An Albemarle County supervisor is urging residents to opt out of a Virginia Department of Transportation herbicide spraying program after the public raised concerns last year. VDOT plans to treat rural roadsides with Krenite S between Aug. 26 and Sept. 27.
“There is no safety information [regarding Krenite],” Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said at a recent Board of Supervisors meeting. “How can VDOT jump from that fact to the fact they are trying to create, which says that Krenite is safe?”
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Krenite S cannot be used on cropland or areas with surface water. In addition, the EPA requires protected chemical handlers to be present during the application of the herbicide. Mallek contends that VDOT has disregarded both rules.
“To say that [VDOT] did not spray the river is untrue because they were seen spraying the Moormans River,” Mallek said. “To say that they didn’t spray people is not true because they turned on the spray and filled the car that was right behind them.”
VDOT officials argue that herbicides like Krenite are essential to maintaining safety and good sight lines on roads, and that the department is taking precautions.
“VDOT works within the regulations … for the application of the product,” Joel DeNunzio, the regional VDOT administrator, wrote in a letter to Mallek. “There is no indication that there is a threat to health or the environment when used properly.”
Spraying the chemical to control brush is a cost-saving measure, according to VDOT. Spraying one mile of road shoulder with Krenite costs $195, while mechanically cutting the brush over the same area has a price tag of $1,205, VDOT officials said.
Another advantage of Krenite is that it does not kill entire plants, said Lou Hatter, spokesman for VDOT’s Culpeper District.
“The branches [the herbicide] touches just don’t green up the following year,” he said. “It’s a kind of chemical pruning.”
U.S. 29, Watts Passage, Proffit Road, Polo Grounds Road and Black Cat Road are among the roads VDOT will treat beginning later this month. Residents who want to opt out may contact VDOT at 1-800-367-7623.
“So far, we’ve received a half a dozen calls from people,” Hatter said, but added that none came from homeowners whose properties would have been sprayed.
“The people who called were either not on the roads that VDOT has identified to spray, or their lawns are landscaped and will be automatically exempted,” Hatter said.
One of Mallek’s concerns is that VDOT entrusts its truck drivers with the responsibility to decide which properties qualify as “landscaped.”
“The fellows driving the trucks last year didn’t even know what they were carrying,” Mallek pointed out. Drivers reportedly told some residents that they were spraying the commercial weed killer Roundup.
Hatter said that a system of colored discs would tell drivers which stretches of roadside not to spray.
“VDOT visits the roads ahead of time and marks the properties whose owners have opted out,” Hatter said. “They’re marked with small reflective disks that are red and green. Red tells the truck where to stop spraying and green where to start again.”
However, DeNunzio said in his letter that VDOT would not set up any discs on residential yards and lawns. Instead, it will be up to “certified commercial applicators” riding with the truck drivers to make sure the spray is turned off when they approach a landscaped parcel.
The EPA is collecting more information about the product and is expected to issue a new evaluation of its effects in 2015. Mallek said the lack of testing and data regarding the chemical should inspire caution.
“People do need to pay attention and know that they should do their own research,” Mallek said. “I just want to make sure they know that this is the time to speak up.”