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Business as usual with chemical spray

The perennial controversy over Island County's road spray policy came to a small but combative head on Monday as a local Green Party member asked the Board of Island County Commissioners to cease applying chemicals as part of its $16 million road maintenance program.

At Monday's board meeting, Coupeville resident Theresa Ghandi took aim at Island County Public Work's use of RoundupPro, a glysophate-based chemical herbicide. Her comments were directed at the county's six-year road maintenance program, which has not been finalized.

Herbicide and pesticide application accounts for about $90,000 out of the total vegetation control annual budget of $685,000, according County Engineer Dick Toft on Tuesday.

Ghandi, citing numerous scientific sources, claimed that Roundup has causative links with several human diseases, including lymphoma, penile dysfunction and testicular atrophy.

"It's criminal," Ghandi said in an interview Tuesday. "They are telling people that this stuff is harmless."

While officials in the public works department have been considering the benefits of going with a chemical-free road maintenance program, no major changes in maintenance practices have been implemented.

"There isn't any change in what we're doing," Toft said. "We are going to be reducing a little bit, but this is not a new thing."

This year, the county will stop using the chemical Direx in roadside vegetation management, said maintenance engineer Jack Taylor. The department will continue to use both RoundupPro and Oust, both of which are available in retail stores.

For now, Taylor said, it's business as usual.

"Certainly we've been discussing no-spray," he said. "It's our intent to spray."

Taylor said there are ongoing efforts to cut back on the use of herbicides.

"There are other things that we're doing, obviously," he said. "We certainly are looking at areas where we can reduce the herbicides we do spray, and we recognize no-spray signs."

County sprayers are to exercise caution when applying chemicals near wells, shorelines and wetlands, and in the vicinity of rare and endangered plants.

For Ghandi, who is chemically-injured, such policies are too late. She said she has no doubt that the chemicals used by the county are hazardous to human beings and the environment.

"I'm a pretty smart cookie," Ghandi said, saying she has poured over piles of documents linking exposure to Roundup with human endocrine disruption. She claims that she has given the board of commissioners many of the same documents.

The county has been looking into the possibility of cutting back or even eliminating the use of chemical sprays. Toft said beyond this year's budget, the jury is still out on which direction the county will take regarding its vegetation control program.

"We have budgeted for our normal spray program," Toft said. "We did not budget for the increased cost if we stop spraying and buy mowers."

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