Glyphosate, introduced by Monsanto in 1974, is a broad-spectrum crop desiccant and system herbicide. While controversy swirls over its effects on human health, the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer, in 2015, classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic in humans.”

No spray this year

Wier said this week that the town has not sprayed anything recently: “Not this year at all, and I don’t believe we sprayed last year, either.” 

Wier took over as superintendent a year-and-a-half ago, and he doesn’t think the department has done any spraying since then. 

“If we did anything last year, it was just a really specific spot because we had some issues going on,” he said. 

The herbicide that the town uses, when it does spray, Wier said, is FarmWorks Grass and Weed Killer, which it buys locally, at Tractor Supply. 

“The only thing we do, every now and then, is spray the guide rails,” he said. He added, “The guide rails, you can’t mow. It kind of helps control the weeds.” The department can mow in front and behind the guide rails, but not under them. 

They could have an employee cut under it by hand, “but then you have the issue of employees getting poison ivy, and we don’t like doing it that way.” 

“Something we should do with great caution” 

Gary Kleppel is a professor emeritus of biology at the University at Albany. He is a Knox farmer devoted to sustainable agriculture.

“I’m very suspicious of glyphosate-containing products,” he said this week. “At this point, courts are awarding plaintiffs who have been exposed to glyphosate by professional use with large awards for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. So the courts are associating glyphosate with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma,” he said. 

Many papers have been written, he said, on the effects of glyphosate, “even though Monsanto has been rather aggressive in pursuing scientists and researchers to not look into glyphosate; the data are there.” 

There are places where it’s hard not to use some kind of chemical assistance to remove weeds, Kleppel said. “But to expose workers, and to put chemicals into the soil that could travel to God knows where … is something we should do with great caution, and it should probably be avoided if possible,” he said. The subsurface movements of chemicals, he added, are not well understood. 

The village of Altamont tried vinegar-and-epsom salt mixture to control weeds between cobblestones on Main Street and Maple Avenue and then tried weed whackers but had an unfortunate incident in which the tool sent a rock through a car window, costing the village $400. Finally it had a town employee, through shared services, spray in August. The town used Ranger Pro, which contains 41 percent glyphosate. 

Wier clarified that it was an employee of the town’s parks department — not the highway department — who had sprayed at the village’s request. 

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