DPW officially warned for violations in poisoning of poison ivy

Above: Carl Guyer, a member of the Conservation Commission, posted to YouTube his own personal observance of areas sprayed in Town this summer.*

This summer, the Department of Public Works sought to eradicate poison ivy along Southborough roadways. According to the state, the spraying as conducted violated environmental laws. Last week, the DPW was issued an official “Letter of Warning” by the Mass Department of Agriculture Resources.

The letter warned that the Town failed to follow correct procedures for using the herbicides.

In July, the DPW responded to residents’ complaints about the rash inducing weeds by spraying Round Up Quick Pro in areas around town. Carl Guyer, observed the “browning of Southborough” by Public Works and lodged a complaint with the state.*

As Guyer told me, Round Up is a “biological disrupter”. He asked me to share the MassDAR letter for residents who might purchase the weed killer for personal use:

let this warning lettering from the Department of Agriculture serve as notice to the danger this product can create.

Guyer’s complaint was initially filed with MassDEP which forwarded it to Mass DAR as having jurisdiction. That agency looked into the issue, questioned Public Works and followed up with the warning letter.

Prior to the state inquiry, the DPW had already “ceased” spraying in response to a warning by the Town’s Conservation Commissioner, Beth Rosenblum. Rosenblum had been following up on instructions from the Conservation Commission, of which Guyer is a member.

Members of the commission voiced concerns about spraying they observed at their July 27th meeting. From the minutes:

Several members reported on observing the after effects of weed killing herbicide spraying along streets and roads near wetlands and/or environmentally sensitive areas near the reservoir, with one member stating he witnessed a town DPW vehicle spraying out from the passenger side of the truck. Commission members identified a number of roads where they witnessed the spraying or after effects: Middle Road near the reservoir, Parkerville Road, Highland Street, Woodbury Road, Woodland Road, Atwood Road, Mt. Vickery Road, and Richards Road. The Commission instructed Ms. [Beth] Rosenblum to contact Ms. [Karen] Galligan at the DPW to inquire about a vegetation management plan, licensing of staff, what
compounds were being used and what methods were being followed as it does not appear that standard herbicide protocols were followed. Commission members wanted the DPW to be alerted that prior notification is required, wetlands and private wells need to be identified, with the review and approval of a formal vegetative management plan for the spraying.

On August 3rd, Guyer lodged his complaint with the state. On August 9th, a MassDAR agent visited the DPW to conduct an inspection. The agent was informed that spraying had stopped after Galligan was informed by Rosenblum of the procedures violation. The Letter of Warning included some details, but left some holes. I followed up with Galligan for more information.

Although the letter refers to spraying done by a specific employee, Galligan (the DPW Superintendent) asked me to leave his name out of it. She confirmed that the spraying was authorized by her in response to “numerous” resident complaints about poison ivy along walking routes. She specified

The employee with our commercial spraying license got a work order to spray for poison ivy in certain areas, due to complaints. I expanded the request to do under guardrail so that the roadside mower could get behind the guardrail and not have to get in between the posts. I also asked him to spray the curb lines because we need to remove grass that grows between the curb and asphalt. . . I know that the work wasn’t completed, but the initial poison ivy complaint areas were.

As for future management of poison ivy, Galligan stated that they are working on a plan for authorized spraying to “eradicate” the ivy:

The DAR official met with me, explained the process to develop a spraying plan, explained why the license we have is not the one we need, explained what version of the commercial license we do need, and was super helpful in getting us started toward a spraying plan. So we are definitely going to have a spraying maintenance plan one we get everything in place (it takes several months), so that we can eradicate the poison ivy along the edge of pavement and keep the road shoulders walkable.

To read the full LOW by MassDAR, click here.

*Editor’s Note: Full disclosure – Carl Guyer shared his video with me on the “browning” of Southborough on July 30th. He confirmed that DPW’s spraying was in response to poison ivy.

I asked if Guyer had an alternative suggestion for how the issue should be handled. His response was, “We are in a losing battle with poison ivy as CO2 concentrations rise. It turns out vine plants see an explosive growth with present elevated levels of CO2.” He provided a link to a PBS story providing some support for the assertion. He also opined, “The erratic spraying of herbicides is the application of a sledge hammer to contain poison ivy.”

Because I didn’t understand that it was in violation of the state’s environmental laws, I didn’t follow up on the story at that time. (At the time, my plate was full. But I was also likely influenced by my own frustrating experiences with overgrown poison ivy along walkways I used to walk with my toddlers.)

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5 years ago

Again, Mr Guyer, what is your suggestion for controlling the poison ivy?

Bob R.
5 years ago

I say spray away all the poison ivy. I’m glad the dpw was doing something about it. Poison ivy is a terrible thing to get . Sounds like people that have a problem with the spraying of it have nothing better to do than complain about nonsense things. Waste of time .

Louise Barron
5 years ago
Reply to  Bob R.

Absolutely Bob R. Ivy is nasty, especially in on near eyes.

5 years ago

Roundup isnt the only spray that works, you can try vinegar or a non discriminatory vegitation killer

Louise Barron
5 years ago

Can DPW add the invasive bittersweet weed to the kill list along with ivy. It is choking our trees and shrubs

5 years ago

Round up kills bees too. It’s part of a class of herbicides that has been linked to the bee decline in the past decade.

No bees, no food. Thank you Carl.

My solution to poison ivy is to wear a disposable body suit and gloves and pull it out by hand. You can also cover it with tarps until it dies from lack of sun.

My father was not allergic to poison ivy and was the one to call in the neighborhood when any was found. Maybe that’s one of the genetic traits that Monsanto will breed into it’s workers soon.

5 years ago

Complaining about using illegally applying herbicides by way of violating environmental laws is not a waste of time. I am glad and grateful that Mr Guyer is on top of this. Good news, you won’t get poison ivy, but cancer may well be in your future.

Mike Robbins
5 years ago

If i look at poison ivy I get it… however I think the best way to remove it is to tear it out. Tedious, labor intensive, requires equipment but effective…

Carl Guyer
5 years ago

For those concerned with poison ivy, I would like to ask you to watch the video. These pictures were taken during my regular walk on Middle, Parkerville and Atwood roads. If you look, you will notice most of the dead plants would be classified as “non-combatants” in the war against poison ivy. The spraying appeared to be done as a landscaping effort to clear plant material.

5 years ago

I’m with Bob R, spray away. I wish they would do by my house.

D. McGee
5 years ago
Reply to  Alan

You already have that option. How about going to Home Depot, buying some Roundup and spraying your own lawn yourself?

5 years ago
Reply to  D. McGee

Tried that and didn’t work. Maybe the town can give me some of what they bought.

Unintended Consequences
5 years ago

The thinking of some neighbors here is perhaps similar thinking to that which lead to the opioid crisis. ‘Just throw a ton of potent chemical at the problem’ and fingers crossed……
There is really no mystery around the potential health risks of using Round-up.

5 years ago

Really, poison ivy vs the opioid crisis. Well those two issues belong together.

5 years ago

I am certainly not a tree hugger. I have used Roundup on my own property. I am also someone that has suffered for a life long allergy to poison ivy. If I touch it, I get it. I have had it on every place imaginable. However, the idea of dumping chemicals in a bunch of random places around town is absurd and I would agree a serious danger to the environment. Spraying these random spots is like rearranging the deck chairs on the titanic. There is no way in hell you can kill off all the poison ivy in town. My advice – recognize what poison ivy looks like. If you know you have been in contact with it, wash yourself with strong dish soap and a face cloth ( friction when bathing is key) There are some soaps that work really well – Zanfil and Technu ( both available at Walgreens)

SB Resident
5 years ago

Adding another voice of appreciation for this years spraying. The eradication was noticeable and needed. I also appreciate the attempt to spray the curb lines, it’s an important maintenance issue and the weeds can be quite the eyesore. I’m glad that the superintendent is developing a plan to continue the eradication with the correct permits, hopefully it can still be done as effectively.

John Kendall
5 years ago

All licensed commercial applicators are required to know which herbicides can be used in the areas they are treating. Roundup is not to be used near any water. There are chemicals that are approved for use near water, but I guess the DPW cheaped out.

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