NStar, persevering in its bad neighbor policy, in late August publicized a list of the next victims of its herbicide spraying of plants in its power lines right-of-way. All Cape towns have officially objected to this practice, along with all our legislators, but the virtually universal condemnation falls on deaf ears.
NStar and the relevant state agency claim the herbicides are harmless—that they either won’t actually make it into the groundwater or won’t be harmful if they do. Groups such as a Pocca (Protect Our Cape Cod Aquifer) and GreenCape claim they will.
But hold on. A number of towns –Barnstable, Bourne, Brewster, Chatham, Edgartown, Falmouth, Harwich, Orleans, Sandwich, Tisbury, and Oak Bluffs—were on the list to be sprayed last year. What’s been their on-the-ground experience? Surely the water supply was tested after the spraying to determine its effect. Doesn’t that settle the controversy about whether we have to worry about those chemicals or not?
What? No testing has been done? Apparently not, according to Sue Phelan of GreenCape and Paula Champagne, Health Director for Harwich, one of the towns sprayed last year.
Just because the herbicides haven’t migrated to wells yet is, I suppose, no guarantee that they won’t. Testing for several years would seem to be prudent. But wouldn’t you think potential victims, the towns and the citizens of the towns, would be curious to know what, if anything, is already showing up in their drinking water?
Champagne says that the usual cheap household water tests would not pick up these chemicals. She says it’s a complicated (and expensive?) process and neither Harwich nor any other town has in fact done the testing. She suggested getting in touch with the Cape Cod Commission or other county-wide agency to see if they had done or planned to do anything.
I asked Wellfleet’s health agent: Since our town told NStar not to spray, what do we intend to do about the company’s announced intention to spray anyway? Nothing that she knows about.
Which leaves one to wonder what’s happened to the resolve to protect the water supply?
I hadn’t heard the voice of Wellfleet’s Audubon Sanctuary in this controversy. I had just assumed they were part of the anti-spraying chorus. I emailed Bob Prescott, Sanctuary director, who sent me Mass Audubon Society’s official position in the form of a letter from the Society’s director of public policy to the state agency and to NStar. It’s a less than completely reassuring stance, asking NStar to be careful in making decisions about both herbicides and mechanical foliage control techniques. The latter, according to the letter, are harmful to local endangered species.
In asking for a reduction in both sorts of control of foliage and reminding us that we are not the only species affected by NStar policies, Audubon in effect gives the company more fuel for its argument for supplanting traditional ways with chemicals.
I emailed Prescott to ask if our local Audubon could make a definitive demand that NStar not spray but he said he must abide by the state policy statement. “Mechanical harvest…kills state listed species if it isn’t done right….The use of an herbicide well away from a wetland may never get into our water supply. Those are the issues that need to be balanced and planned for.” “Tough call,” he concluded: endangered humans vs. other endangered species. Tough call, indeed.
The herbicides “may never get into our water supply.” That rather important question again.
Couldn’t we, shouldn’t we (we in the form of the Cape Cod Commission, for instance) get a court order to halt the spraying until somebody tests the effect on last year’s target towns?
That NStar is going ahead spraying more towns before there is an answer about the towns already sprayed seems irresponsible in the extreme. That towns and citizens are not more curious seems strange indeed.