Road kill: VDOT spraying ignites controversy

The controversy over the Virginia Department of Transportation’s plan to spray herbicide on Albemarle County roadsides continues to churn as the spraying dates— August 26 and 27— loom closer. Leading the fight against the chemical herbicides is Albemarle County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Ann Mallek, who is pushing county residents to opt out, citing a lack of research into the chemicals used and their possible adverse effects on human health and the environment.

“The chemical, Krenite S, is designed for remote places and industrial roadways and timber properties where they want to kill any competing brush,” says Mallek. “[VDOT] is unwilling to mow the branches on the side of the road anymore because it costs too much and decided to spray poison all over the place instead.”

Mallek was alerted to the use of roadside herbicide spraying last summer when a constituent called her, concerned that a VDOT truck was spraying something on Sugar Hollow Road, where he owned land, and also near the Moormans River. The driver of the truck allegedly told the landowner that he was spraying Roundup to kill mosquitoes.

“That was a big red flag to me," says Mallek. "I don’t know why the driver said that, but it was concerning because Roundup is for plants, not mosquitoes. And it was right by the river."

Mallek tried to get answers about the incident from VDOT, which, she says, ignored her for six weeks until the contract was complete, then responded saying that for citizens to receive notification about herbicide spraying, all she had to do was ask. Frustrated, Mallek requested an investigation by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services into the qualifications and behavior of the truck drivers conducting the spraying, but, she says, after several months, investigators concluded that the drivers had acted according to regulations. Though Mallek disagrees with the finding that the drivers had done nothing wrong, she says there was one positive outcome from the situation. 

“The result of this exchange was that citizens would receive notice [of spraying] and be allowed to opt out,” Mallek says. The resolution mandating that citizens be notified of all spraying was passed unanimously by the Board of Supervisors last fall. In accordance with the resolution, VDOT announced their plans to spray this summer via press release on July 26.

With this summer’s herbicide spraying just around the corner, Mallek is hoping that residents along the spray route will decide to opt out. VDOT will mark land designated "opt-out" with small red reflective signs signaling the contractor to stop spraying.  

While Mallek sees the opt-out option as a step in the right direction, she'd like the herbicide spraying eliminated entirely. But Lou Hatter, a spokesperson for VDOT, says the worry over the safety of the herbicide is unnecessary.

“This is a federally approved product; it’s been used in accordance with all the label directions, and it is being applied by certified herbicide applicators," he says, noting that VDOT contractors "follow all policy and label requirements. It is something that has been done across Virginia for many years.”

In an email exchange between Mallek and Joel DeNunzio, the residency administrator of the VDOT Charlottesville residency, DeNunzio also vouches for the safety of the herbicide and competency of the herbicide applicators.

“Krenite S is not to be applied to food or feed crops," DeNunzio wrote. "The contractor is directed to cut the sprayer off when crossing streams or near enough to a pond or crop to actually spray it.”

According to the product label warning, land on which Krenite S has been sprayed can not be used for food growing until a year after treatment.

The email also sheds some light on why spraying herbicide is preferable to manual trimming— at least from a budget standpoint. According to DeNunzio, the cost of brush spraying one mile of highway shoulder is $195, while the cost of mechanical cutting is $1,025.

Mallek, however, isn't swayed by the estimated expense.

“I think they could trim more significantly with the machines and do it less frequently," she says. "Also the cost [VDOT] is giving doesn't take into consideration possible damages or the real costs for the water and people potentially affected," Mallek says. "There is zero data about use around people."

While Mallek may be the most vocal opponent of spraying, she is not alone. She says several county residents have already told her that they have or plan to opt out of the herbicide spray on their properties. And even people who don't own land along the spray routes are concerned. Betty Mooney, a city resident and avid gardener and birdwatcher, is worried about the effect the herbicide may have on the ecosystem.

“This spraying could kill our honey bee population,” Mooney says, citing a study by University of Maryland and federal agriculture researchers that was reported in the Baltimore Sun on July 26. “It’s important that our community know about this and try to minimize it because it affects all of us.”


They should use Roundup instead. It's safer at least.

I read the warnings about this from the manufacturer instructions and it sounds like it is not to be used where it could possibly get into the water and where anyone could breath it so I would say there is a legal case to be made that it cannot be sprayed on any road that is not closed to traffic until after all the spraying is complete. I agree that the intended use seems to be well off road and not for suburban road maintanace.

I have an idea... why not road gangs? They could take people with 6 months left, let them work for peanuts and earn a days credit for a day worked with a mandatory 5 year sentence if they flee or smuggle anything onto the prison.

We could relieve congested prisons, give them a little going back to life on the outside money and teach them a work ethic.

How do we opt out?

Yes, if this isn't supposed to get in waterways then what does VDOT think is alongside every rural road? Ditches, which carry water away to waterways. And I think VDOT has a lot more confidence in their contractors than I do. We should get our elected representatives involved in this, let's cut weeds and not poison them and us.

I believe a court injunction might be obtainable, all the more compellingly so if it is in fact being used in areas that the chemical itself admits it shouldn't be used. Shouldn't have to opt out from illegal and dangerous, harmful gov't practice. In Nelson County, Apco used dilute Agent Orange for power lines back in the late 70's until a suit was filed -- then they started simply clear cutting. More jobs, less horrible pollution.

Since when is Anne Mallek an expert in pesticides or road maintenance? This EPA approved product has been used for decades, even applied from aircraft along power line right-of-ways with no reported problems. Licensed pesticide applicators, by law, have to follow the label directions. If there is mishandling, then there is an issue. Otherwise this is just neighborhood hype. Tall weeds along neighborhood roads are dangerous too. Let VDOT handle the road right-of-ways.

Sure, Henrietta. The EPA approved the use of diluted agent orange in the 70's -- bet you'd still defend that -- and other chemicals subsequently found to be super bad. And how do you know this product in question has been used for decades in neighborhoods -- or decades period -- much less used without harm to animals, people, riverways, etc. It's own instructions apparently warn against some such uses. Bravo for Anne Mallek! Someone not buying the stupid line cited above by Henrietta. There's always a Henrietta around to say, "oh, it's harmless, I bathe in it daily and look at me."

Cville reader2. You're pretty brave to harshly judge other people's comments, but not brave enough to put your real name up. I happen to be an expert in pesticide application for about 40 years, an environmentalist, and keep the UVa grounds green and safe. ...and you?

pesticide applicator for 40 years AND environmentalist? The two don't go well together. Tell us then, honestly, how long did you apply that diluted 2,4-D (agent orange) back in the 70s and tell everyone how safe it was.

Here's the MSDS for Krenite S.

24/D is not Agent Orange. That is the problem with people today. Most people are uninformed and have an opinion that is simple wrong.

The biggest problem I see is the MSDS says "Prevent material from entering sewers, waterways, or low areas." It seems like a reasonable assumption there are ditches or storm drains beside the roads VDOT is spraying, so where does the spray wind up? In streams and rivers.

Hey, Mr. Jaspermtn. I didn't write "24/D". I wrote 2,4-D -- which is one of two main components of agent orange. The other equally bad. I a bit know about agent orange -- and its dioxin by-product. Do you? Anyone interested in the truth, just google 2,4-D (will come up as agent orange).

Thank you, Huh Zuh, for providing that site with info (and cautions and unknowns) we can all read.

Agent Orange was safe also at one time .

Dear Hook commentators,
I am surprised at the large percentage of you that are ignorant of the facts and are quick to judge those that try to show you the other side of an issue. Perhaps you could read something more educational than The Hook once in awhile and maybe factual information pertaining to the subject you are commenting on. Good luck.

I don't claim to be an expert but I do have eyes and ears and a memory. How many pesticides/herbicides have been deemed safe over the years and later found to be harmful?

Dominion Power used herbicides to kill wildlife attracting plants on my property that I had nurtured for 30 years. I hate Dominion Power.

J.M. Henrietta:
You're a snot. Have a nice day.

I also don't have a lot of confidence in VDOT contractors. I'm sure most are ok but a contractor works for a private company and has an extra level of insulation from the taxpayers who ultimately pay his salary. IMO we need state employees doing state work.

J.M. Henrietta, you are the one that put your "credentials" here and truly if you had them would know that many, many chemicals have been deemed safe and later pulled for causing harm. I suppose you believe the GMOs out there are perfectly safe too? And The Hook is one of the better papers in this area and I believe many here (thought sometimes we disagree with one another) read far more than you obviously have.

I think what JM Henrietta posted was very reasonable. It's just he believes what his training and DuPont tell him, and I'm just more skeptical of both the chemicals and the fact that contractors are doing the work. Cutting weeds and brush has little or no environmental impact, and nothing washes into the streams, rivers, and ocean.

"The driver of the truck allegedly told the landowner that he was spraying Roundup to kill mosquitoes."

Did the driver speak english

Get goats.

I knew as soon as I heard about this that it was going to blow up into an Organic Lemming Envoroidiot Chemicals Are Evil Circus of Hilarity. Viva la Kudzu!

Wait, ya'll let me get some popcorn...

OK, ga'head.

LOL Charlottesville residents - don't pay attention to anything in High School, then become experts about everything 30 years later, having learned absolutely nothing in that time. Keep on railing against all those scary things like pesticides because they make you feel icky inside, that's the ticket to a well thought out set of decisions.

@Ron --you work for VDOT perhaps? If not, perhaps you might consider the some super cheap land deals over in Japan in an area called Fukishima where you'd enjoy living. Great job opportunities. Kudzu came from there. No Lemmings. Oh, yes, should you ask, Japan is a country in Asia. You'll have lots of "hilarity." And bring your popcorn; it'll pop without a stove. How great is that!

Gotta do something to keep everything from turning to jungle in this fever swamp environment. Might be a good idea though to bring back chain gangs in force and cut that stuff back with hand tools. Maybe hire them out to private property owners as well to help defray costs.

Saw contractor trucks spraying in Louisa county today. They were just driving along, no signs or anything.

OOOOH, that one came right at me! I could almost smell his Birkenstocks. I love 3D!

Just googled “cville reader2”. Holy Sh!tsnacks Girlfriend!

Turn off the Internet, roll up the Cheetos bag, take a shower and GO GET LAID! You are wound up WAAAY too tight. There's someone out there who'll love you hon, you just gotta keep looking.

*munch, munch, munch, sip....*

Hey, all sounds good, yeah, yeah, cheetos -- even if I only post sporadically on Readthehook. But thanks so much for your concern. Really touched. Missed out on the Birkenstocks craze, but glad you like my post enough to google me, except for the creepiness. You've wisely chosen to put too little in your name to allow one to return the favor (well, actually, I haven't tried -- not quite that interested) -- but sounds like you've been smoking the pesticides a bit much.