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Alaska's new, lax pesticide rules squash public comment

Becky Long

The Parnell administration is poised to allow poisonous herbicides such as 2,4-D -- used in Agent Orange -- to be sprayed on state highway rights of ways directly in front of private residences without any public comment or public hearings. This is a radical change from current policies.

The new policy ready to be enacted would eliminate the requirement for a state agency to obtain a permit to apply pesticides or herbicides on state lands or rights of way (except for aerial spraying or aquatic application). With no permit needed, there is no public process.

The only requirement would be for the state agency that wants to apply pesticides to write up an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Plan, post it on the DEC website, create a Person in Charge, notify the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC) 15 days before application, and post a notification of when spraying will occur in a local newspaper.

There would be no requirement to identify water bodies or private water wells and sources close to the spray areas. There would be no no-spray buffers for water bodies or drinking water sources beyond what it says on the pesticide label. There would be no review by other government agencies such as the Department of Fish and Game. There would be no posted warning of the pesticide applications on the ground unless it is a school or "public place" (defined in AS 46.03.320(c) as (1) common areas of an apartment building or other multi-family dwelling; (2) that portion of a government office or facility to which access is not ordinarily restricted to employees; and (3) plazas, parks, and public sports fields).

DEC has lost sight of the fact that the public must use state public lands and rights of way as part of normal life in our society, and that people using state lands would be involuntarily and unknowingly exposed to toxic chemicals. Furthermore, state lands are public lands, and the public has a fundamental right to meaningfully participate in decisions on how its lands are used. Eliminating the permitting process takes away these fundamental rights.

The new rules are so lax that they don’t even recognize that some pesticides/herbicides are more toxic than others. As far as ADEC is concerned, all (non-restricted) pesticides, from the Agent Orange chemical 2,4–D mentioned above to the less poisonous Round-Up, would be treated the same under the new rules.

These rule changes represent a sea change in the way pesticide are controlled (or in this case, not controlled) in Alaska. It is ironic, and an insult to the public, that these rule changes are being placed before the public at the very time of the year that folks are out enjoying their favorite salmon stream.... unaware that by this time next year, pesticides may be sprayed to the waters edge of, and migrate into, that very stream.

The proposed regulation changes and associated documents are available at the ADEC website: http://dec.alaska.gov/eh/pest/ The public comment period closes at 5 pm on Aug. 2, 2012. Comments on these rule changes can be emailed to Rebecca.Colvin(at)alaska.gov by Aug. 2.

Becky Long is a former member of the Alaska Railroad Citizen’s Advisory Committee on Vegetation Management.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch. Alaska Dispatch welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.