ACAT voices concern over use of toxic herbicides along roadways

An Alaska Department of Transportation (DOT) announcement that herbicide spraying would occur between June and October along several major roadways in and around Anchorage has Alaska Action on Toxics (ACAT) voicing concerns that the spray is toxic to people and the environment.

ACAT is urging DOT to cancel spraying along several roads running through Anchorage, including the Glenn Highway and Eklutna to the north to Girdwood and the Seward Highway to the south.

ACAT’s published concerns are that the five herbicide formulations listed by DOT to use on roadways through October are known to cause a variety of adverse health issues to people — ranging from elevated risks of certain cancers, miscarriages and birth defects, to decreased fertility and developmental harm to humans. These ingredients in the spray — from each of five manufacturers of the spray — are also toxic to wildlife, birds and the environment, ACAT said.

DOT published an announcement in the Anchorage Daily News last month of its “intent to begin integrated pest management plan activity.” In that notice DOT said that Alien Species Control LLC would use herbicide to control several invasive plants, including spotted knapweed, Canada Thistle, bird vetch, reed canarygrass, white sweetclover, orange hawkweed, European bird cherry and oxeye daisy.

Some of the locations, the DOT notice said, may require three applications of the spray.

Justin Shelby, administrative operations manager for the central region of DOT, said in an email response to a query from The Cordova Times that invasive species are a current and growing threat to Alaska.


“Invasive species cause detrimental impacts on ecosystems, biodiversity, subsistence harvesting, human health, and the economy and have cost 1.3 trillion USD globally over the past 52 years,” Shelby said.

Shelby cited federal executive orders stating that it is federal policy to prevent the introduction and spread of invasive species, as well as to eradicate and control established populations of invasive species, and that integrated pest management is used on state-owned lands in Alaska to comply with these executive orders.

“All herbicide use, under the Department of Environmental Conservation-approved (Integrated Pest Management) Plan, is conducted by certified applicators in accordance with Alaska pesticide regulations and EPA pesticide labels, following all federal, state, and local laws,” Shelby said.

According to ACAT there are safe, non-toxic alternative solutions to the use of herbicides. These include mechanical removal of these invasive plants by cutting, mowing and girdling, steam and heat treatments, biological controls, fabric and mulch treatments, application of corn gluten, and planting with native plant species.

Six legislators also recently voiced concerns about spraying roadsides with toxic chemicals, saying it would be harmful to the community, including young children known to walk along these thoroughfares. The risk of groundwater contamination by these chemicals, which are linked to cancer, kidney damage or liver damage, is also concerning, they said, adding that “these risks are unacceptable given that DOTPF has access to a host of safe and non-toxic alternatives to these dangerous herbicides.”

Signers of the letter included state Reps. Cliff Groh and Andy Josephson, and Sens. Bill Wielechowski, Loki Tobin, Elvi Gray-Jackson and Matt Claman.