PORT TOWNSEND — A spokesperson for the state Department of Agriculture said the agency expects reports to find no runoff into the watershed or water supply following rain showers in areas where herbicides were sprayed from a helicopter earlier this week.
“We’ll have to wait to see what the investigation shows, but we don’t have any reason to believe it would run into the water,” said Chris McGann, a spokesperson for the state Department of Agriculture.
Environmentalists have adamantly expressed their concerns at several public meetings this month about the chemicals, not only for the potential to harm pollinators and wildlife but for human health if they get into the water supply.
A contractor hired by Pope Resources, which manages timberland in Jefferson, Kitsap and Mason counties, sprayed a chemical compound Monday and Tuesday that included glyphosate, the active ingredient in the weed-killer Roundup.
The aerial application was permitted by the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which had a representative on-site Monday, said Adrian Miller, Pope Resources’ vice president for corporate affairs and administration.
Public health concerns have been raised over glyphosate, which the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment has listed as a cancer-causing chemical since 2017.
But the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently said it won’t approve labels on the products that say it causes cancer, The Associated Press reported earlier this month.
Miller said his company will receive a follow-up report from DNR based on their compliance with forest-practice rules.
A separate state Department of Agriculutre inspector oversaw Tuesday’s aerial operations and took samples, including those from water, McGann said.
“Those samples will have to be processed over at our chemical lab in Yakima, and it could take up to a month before we have the full report available,” he said.
City officials took a sample at the Port Townsend water treatment facility on Tuesday, but results were not available as of Thursday, Public Works Director Greg Lanning said.
Results may not be back until next week, he said.
Environmental group members protested at a site just off state Highway 20 south of Anderson Lake Road on Monday and said they were sprayed in addition to cars on the roadway.
McGann said the state Department of Agriculture received at least one drift complaint from a member of the group.
“That’s how our compliance program works,” he said. “We will send an investigator out to take statements, and take any clothes or samples from vehicles to be tested to see if they actually did get the chemical on them.”
About two dozen members of the Jefferson and Kitsap county environmental coalitions have spoken publicly in recent weeks, both at meetings for the Board of Jefferson County Commissioners and in front of the Port Townsend City Council.
Some of their concerns have been about City Lake, a reservoir that serves as the primary source of drinking water for Port Townsend.
Pinky Mingo, the environmental health manager for Jefferson County Public Health, said the herbicide, including glyphosate, is generally deemed safe if it’s used according to its label.
“There is a buffer between the spray area and City Lake,” she said. “For any of the sensitive areas, they’re going to be using backpacks for the applications.”
Mingo said DNR has jurisdiction over the private property, not the county health department.
The state Department of Agriculture is the lead agency for commercial pesticide applicators that the EPA approves, she said.
McGann said the agency registers the labeling, which tells consumers what the chemicals can be used on and how they need to be handled. The department also licenses applicators and inspects and investigates drift complaints.
The inspector onsite Tuesday observed the application, he said.
“At any point he witnessed something that appeared to be out of line or out of compliance, he has the power to shut down the application,” McGann said.
There wasn’t a high risk of runoff because of the surface, he added.
“It’s not hitting a hard surface where a light rain would send it into a gutter or into a stream,” McGann said. “The rain occurred after the application when it would have had enough time to dry.
“We never want to see chemicals get into the water that shouldn’t be there.”
Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 6, or at [email protected].