Opinion

SOUNDOFF: Spray dispute is a fight for life

I have never been so proud of my Island County community as I was April 8 in Coupeville at the State of Washington Department of Transportation “consultation” regarding the Highway 525/20 herbicide spraying.

Every person who spoke did so eloquently, informed by personal experience, knowledge of science and economics. Every person was firmly applauded by other members of the community whose applause, including several standing ovations, was an important contribution. Personal experiences included those of chemically sensitive people whose lives had been profoundly altered by confrontations with chemicals. One who was able to make it to the meeting spoke sitting down with the assistance of a portable oxygen unit.

As the meeting progressed, the tension built between a community trying mightily to make an impact on the DOT representatives and the DOT representatives stubbornly defended their “Zone 1 spray policy” on the basis of “safety,” illustrated by the tragic death of an employee killed two years ago by a vehicle while mowing. DOT representatives (identified by their badges) could be seen shrinking and physically hiding behind large posters, and by carrying on private conversations showing their disregard for the community, while the leading spokesperson of the DOT took an enormous amount of heat from the community for the DOT policies, procedures, and violations of the law.

Then Beverly Graham spoke and described for these gentlemen (there were no women) their behavior as quite like bored and insolent teenagers being called on the carpet by parents. After that, a couple from Camano Island spoke of their reasons for opposing the spray and pledged $50,000 to WEAN to use in whatever way WEAN found appropriate to get the attention of the DOT, including a lawsuit against the DOT. And get the DOT’s attention they did.

Suddenly the energy changed. Chris started looking at people as they spoke. The hiders straightened their spines, stopped their private conversations and moved out from behind the posters. Although the DOT continued to defend, they were more respectful.

Unfortunately, toward the end of the meeting, upon examination by some very astute members of our community, it came out that what was going on was that the hearing on the record had happened some years ago, and the evening's event was but a “consultation” in which the DOT was gathering brownie points for fulfilling a statutory obligation and had no intention of considering anything other than “solid science,” i.e. scientific studies (known to be funded by the chemical industry) or conducted by the U.W. (whose departments are known to survive on chemical industry grants), for the proposition that the chemicals used in the spray are “not harmful,” despite the DOT’s own publications to the contrary, acknowledging the carcinogenic propensity of these same chemicals, and despite the DOT’s lack of any information on the cumulative or synergistic effects of these chemicals over the years or with the gallons of toxic chemicals applied to each and every power pole and leaching out into the ground every few hundred feet all up and down Highway 525.

Anyone not present missed a fine example of the dedication of people like Marianne Edaine and Steve Erickson, leading the community in a David and Goliath confrontation which may, just may, benefit the community. With such effort, community participation and perseverance, Island County may get the attention of the DOT and may, just may, be able to accomplish an herbicide-free zone for the entire county. The community has already turned the heads of the three solidly Republican county commissioners and achieved an herbicide free zone designation for all of the county roads.

This confrontation is about truth, accountability and public health. It is literally a fight for life. Let us hope that the fight is won before more of our numbers become chemically injured and fighting for their lives on a daily basis.

Jane Seymour lives in Freeland.

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