June 22, 2018

Herbicide Dangers


Dear Editor,

In response to Flavia Potenza’s May 31st article in the Topanga Messenger: “TCWC Seeks Alternatives to Toxic Spraying in Canyon,” I wanted to take a moment to remind people why we should be concerned about the use of products like Roundup, 2,4-D, and other toxic biocides applied in and around our watershed. Repeated use of these poisons poses unacceptable health risks, not just to our environment, but to our public and personal health. There is a false presumption of safety, and therefore complacency, about pesticides when they “are used as directed.” Yet, study after study points to their hazardous health effects, even if used “properly.” So, which are we to believe—independent, academic research where there is no underlying profit motive creating bias, or manufacturer marketing masquerading as science?

Caroline Cox, staff scientist for the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides (NCAP) summarized the findings of 56 different studies to document the adverse health effects caused by glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup). Her summary found dangerous effects ranging from increased rates of cancer to endocrine disruption, genetic damage, reproductive harm, and immune system effects in plants, humans, and aquatic life.

A 2009 article in Scientific American, “Weed-whacking herbicide (Roundup) proves lethal to human cells,” discussed yet another aspect of herbicide/pesticide safety, that of the so-called “inert” ingredients. The most worrisome inerts are those used as synergists to amplify the killing effects of the “active ingredient.” Scientists at France’s University of Caen found that one of Roundup’s inert ingredients, polyethoxylated tallowamine (POEA), killed human cells, particularly embryonic, placental and umbilical cord cells, even at concentrations much more diluted than those used on farms and lawns. POEA was actually more deadly to human cells than the active ingredient (glyphosate). While Roundup may be public enemy number 1 due to its sheer ubiquity, most other herbicides/pesticides show similarly disturbing effects, due in no small part to the commonality of “inert” ingredients across many herbicide formulations.

Given the above findings, why do herbicides like glyphosate continue to be considered “safe” when compelling, independent studies unambiguously indicate otherwise?

The current herbicide review and registration process stands as a travesty to the public health and must be addressed. Until bias and conflict of interest are eliminated from the herbicide risk assessment process, a precautionary stance must be adopted. If it is not, rates of cancer, Parkinson’s, ADHD, autism and other modern-day epidemics will continue to escalate, decreasing our quantity and quality of life while increasing healthcare costs to unsustainable levels. While failing public and individual health may not capture the attention of our elected officials, the prospect of exponentially higher government costs ought to raise more than a few eyebrows. Please join in the fight for a healthier, toxin-free Topanga. The life you save just may be your own.

— Sincerely,

Carrie L. Carrier


Herbicide Dangers

Swallowtail butterflies are one of the species impacted by the herbicide spraying.

Dear Editor,

I am saddened and angered at the recent and repeated sprayings of toxic chemicals along our main thoroughfare. The stretch between PCH up through the S-curves is important butterfly habitat. What was a lush green gateway in the blush of Spring a month ago, is now an ugly and highly flammable corridor of dead brush.

One of the plants most affected by the poison is the non-native fennel that has become critically important to one of our native butterflies, the Anise Swallowtail. Fennel is a particularly beautiful plant with vivid green, feathery foliage. It smells exactly like licorice and has become one of the main host plants for this butterfly. Adult female Anise Swallowtails lay their eggs specifically on these plants, and some other related species, which in turn, become food for their caterpillars. Poisoning these plants is a setback to these delicate creatures already on the brink.

Intensive human colonization has caused many of their native host plant species to be reduced in number, such as Common Lomatium. Our lands once had many more native plants than exist now, with some areas being completely replaced with fennel and anise. Anise Swallowtail caterpillars can now be seen feeding on non-native fennels, carrots, and similar species. This species has adapted, while many other native insects, birds and other wildlife have not.

Butterflies aren’t just one of nature’s most exquisite creations. They are also important pollinators, like the bees. Like bees, and frogs, they are an “indicator species,” more sensitive than most creatures to environmental degradation, the first to die off. Butterflies are in serious trouble all over the world, with populations in dramatic decline. The amazing Monarch migration has dropped off as much as 90 percent in places in recent years. All around the world, individuals and groups are conducting captive butterfly breeding programs to try and save various species before it is too late. One such program is taking place at Moorpark College to save the Palos Verdes Blue. We are, in fact, losing our butterflies.

I reared Anise Swallowtail butterflies here in the Santa Monica Mountains as a kid 50 years ago when they were plentiful. Fennel was prevalent then, and one could find the dark caterpillars easily on its feathery aromatic leaves. Old habits die hard. While the bigger Western Tiger Swallowtails are plentiful in Topanga, I have not seen an Anise Swallowtail in the wild in many years. I purchased some Anise Swallowtail caterpillars from a collector last Spring and made numerous forays to gather fennel leaves from Topanga Canyon Boulevard, along the area now sprayed, to feed the hungry butterflies-to-be.

Sadly, this stretch is now poisoned. Of course, the consequences of spraying vast quantities of life-altering substances for miles along our creeks has ramifications beyond the butterflies impacting our entire watershed, the bay, the fish, the birds, and ourselves. Some may wonder what the fuss over a few butterflies is all about.

To me, a world without butterflies is unthinkable.

— Bill Buerge