More Public Health News: Spraying for poison ivy & mosquitos, tightening Tobacco regs, and dealing with industrial noise

Above: Noise complaints related to Ken’s Warehouse and concerns about poison ivy spraying plans were among the items discussed at Monday’s BOH meeting. (images L-R from Google maps and by Beth Melo)

Sometimes readers ask me how I keep up with all the Town news. The answer is I don’t.

There is a longer list of newsworthy business at Town boards and committee meetings than I can find time to properly research/write about. I’m trying to tackle more. 

Yesterday (and in an update this morning), I tried to catch readers up on what the Historical Commission has been up to recently. Today, I’ve focused on the Board of Health.

Earlier I posted news related to Food permits from BOH’s Monday meeting.

That meeting’s agenda was packed with  other important items. The Board wasn’t able to get through them all, but they did cover/touch on the following additional topics:

  • DPW spraying for poison ivy
  • Mosquito spraying by state and regional agencies
  • Tightening regulation of Tobacco sales
  • Meetings on Ken’s Food Warehouse noise issues
  • Plan for addressing general industrial noise issues

Below are my highlights for each of those.

DPW spraying for poison ivy

Public Works plans to spray weed killer on poison ivy growing on roadsides around town in May and June. The DPW has apparently been getting push and pull on the issue from residents.

There are those worried about potential harm from the chemicals. Others worry that overgrown poison ivy will limit pedestrian’s safe access on sidewalks and roadsides.

The Board doesn’t have specific oversight of the Town’s ivy spraying practices. But they invited DPW head Karen Galligan to update them, since their department received many  questions from concerned residents last summer.

In 2017, a Conservation Commission member, Carl Guyer, made public his concerns about the Town’s use of a weedkiller in many areas around town. That included filing a complaint with MassDEP. The DPW was officially warned that they were in violation of statutes.

That hear, the DPW was forced to file a 5 year Vegetation Management Plan. For some reason, last year was the first time the Department employed it. 

In late May of 2021, residents/business owners on about 30 streets in town received notice that the DPW would be spraying Round-Up Pro. This week, Galligan said she believes many people were “freaked out” by the reference to a truck mounted sprayer.

She clarified that while the tank is mounted on a truck, the spraying is done using a handheld wand attached by hose. Spraying is only pointed at the ivy.

Residents can opt out and post signs to that effect. But Galligan stressed that her department won’t generally be spraying into lawns, where people generally take care of their own property. Staff will focus on areas of roadsides where poison ivy is an issue. That’s where there aren’t lawns. Sometimes it’s a stretches of publicly owned land or open space, or on the street side of stone walls.

Commenting as a resident, Debbie DeMuria wondered if the chemicals cause more harm than the ivy.

BOH member Nancy Sacco responded that ivy isn’t just a danger in terms of allergic reactions. It also can strangle healthy trees and plants.

As for which chemicals are used, Galligan said they are based on regulations by MA Dept of Agriculture Resources. She followed that she and other area towns generally pick the same chemicals. But, she was fine if BOH wanted to request she use specific herbicides, as long as they are on the allowed list. Member Safdar Medina asked if they could get the list to review.

Worth noting, the chemical that Galligan advertised she was using last year was the same one Guyer objected to in 2017. But in addition to Guyer’s concerns about the “browning of Southborough” he also specified worries about some locations near wetlands.

As part of the process adopted since, the DPW now consults with the Conservation about where they plan to spray. Conservation then instructs them on areas or roads where they can’t.

DeMuria’s main line of questioning was pushing for a more transparent process with the ability for the public to comment on the proposed plan. She suggested that could be done through Public Works Planning Board meetings.

Mosquito spraying by state and regional agencies

Given residents’ worries about spraying and the EEE threat in Southborough in past years, it makes sense that the Board would keep tabs on this issue.

Alker said that it’s pretty rare for the state to allow a Town to opt out of state spraying. And since Southborough is in the high risk zone of the state’s map, it doesn’t seem like a viable option.

Most of the day to day work is done by the regional Central Massachusetts Mosquito Control Project. This time of year, they are focused on larva ditches and standing water. Sometime soon, they will use a helicopter to treat two targeted wetlands. That will be with a larvacide product that isn’t chemical. Alker described is as “almost bacterial”.

At the point where CMMP does chemical spraying (by truck), there is an opt out option for residents, which requires also posting a sign. 

[Click here for more info on the upcoming larval control treatment, and here for info I posted last year on opting out of mosquito spraying.]*

Tightening regulation of Tobacco sales

The Board has been working to adopt revised regulations for tobacco sales in town. 

Draft regulations include “sunsetting” the number of businesses allowed to sell products in town from the current 9 sellers down to 6.

The sunset method means that no businesses’ license would be taken away (at least without cause). And businesses with a license that come under new ownership have 60 days to renew the license. But, when new business open, they wouldn’t be able to get a license sell unless there are only five or fewer licenses in use.

The changes would also prohibit smoking bars, adult-only tobacco sellers, selling individual cigars for $1.50 or less, and selling tobacco within 1,000 feet of a school. 

Once the board settles on a final draft vetted by Town Counsel, they will post notice of a public hearing for input before they vote.

Meetings on Ken’s Food Warehouse noise issues

Chair Chelsea Malinowski noted that two upcoming special meetings related to complaints lodged by residents living near the Ken’s Foods warehouse. On May 24th an engineer working for an abutter will give a presentation. On May 31st, engineers for Ken’s will make a presentation.

Both of those meetings will be at 9:30 am. The hybrid meetings will allow the public to attend in the Town House Hearing Room or participate over zoom. (Those agendas haven’t been posted yet, but you can check for them here. You can also see letter from the board inviting abutters to attend here.)

At a recent Planning Board hearing, Alker represented neighbors’ continuing concerns about noise vibrations. She agreed with a Ken’s representative that they had identified the culprit – the refrigerated truck trailers which under food regulations have to be left on even when trucks aren’t idling.

Alker was wary about Planning allowing Ken’s proposed addition. She worried that the assurance that the number of trucks wouldn’t increase. She noted that the number of refrigerated trailers there at a time still could.

Ken’s will be back in front of Planning on May 23rd.

Plan for addressing general industrial noise issues

A section on industrial noise was pulled from the Noise Bylaw before it was brought to Town Meeting. That decision was based on the fact that under state law related rules and regs are the responsibility of the Board of Health.

At the start of the meeting DeMuria referred to that decision and asked how the BOH planned to address it. Malinowski responded that it would be a short term and long term approach. 

In the short term, they will create and post a form online to allow them to track complaints.

Longer term, the Board needs to develop a policy to adopt and enforce. She said there would be a more robust discussion under the agenda item “Sumer Interns – Noise Complaint Policy”.

That item ended up being tabled due to time. They plan to take it up after the Ken’s discussion at their May 24th meeting.

Updated (5/19/22 5:56 pm): I linked a letter that BOH sent to residents abutting Ken’s Warehouse about the upcoming meetings.

*Updated (5/20/22 7:41 am): I shared links related to the Mosquito larval treatment and opting out of spraying.

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