Chemicals may do more harm than good in waterways
The decision to put chemical pesticides into our waterways should be considered very carefully. Pesticides such as 2,4-D, which was applied last month in Lake Pend Oreille and the Pend Oreille River, are linked to detrimental health problems such as endocrine, neurological and reproductive disorders and cancer.
The recent article “Chemicals dispute plagues milfoil battle” (Handle Extra, Aug. 23) brought to light some aspects of the debate about the use of pesticides to control Eurasian water milfoil.
However, the article failed to cover three salient points: new information on pesticide law and regulation, multiple factors affecting the status of milfoil in the Pend Oreille waterways this year, and demonstrated negligence by Bonner County and the herbicide application contractor Aquatechnex. (“Pesticide” refers to several groups of chemicals, including herbicides, fungicides and insecticides. The federal ruling on pesticides will affect the use of all of the above listed chemical groups.)
As ruled in federal court this spring, the Environmental Protection Agency is again required to regulate pesticides as pollutants under the Clean Water Act, but was granted two years to implement the program. For the last few years only, pesticides have been creatively exempted from regulation as a pollutant because they ostensibly serve a useful purpose. This loophole allowed millions of dollars of taxpayer money to be spent on putting toxic chemicals in the Lake Pend Oreille system with little or no oversight from the EPA. The use of 2,4-D was suspended in certain areas outside of Idaho last spring as a result of a lawsuit to help species protected under the Endangered Species Act. With threatened bull trout in the Pend Oreille system, care should be taken to ensure that no harm is done to them. No studies have proven that 2,4-D is safe for bull trout. The pesticide application process was fraught with negligence this year. A large garbage bag full of empty Sculpin G 2,4-D bags was found at the boat launch at Trestle Creek, one of the most important tributaries for bull trout in our region. This is not proper disposal, according to the chemical label.
Chemicals were sprayed in the direct vicinity of anglers, who were not advised to leave the area during spraying. Spraying continued while workers traveled both up and down the river, causing concern about chemical loading reaching dangerous levels at the downstream end of the site. Chemicals were applied in the direct vicinity of Sandpoint’s City Beach, despite assurances that there would be designated “herbicide-free swim areas.” While some credit may be given to the chemicals for the reduced milfoil in the lake this year, evidence is spotty. Maps presented by Bonner County weed control staff show that some areas of milfoil have been killed by the pesticides and others have not, even after repeated applications. We do know one thing. There is relatively no milfoil this year in the Lake Pend Oreille system in less than 12 feet of water. Last winter the lake level was drawn down that far, and there was a deep freeze before any insulating snow had fallen. Consensus of people engaged with this issue in Bonner County is that these environmental factors significantly reduced milfoil growth this year.
Because of the reduced milfoil acreage this year and the relatively sparse growth of the weed, we had the perfect opportunity to plan for the future and ask for funds to be allocated to long-term, nontoxic control measures. If we don’t get it together sooner rather than later at the local level, the federal government surely will tell us what’s best come springtime in 2011.
Reach Jennifer Ekstrom by e-mail at jennifer@lakepend oreillewaterkeeper.org.