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No-spray advocates take fight to state

Opponents of roadside herbicide spraying pack the Island County Commissioners’ meeting on Monday.  - Rick Levin
Opponents of roadside herbicide spraying pack the Island County Commissioners’ meeting on Monday.
— image credit: Rick Levin

For opponents of chemical spray in Island County, victory is ironic and bittersweet.

Just as no-sprayers celebrate the county’s recent decision to eliminate the roadside use of herbicides in vegetation management this spring, along come the state trucks this week, laying down such commercial sprays as Oust, Round-up and Direx 4L.

The irony? May has been declared “Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Awareness Month” by Gov. Gary Locke.

No-spray advocate Lori O’Neal, who was instrumental in lobbying the Island County Commissioners for a stoppage of herbicide use, called the governor’s declaration a “huge deal.” She said it was equally momentous that Island County finally discontinued its own policy of chemical spray.

“It’s a real blessing to be able to drive the side roads now,” O’Neal said on Friday, adding that she can largely avoid the sprayed-upon state highway. “It’s the first time since 1998 that I’ve had a healthy spring.”

O’Neal, who lives in Clinton, is chemically-injured. She is registered as such with the state Dept. of Transportation, which must notify her whenever spraying occurs. Despite this policy, she called the state “the worst offenders”; last year, she said, state road crews started spraying in May and didn’t finish until October.

“Last summer I was so sick,” O’Neal said. “I had one healthy week.”

A state press release dated May 15 said that “comprehensive spraying is complete on SR 525 and... crews are almost finished on SR 20.” After the work is complete, crews will continue “spot spraying” to control weeds along the highways.

Coupeville resident and Green Party member Theresa Gandhi said she has been in contact with state officials, taking them to task for what she believes is excessive herbicide use. Gandhi added that she advocates a complete halt to the roadside application of any and all chemicals.

“The chemicals they’re using are endocrine disruptors,” Gandhi said Thursday. Many doctors and scientist believe such chemicals can have harmful affects on the reproductive health of various organisms, including human beings.” Gandhi contends that governments ignore such evidence and continue to spray.

“Since they don’t consider it a danger, they’re not going to tell anybody it’s a danger,” Gandhi said.

O’Neal said that the folks who succeeded in convincing the county in going no-spray will now take their fight to the state.

“It’s a huge victory to have the county stop spraying,” O’Neal said. “Now we definitely need to keep working at the state level. I know our highways all over the state are being sprayed right now. We’ve already been overdosed with this stuff.”

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