Ashfield residents form group to fight herbicide use

  • Delta Carney of Ashfield has led efforts to protest Eversource’s use of Roundup surrounding high-voltage power lines. She is part of a newly formed group called People Against Toxic Herbicides (PATH). STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 8/22/2019 1:30:21 AM
Modified: 8/22/2019 1:30:11 AM

ASHFIELD — Local activist Ken Kipen is no stranger to the battle against glyphosate, a chemical found in the herbicide Roundup.

In 1998, Kipen waged a fight against the state for spraying glyphosate on highways near Ashfield. He said he was successful in preventing its use in certain areas for a few years.

“It keeps coming back like a bad dream,” Kipen said. “The state will back off and then come back a couple years later when they think nobody’s going to mind it.”

This June, glyphosate, a herbicide that has been the subject of thousands of lawsuits alleging its link to cancer, has resurfaced in the local public consciousness again — and Kipen has rejoined the fight. The issue re-emerged in June when Ashfield resident Delta Carney read a notice by Eversource in the Greenfield Recorder about its plan to spray Roundup, among other herbicides, to eliminate vegetation near high-voltage power lines in more than 30 Western Massachusetts communities. Carney disseminated the information to neighbors, and many, like Kipen, responded with concern — and action.

Last month, a new group, People Against Toxic Herbicides (PATH) was created to protest glyphosate, drawing about 35 neighbors from Ashfield, Buckland, Conway, Shelburne, Plainfield and Goshen. The group has had three meetings so far, and intends to hold a fourth on Sept. 11 at 7 p.m. at Belding Memorial Library.

On Tuesday morning, five PATH members convened at Elmer’s Store to discuss their plans. They said the group would address glyphosate first before moving to other herbicides. And while the group does not have a singular goal yet, its members agree that glyphosate has not received an adequate scientific evaluation by the government, calling the Environmental Protection Agency’s studies dated and biased.

“What we’re interested in is getting beyond anecdotes and really being able to find out, what’s the truth here,” PATH member Mollie Babize said. “The pesticide review board is basing their measures on science that is decades old.”

The members said Eversource had failed to tell them exactly where the company intends to spray chemicals. They expressed some concerns about the herbicides running into bodies of water like Ashfield Lake and harming animals.

Jody Hall, another PATH member, likened the protest against glyphosate to Ashfield’s fight against the Northeast Energy Direct gas pipeline. She said the pipeline battle was a lesson in corporate greed, one she will take into this battle against herbicides.

“We really got a good education in corporate America and the kinds of lies that large corporations put forward,” Hall said, “to cover the fact that there are things that are harmful to the safety of the citizens of the communities that we live in.”

Thad Bennett of Conway noted that the same company that owns glyphosate, Monsanto (recently acquired by Bayer), also manufactured the insecticide DDT that was banned for its adverse human health impacts by the EPA in 1972.

“It’s greed,” Bennett said. “They don’t want there to be a problem.”

Since it registered glyphosate in 1974, the EPA has maintained that the herbicide does not cause cancer. However, the World Health Organization reported in 2015 that glyphosate may be carcinogenic.

The EPA is currently reviewing the human health and ecological risks of glyphosate, with the a public comment period on the matter extended to Sept. 3. Its interim decision in April said that “the EPA continues to conclude that exposure to glyphosate when used according to the label does not result in human health risk.” However, the EPA received a slew of comments in this period that oppose glyphosate, including 56,583 submitted by members of the Natural Resources Defense Council urging the EPA to restrict “toxic glyphosate.”

Massachusetts does not perform “in-state” studies itself, but relies on findings by the EPA, according to a state Department of Agricultural Resources official. In its most recent online summary of glyphosate, published in 2011, the department claims that the herbicide does not have any health risks for humans. It does indicate, though, that the herbicide “is toxic to some species of fish,” but says evidence of its impact on animals is “insufficient at this time.”

A few regional legislators paid attention to glyphosate last month following concerns raised by Ashfield residents. State Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, Rep. Natalie Blais, D-Sunderland, and Rep. Mindy Domb, D-Amherst, spoke to state Department of Agricultural Resources employees in July to learn more about how glyphosate is studied and registered in Massachusetts. After the meeting, Comerford said she thought the state should assess the risks of glyphosate separately instead of relying on the EPA’s findings.

Separately, two pieces of legislation were proposed by state lawmakers this year to restrict or ban glyphosate. One bill, filed by state Rep. Carmine Lawrence Gentile, D-Sudbury, would ban the use of glyphosate across the state. Meanwhile, a bill submitted by state Sen. Jason Lewis, D-Winchester, would prohibit the use of glyphosate on public land without a license after Dec. 31. Another bill filed by state Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro, would give cities and towns the right to adopt restrictions for herbicides.

Anyone interested in PATH is invited to attend its next meeting, set for Sept. 11 at 7 p.m. in the Belding Memorial Library. Email for details.

Reach Grace Bird at or
413-772-0261, ext. 280.

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