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Aerial Spray Threat of Dangerous Chemical Cocktail in Alaska
Carrie James from the Alaska Native Sisterhood is angry. She is angry because the traditional lands of the Haida and Tlingit indigenous peoples in Alaska are under threat from aerial spraying of a dangerous cocktail of herbicides. The land of Carrie’s ancestors is still used by Carrie and her people for fishing, hunting, berry picking, for collecting medicinal plants and basket-making materials. On March 1, 2006 a timber company called Klukwan Inc. obtained a permit from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to spray these herbicides for forestry management over 1,965 acres of private land on Long Island, Alaska.
Carrie James says “How does the DEC definitely know that the combined chemicals won’t have harmful effects on our salmon streams, traditional foods, or children?” Joining Carrie in her anger against the DEC and Klukwan are 46 organizations from Alaska . More than 900 concerned people, including the city of Hydaburg which is the closest community to the area of proposed spraying, sent in comments to the DEC opposing the spraying. Less than 1% of the comments DEC has received on this permit have been in favor of it.
The chemicals in questions are Accord (a trade name for the herbicide glyphosate), Arsenal (a formulation of the herbicide imazapyr), a surfactant for easier spraying called Competitor and a drift inhibitor named In-Place. Pamela Miller of Alaska Community Action on Toxics (ACAT) says that, “Neither the Environmental Protection Agency nor DEC has tested or studied how the four chemicals may affect people, fish, the environment, or wildlife when mixed together”.
According to opponents of this spray permit, DEC has ignored credible scientific information showing that the two herbicides proposed for spraying – glyphosate and imazapyr – have adverse human health effects, and the agency has little scientific information about the other two chemicals Competitor and In-Place. [i]
Extensively peer-reviewed scientific articles prove that glyphosate – the active ingredient in Accord- causes birth defects in human babies, and has caused genetic damage to human cells in lab tests. Studies of farmers and other people exposed to this chemical have shown a link to increased risks of cancer, miscarriages, stillbirth and attention deficit disorder. [ii]
Imazapyr – the active ingredient in Arsenal – is corrosive to the eyes and skin and can cause irreversible eye damage. This chemical persists in soil for over a year and even small amounts can seriously damage rare plant species. [iii]
The DEC has also ignored credible scientific studies presented by biologists of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services showing that the active ingredient in the chemical Accord adversely affects fish at low concentrations causing gill and liver damage. [iv] Long Island salmon fishermen are very worried about the impact of this herbicide on salmon habitat.
The drift from aerial spraying is also troubling the spraying opponents. Studies of aerial spraying have shown that 41% to 82% of glyphosate applied from helicopters moves off the target site. [v] Scientific studies provided to DEC show that pesticides sprayed from helicopters can drift from 100 meters to 50 miles. However, the state’s regulations established so-called ‘pesticide free zones’ of only 35 feet from marine waters, lakes, and salmon streams and minimal buffer zones of only 200 feet around known drinking water sources. [vi] This has obvious disastrous implications for the safety of the area’s drinking water sources and aquatic life.
Spraying opponents point out that the operation is purely for Klukwan Inc.’s profit, at the expense of the environment, indigenous culture and human health. Carrie James, Grand 2 nd Vice President of the Alaska Native Sisterhood says, “Because the spraying could be a direct threat to our subsistence way of life, one of the most basic human rights of a people could be violated. That is the collective (or group) right of a people not to be deprived of its own means of subsistence.”
The indigenous people opposing the spray permit have proposed alternatives to the use of aerial application of herbicides. These include manual removal of the alder and salmonberry plants that are the targets of the aerial herbicide sprays. This will not only minimize environmental contamination but also provide jobs to the people of the area.
An environmental planner for the Hydaburg tribe, which is 80% reliant on subsistence foods, emphasized the significance of this spray permit: “Multiply this possibility of aerial spraying by X amount of corporations and their land holdings. Saying yes to Klukwan opens the doors for many others.” [vii]
When Klukwan Inc. was issued a spray permit in 2005, they faced the outrage of Alaskans who demanded a hearing from the DEC. As a result, Klukwan Inc. relinquished the permit. After making a few cosmetic changes to its application, the corporation finally obtained an aerial spraying permit from DEC on March 1, 2006.
The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, acting on behalf of a broad based coalition of environmental activists, indigenous peoples, health professionals, and fishermen, is requesting an adjudicatory hearing before DEC regarding Klukwan Inc’s spray permit. If this permit is approved, it will set a precedent and open the floodgates for other companies that want to spray pesticides aerially in the pristine wilderness of Alaska . We have to act now to stop this. The DEC is accepting public comments until May 3 rd on the request for the adjudicatory hearing. Join us in urging the DEC to grant the hearing and STOP AERIAL SPRAYING IN ALASKA!
[i] Miller, P. 2006. Aerial Pesticide Spraying Talking Points. Accessed at http://www.acat.org (April 14, 2006)
[ii] Cox, C. 2004. Herbicide Factsheet- Glyphosate. J. of Pesticide Reform. V. 24, no.4.
[iii] Cox, C. 1996. Imazapyr Fact Sheet. J. of Pesticide Reform, V.16, no. 3.
[iv] Miller, P. 2006. Pesticide permit jeopardizes health. Accessed at http://www.acat.org (April 14, 2006)
[v] Freedman, B. 1990-91. Controversy over the use of herbicides in forestry, with particular reference to glyphosate usage. J. Envir. Sci. Hlth. C8 (2):227-286, cited in Cox, C. 1995. Glyphosate Part 2: Human Exposure and Ecological Effects. J. of Pesticide Reform, V.15, no. 4
[vi] Alaska Community Action on Toxics. 2005. Say No to Aerial Spraying of Toxic Pesticides, Threatened: Human Health, Salmon, Clean Water. Accessed at http://www.acat.org (April 13,2006)
[vii] Bigsby, K. 2004. Klukwan first to apply for herbicide permit under new state law. Chilkat Valley News, V. XXXIV, no. 14, cited in Parker, V. 2005. Forestry Herbicides Threaten California ‘s Forests and Native Cultures. Global Pesticide Campaigner, V. 15, no. 1, based on.
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