Preliminary investigation finds no overspray of herbicides on protesters

Posted 11/6/19

The investigation into alleged spraying of herbicides onto protesters by Pope Resources is not yet complete, according to the Department of Agriculture, but so far tests show that citizens were not exposed to those chemicals.

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Preliminary investigation finds no overspray of herbicides on protesters

Posted

The investigation into alleged spraying of herbicides onto protesters by Pope Resources is not yet complete, according to the Department of Agriculture, but so far tests show that citizens were not exposed to those chemicals.

While gathering on Aug. 19 to take a stand against herbicide spraying on Pope Resources lands, several protesters at a clearcut above Discovery Bay say they were sprayed by a helicopter herbicide spray rig.

Pope Resources Vice President Adrian Miller said the company’s herbicide spray contractor was working at that location Aug. 19 and 20.

Citizens who believed they had been sprayed made complaints to the Washington State Department of Agriculture, which then launched an investigation.

According to WSDA Media Relations Coordinator Chris McGann, the mixture of herbicides that included clopyralid and sulfometuron-methyl was sprayed adjacent to Highway 20 in Port Townsend. No glyphosate was used in the application.

“A small group of people were in the area to observe and protest the application,” McGann wrote in a summary of the investigation so far. “One of those people later contacted WSDA to file a complaint that the pesticide had drifted onto them.”

WSDA quickly launched an investigation that included interviews with the complainant, a review of Pope Resource’s application records, interviews with Pope Resources and the contracted applicator—Essential Flight Operations helicopter spraying services out of Lynden, WA—and collection and analysis of samples in and around the treatment site.

The collection and analysis of samples in and around the treatment site shows that there was no trace of chemicals in the area where protesters were standing, but that there were some small detections of chemicals on the roadside of Highway 20 and trace amounts of pesticide ingredients in a buffer zone outside of the targeted area.

“These are still preliminary findings,” McGann said. “It does not mean that we’ve come to a conclusion of what happened.”

McGann said it is still too early in the investigation to make any clear conclusions, but that the lab tests were clear: they did not find evidence that the pesticide had drifted outside of the intended area.

“The chemist report is not the only evidence reviewed; drawing conclusions at this time is premature,” he wrote. “A final report on the investigation with conclusions is anticipated later this year.”

A map of the test sites shows that in the application zones, higher amounts of the herbicide sulfometuron methyl were detected. But in the zones where people were standing, none were detected. In two sites near the roadway at Highway 20, .002 parts per million and .003 parts per million of the herbicide were detected.

Sulfometuron methyl is an herbicide in the sulfonylurea chemical family. It is used mostly in nonagricultural situations, such as roadways and forest lands.

This herbicide was found mostly in the main spray zone and in smaller amounts in the buffer zone around it.

“What I see is a gradient that you would expect from a spray zone,” McGann said.

While driving by the aerial spray operation on Aug. 19, one citizen, Raychel Hug, reported that her car had been sprayed.

In a report to WSDA, she wrote: “I had ended my shift on Monday 08/19/19 and was driving along Highway 20 heading to my home on Eaglemount. At approximately 6:08 p.m. I was driving around the bend, directly next to the protestors site, and there was a helicopter flying above actively releasing, I assume chemicals for aerial spraying, on the border of the clearing. There was a breeze that evening and as the helicopter approached the property border the spray doused the four vehicles in front of me, myself and two vehicles behind me.”

Since Hug is a nurse at Jefferson Healthcare, she decided to swab her vehicle for chemicals.

“I have dated and labeled the specimen and have it in my possession,” she wrote in her report to WSDA.

Hug’s findings were not part of the WSDA investigation, however, because there was no way to ensure that the evidence had not been tampered with in the time between Hug collecting it and transporting it to WSDA, McGann said.

“I am disappointed with the outcome of the facts vs propaganda and will be declining all further comment,” wrote Hug when The Leader reached out to her for comment on the investigation. “It is a tragedy that our community does not put the health of its citizens and children ahead of profits and pure greed.”

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