Whatcom OKs use of roadside weed killer for one year

Crews spraying weed killer along Whatcom County roads will continue to use the main ingredient in Roundup for at least one more year.

The County Council decided on Tuesday, June 9, to continue spraying the Roundup ingredient glyphosate at a time when the chemical is getting more negative attention. The World Health Organization earlier this year determined glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

The council renewed its vegetation management plan Tuesday with no significant changes for one more year. The renewal is typically good for about two years, but council decided it wanted to revisit its use of glyphosate before then.

Council is waiting for a report expected later this year from the Environmental Protection Agency, which is conducting a routine update of the risks that come with exposure to glyphosate. For now, the EPA is out of sync with the WHO, saying the herbicide is “not classifiable as to human carcinogenicity” due to a lack of evidence.

The WHO has a lower threshold than the EPA for labeling a chemical “carcinogenic.” Of 983 activities, chemicals and other things reviewed by the WHO, only one was labeled “probably not” carcinogenic, according to a New York Times report.

Council member Ken Mann led the council’s decision to unanimously approve the management plan, glyphosate and all.

“I have looked into this a lot, and I’m willing to approve this one for this year and revisit the glyphosate-specific issue once that EPA report comes out,” Mann said.

Mann noted that the county had reduced the amount of glyphosate it uses by 90 percent since 2002. The quantity used throughout the unincorporated county in all of 2014 was about 30 gallons.

“I think there’s some people in my neighborhood who use that on their lawn every year,” Mann joked.

Residents criticized the county in 2014 over its use of glyphosate, citing scientific evidence of the herbicide’s harmful effects that isn’t universally accepted.

The council reviewed its glyphosate policy last year at the public’s request. Coming out of that review was a county staff presentation to council on Tuesday about the handful of counties in Washington that have a no-spray policy along roadsides.

Staff members emphasized the same point they made a year ago, that nonchemical means of controlling weeds costs about five times more per road mile than spraying.

About 300 of the 941 miles of road maintained by the county are no-spray zones, primarily Lake Whatcom, Lake Samish, Lake Padden, Lummi Reservation and Lummi Island.

Reach Ralph Schwartz at 360-715-2289 or ralph.schwartz@bellinghamherald.com. Read the Politics Blog at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog and follow him on Twitter at @BhamPolitics.