Residents who live near near long-unused railroad tracks in Haddam are upset about annual herbicide spraying that was recently conducted by a state-contracted company. As one neighbor says, "all our wells are on this side of the road, meaning very close to the tracks" and might be in direct contact to those chemicals.
The tracks are currently owned by Connecticut and leased to Valley Railroad Company.
Residents like Kenneth Gronbach and Ed Munster question why herbicide is being sprayed on tracks that "haven't been used in 40 years."
Karl Wagener, Executive Director of the Connecticut Council on Environmental Quality, says that the council has spent considerable time last year (2010) reviewing the railroad’s practice of spraying herbicides after the concern was brought to them by some of those neighbors.
In a letter to a concerned citizen, the council stated their findings:
“You asked, in effect, why an herbicide...is being sprayed on sections of Valley Railroad track that have not seen trains in 40 years. This question led the Council to inquire if there is a necessity to spray...the Valley Railroad (tracks) that do not receive train traffic."
The council determined that "the herbicide sprayed this year (2010) is a combination of glyphosate isopropylamine salt (once sold as “Round-up”) and sulfometuron (sold as “Oust”)." The same chemicals, according to the council, are being used again this year.
The Materials Safety Data Sheets for these chemicals indicate a "low risk of human toxicity, low risk of carcinogenicity and low risk of groundwater contamination." Those herbicides are registered for this use by the state and federal governments.
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) requires that vegetation located on or immediately adjacent to the railbed needs to be controlled. As cited by the FRA, this regulation is in place for the "prevention of fire damage to track-carrying structures and prevention of interference with employee’s duties and proper signal functioning." The tracks are required to be sprayed, even where trains do not regularly run, by law.
Maintenance vehicles travel the tracks, and, according to the FRA, "allowing trees to grow through the tracks causes permanent damage."
The Council also determined that the contractor who applies the herbicide "is properly licensed by the state and the applicators for the spraying direct the spray downward rather than outward from the right-of-way."
The council is continuing to look into this matter and claims that they "never support the unnecessary spraying of pesticides," but it could not find any information that counters the FRA’s directive to control vegetation along all lines. Fortunately, the council states, "the herbicides sprayed this year are common, well-regulated and have short lives in the environment."
The Department of Environmental Protection’s pesticides unit reportedly had a person on site this week, taking samples to verify the content of the spray. The council has asked for a copy of the DEP’s report when it becomes available.
Residents are also upset that they are not notified when spraying is scheduled and, instead, notify each other when they see the trucks out spraying to keep off the tracks. Concerns are heightened in light of the recent passing of a neighbor of "an unexplained liver disease" who "walked her dog daily along the tracks."
When Gronbach took his camera out to document the spraying, he was told to "keep away, it's not safe to be out here now."
Under state law, the state and railroad companies are both exempt from the law that requires abutting landowners to be notified of pesticide applications.
The Valley Railroad Company, which runs the Essex Steam Train, has not returned calls for comment as of this publication.