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Poison Takes a Holiday: Rio Grande Aerial Weed Killer Spraying “Indefinitely Delayed”

Last Tuesday, Homeland Security’s very own Border Patrol announced they were canceling their plans to begin aerial spraying of the pesticide imazapyr along a stretch of the Rio Grande the following day. In other words, the agency that demands billions to seal America’s borders (in large part so they can prevent Americans from voluntarily putting dangerous chemicals in their own bodies) grudgingly changed their own plan to expose Americans to dangerous chemicals. So, the fact our Federal Government belatedly delayed plans to spray weed killers over a small part of our water supply is good news. But the fact that they considered this reckless "plan" in the first place is ominous. Where did this wacko idea come from, and why did it take so long to fail?

Like so many of the ecocidal schemes that federal agencies use federal dollars for in the Southwest, this poison plan came from the neighborhood slurp-fest among local land speculators/"business interests," and the obedient local pols who service them. Like so many federal schemes for the Southwest, Border Patrol/Homeland Security’s plan for aerial poison spraying along a densely populated stretch of the Rio Grande sacrifices the "commons" — the local community and their shared health and welfare — in service of some abstract goals that just happened to hold out a whole pot of water money for the local fat cats.

How do we know? Texas Border Coalition chair and Eagle Pass mayor Chad Foster quite openly told us:

Eagle Pass Mayor Chad Foster, who chairs the Texas Border Coalition, said border security would be improved if the government cleared out the Carrizo cane and Salt cedar along the banks of the Rio Grande.

"We have a great natural resource, the Rio Grande. Let’s give Border Patrol line of sight. That way they can put in a virtual fence," Foster said. "Besides, the water sucked out of the river by Carrizo cane and Salt cedar could feed the city of Brownsville for four years."

A "great resource," indeed.

Oh, heck, that stuff about local land developers and business types using their cozy relationships with the local pols they fund in order to use government agencies to grab water supplies from another region so the developers make more fortunes with the water they’ve "freed up" is just fiction, right, Mr. Mullholland and Mr. Eaton? Um. . . sure, Jake.

Along the Rio Grande Valley, the big clout’s in the Texas Border Coalition. The Coalition opposes the Great Border Wall, but loves them their weed killers. And Senator Cornyn listened. Well, he listened to the pesticide love.

Cornyn said he was listening to and acting upon the concerns of border leaders and, by way of an example, cited Eagle Pass Mayor Chad Foster’s push to have Carrizo cane eradicated or reduced along the Rio Grande.

Cornyn said removing the cane would provide numerous benefits, including water conservation, enhanced border security and other advantages. If implemented, the proposal could impact where border fencing would go.

"There is no substitute for advice from those who live on the border year-round. The Carrizo cane idea is a perfect example – it has been pushed for months by Mayor Chad Foster of Eagle Pass and others."

Foster, chairman of the Texas Border Coalition (TBC), has been recommending removal of Carrizo cane and Salt cedar from the banks of the Rio Grande for over a year so that Border Patrol have better line of sight to the river.

Gee, when the Senator listened, so did US Customs and Border Patrol’s incoming Deputy Chief. . . and the Texas state Senator from Brownsville.

Among the federal officials planning to attend the Brownsville meeting, Cornyn said, are the incoming Deputy Chief of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Ron Colburn, IBWC Commissioner Carlos Marin, and a special adviser to CBP Commissioner Ralph Basham.

Yep, the same Border Patrol that adopted Mayor Foster’s poison spraying plan for their very own. Yep: the same Brownsville that Mayor Foster says will get four or five years worth of water from the poison spraying.

Of course, folks along the border not marooned on Planet Cornyn offered plenty of substitutions for Mayor Foster’s "advice." They even demanded solutions that didn’t happen to give bonuses to developers in Brownsville. . . and didn’t "require" this arid region’s primary watercourse (and those living along it) to suffer mass spraying of apparently toxic chemicals known to persist in soil for long periods of time.

You see, like so many of the deadly chemicals we collectively know as "pesticides," the herbicide (plant killing chemical) licensed as "imazapyr" is largely a stranger to us. No one knows what happens to humans born to those who were themselves exposed to small quantities of the chemical in their own mothers’ wombs. Those sort of detailed epidemiological studies are the only way we can truly know how a chemical affects us over generations: for imazapyr, as for many other chemicals already licensed for use by EPA and CalEPA, the data are simply unknown. We also have no way of knowing how simultaneous exposure to trace amounts of imazapyr along with other pesticides already contaminating the Rio Grande Valley will harm those living their, those living in wombs there, or those womb-dwellers’ future offspring.

Thanks to the good folks at Alaska Community Action on Toxics, Rio Grande Valley residents and activists as well as the rest of us have been reminded of what the Northwest Coalition Of Alternatives To Pesticides published in 1996

•Rabbits dermally exposed to imazapyr and rats inhaling
Arsenal both showed bleeding and congested lungs.
Congestion of the liver, intestine, and kidneys was also
• Rabbits given imazapyr orally exhibited stomach ulcers
and intestinal lesions at most doses tested.
• There is no information on the hazards imazapyr and
imazapyr herbicides pose to fish. However, a closely related
herbicide (imazamethabenz-methyl) has high
chronic toxicity to fish, with effects occurring at concentrations
less than one part per million.
• Mice and rats fed sublethal doses of imazapyr over two
years showed fluid accumulation in the air sacs of the lungs,
brain congestion, kidney cysts, abnormal blood formation
in the spleen, blood pooling in the liver, thyroid cysts,
tumors, and cancers, brain tumors, adrenal gland tumors
and cancers, and decreased food efficiency.

Oh, and because the poison-industrial complex that makes pesticides long ago bribed made the right campaign contributions, almost half of the stuff comprising the imazapyr product most commonly used is so secret we citizens aren’t allowed to know what’s in it. Simply by calling an ingredient "inert," the posion manufacturers get to keep it a big secret. The serial poisoners’ "trade secrets," you see, are far more valuable than our puny lives. Or our kids’ puny lives. The business of pesticide regulation is business, don’cha know? And the business of the Texas Border Coalition, whatever it may be, appears to discount the lives and health of those who would be directly exposed to an apparently limitless poison spraying program, a program the TBC hoped would be extended to over one hundred miles of the Rio Grande.

Those of us whose heads aren’t implanted in the backsides of local Southwest pols and the land speculators/developers they depend upon for bribes campaign contributions can literally afford to take a wider view. In September, 2007 Californians For Alternatives To Toxics sued to prevent widespread application of imazapyr over dozens of miles along California’s Eel River. They succeeded; in granting their preliminary injunction Superior Court Judge Michael Brown took imazapyr’s potential dangers into account and required state agencies to prepare full environmental impact reports according to CEQA, the state’s environmental protection law. Over a decade ago, Arundo donax, the very plant which almost became the target of the aerial offensive Foster and the Texas Border Coalition so desired, became the focus of community action in SoCal’s Topanga Canyon. Then, the emergency du jour was "invasive species." Officials with the Golden state’s State Parks Department planned to purify the native biota of Topanga Canyon with vigorous applications of Roundup/glyphosate to invasive Arundo reeds. As the "gold" atop the "Golden state’s" tawny summer hills is the result of invasive species imported during the Spanish conquest, locals opposed what appeared to be a limitless public plan for pesticide application. Locals also demanded full evaluation of alternatives: including goats!

What happened when the Department of Agriculture actually took the trouble to compare strategies to manage Arundo/Carizzo along the Rio Grande? Well, it turns out the USDA’s first choice isn’t deadly chemicals. Or goats. Nope: for Arundo/Carrizo along the Rio Grande, the USDA’s experts suggest wasps.

The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced on March 6 that it has completed an environmental assessment of the plague of the Arundo donax, as well as its possible cures, and concluded that the introduction of the reed-killing wasps is probably the best of a handful of potential solutions.

Mayor Foster’s "plan" — the local pol’s scheme that Planet Cornyn touted and Homeland Security’s satraps along the Rio Grande frontier duly adopted — fails to fully consider both risks and alternatives, and hence fails the precautionary principle. The "plan" is merely a giant crapshoot. We don’t fully know how the imazapyr spraying will affect this generation, much less future generations, so we can’t possibly know how spraying the stuff along the river used for drinking water could harm the people who drink that water. Or anything else that drinks that water. Or will. We literally have no way of calculating how the "plan" pushed by local pols and subservient Federal officials focused on a small area will affect the health, lives, and futures of everyone living in the region. The "plan" the Border Patrol put on ice Tuesday was simply another Federally-backed, privately hatched gamble with the "commons" upon which we all depend for our very survival.

Unlike the Feds’ "plan" to rescue the banksters, this Federally endorsed raid on the commons has been stopped. For now.

For the future — if and when the local pols and local Feds get all hot and bothered about getting out their nozzles and getting down to spraying — another solution that worked in Topanga may be helpful. Topanga lies astride Hwy 27, one of LA’s congested commuter routes. The day after the public meeting where Topangans and an EarthFirst! type talked openly of legal, peaceful drive-time protests along Hwy 27, the most powerful local pol’s office rolled over: drop the commute time protests (and the certain traffic problems they’d cause), and the state would drop the spraying. And the state did. Of course, such legal and powerful means to motivate local pols would only be available to those living along congested transport corridors. Peaceful legal non-violent direct action can still, sometimes, get the goods. Even against Homeland Security.

Bon appetit.

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Kirk Murphy

Kirk Murphy

terrestrial obligate aerobe with endoskeleton (bony) and bilateral symmetry.

chordate, bipedal, warm-blooded, mammalian, placental (origin), opposable thumbs.

not (yet) extinct.

indigenous habitat: California Live Oak.

current habitat: Central California Coast (most northerly aspect).... 'northwest of the new world, east of the sea'

potential habitats: all potential habitats critically endangered (due to global climate change).

ailurophilic - hence allergic rhinitic.