Don't Believe Everything You Read about Forest Chemical Use

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), January 13, 2011 | Go to article overview

Don't Believe Everything You Read about Forest Chemical Use


Byline: George Ice

In a Dec. 20 guest viewpoint, Day Owen, founder of the Pitchfork Rebellion, raised several concerns about aerial applications of pesticides in the Coast Range of Oregon. I'm a forest hydrologist. For more than three decades I have studied how to protect water quality and minimize off-target movement of forest chemicals. I'm concerned that the public will accept Owen's list of concerns as facts without seriously considering their merits.

Owen argues that conditions in the Coast Range are conducive to toxic fog formations that can enrich sprays by several thousand fold. In reviewing key literature, the actual reference to enrichment is between the aqueous (fog droplets) and air phases. While Owen cites "increased toxicity in the respiratory system," the literature specifically states that "from a human health viewpoint, residues of individual chemicals in fogwater probably do not pose a significant risk."

A second concern is Owen's statement that "in certain conditions herbicides drift more than 20 miles off target." Significant drift is generally a matter of feet, not miles.

Today's forest applicators use drift reduction technologies that include large drop sizes, minimum application heights consistent with safety, global positioning system technology, weather restrictions, the use of half-booms, and other techniques to minimize drift. Under unusual conditions, a minute amount of drift can occur for extended distances, but this is rare and is not at levels sufficient to cause damage.

Two studies were found in Washington state that indicated long-range drift of herbicides. Both were decades old, and neither reported applicable data that showed drift (one was a modeling exercise and the other used spray technology not used in forestry).

The Spray Drift Task Force was singled out for criticism. The SDTF was a monumental effort undertaken by chemical companies at the request of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The models and validation monitoring cost approximately $25 million and used previous models developed with support from the U.S. military and the U.S. Forest Service.

Contrary to Owen's comment, eight of the SDTF studies used helicopters. The use of tracers rather than "real herbicides" provided essential information on the physics of drop settling velocities needed to model drift and deposition patterns. …

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