Citizens alarmed at trucks spraying herbicides in Western Albemarle

Residents along Sugar Hollow Road in White Hall were alarmed to see trucks spraying chemicals along the roadside Thursday morning. Albemarle County Supervisor Ann H. Mallek received multiple phone calls from her constituents, some of whom followed the trucks and questioned the drivers.

Mary Anna Dunn was leaving her driveway along the Moormans River with her son and daughter.

“I saw ahead of me two trucks, one had big sign saying ‘Do not pass,’ and the other was spraying a liquid to the right of the truck,” said Dunn. “It was going up very high above the truck spraying all of the vegetation.”

“They pulled to the side for me to pass, and I asked what they were spraying,” Dunn said. “The men said, ‘Roundup, it’s harmless.’”

That would apparently be a surprise to the Virginia Department of Transportation, the agency that reportedly contracted the spraying.

“These reports appear to be inconsistent with the work we have contracted to be performed,” wrote VDOT district administrator James S. Utterback Friday in an email to Mallek. “The spraying operation that is contracted calls for using Krenite, which is a brush-control agent. This is a very low-toxic product that only affects the foliage that is sprayed, not the entire plant. It is a common maintenance practice to spray this product to prevent vegetation canopies from overtaking the road.”

Mallek briefed members of the Crozet Community Advisory Council about the spraying at their monthly meeting Thursday evening at The Meadows. She encouraged citizens to report truck sightings to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Liza Fleeson is the VDACS program manager in the pesticide services office. Fleeson she was unable to provide specific information on the matter, but did confirm that VDOT does apply pesticides in their right-of-way.

“This office certifies pesticide applicators … and we investigate complaints and concerns,” Fleeson said. “We don’t collect pesticide-use information, so I couldn’t tell you what VDOT was spraying or when.”

National news has raised public awareness of pesticide applications in Dallas related to mosquitoes and efforts to control the West Nile Virus. Mallek said multiple constituents told her that at least one of operators said they were “spraying Roundup to control mosquitoes.”

“I didn’t know what it was,” said Dunn about the trucks near her home. “I thought it might be insecticide like the spraying in Texas.”

Mallek said it was “ridiculous” that the operators could think an herbicide was being used to combat mosquitoes.

“This has me concerned about the training of the applicators,” Mallek said. She also expressed concern about the methods being used to maintain area roads and potential impacts on Albemarle’s rivers and streams.

“I think that spraying the right-of-way on the ground and under the guard rails is much different than spraying a fog eight feet into the air and into the yards,” Mallek said. “There were people in their yards that got covered with this stuff. There were people following these trucks that got exposed.”

Dunn says she applies Roundup sparingly in her own yard. However, she said she’d like to be informed if the state is going to spray any weed and grass killer along her property and the river.

“My concern was for people along the road, and somebody went by on a bicycle,” Dunn added. “When I learned it was Roundup, I was extremely frustrated and concerned.”

“I’d like to know they are doing things in the most effective and least environmentally damaging way and that they inform us in advance they are doing in,” Dunn said.

Mallek said her inquiries and those of the residents would lead to an investigation beginning next week by the VDACS. Utterback also promised a quick review by VDOT of the contractor’s work.

Mallek said if the chemical was actually Krenite, she wants to learn more about the potential risks.

“Anytime chemicals are used, people need to be notified through local government or through signs,” Mallek said.  “There should have been a sign on Sugar Hollow saying what would be applied because there are people that would take actions to protect themselves.”