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CN abandons herbicide spray plan after public concern


CN Rail is clearing the track and everything near it.

But in a surprise move, the company revealed late Tuesday afternoonthat it has decided not to spray the brush and vegetation that is encroachingon the nearly 120 kilometres of track from Bedford to Brookfield.

“There will be no spraying in this location this year,” said JonathanAbecassis, a regional CN spokesman. “Vegetation along the right of way will becut by hand and machine for this year.”

While Abecassis said he doesn’t know what is behind the decision toabandon the spray permit granted by the provincial Environment Department inearly August, opponents of the spray program are grateful for the change ofdirection.

“I might suspect it could have something to do with people talkingabout it,” said Emma Richter, a volunteer with the recently formed GreenpeaceHalifax chapter.

“I am glad that in my mind they made the right decision not to spray. Iam sure if nobody had appproached them they would have just gone ahead and doneit. They realized it was better to not to do it.”

The local Greenpeace group had scheduled a rally against herbicidespraying along the track for this past Sunday but the uprising was cancelledbecause of rain. Richter said one of her group had reached out to CN and thatSam Austin, councillor for Dartmouth Centre, had contacted the company andraised the issue in a newsletter.

Richter said a big thing for companies now is to create jobs in NovaScotia and the manual vegetation cull will generate employment, if only on atemporary basis.

“It’s a small victory but we have prevented at least one company fromspraying,” Richter said.

But other companies are still ready to spray herbicides. The fourpermits issued earlier this month by the Environment Department cover about1,654 hectares of woodland. The total area cited for spraying included the CNspraying approvals that were to be done by Wilderness Environmental Services ofOntario.

Northern Pulp,which owns the Pictou County pulp mill at PointAbercrombie, has been approved to spray 1,098 hectares of woodland in Halifax,Hants, Colchester and Pictou counties. The company will spray 15 sites and 933hectares with an aerial spray, and the other seven sites and 165 hectares witha ground spray.

As was the case last year, when Northern Pulp sprayed more than 1,300hectares of woodland, the forest will be sprayed with 2.8 litres of VisionMaxfor each hectare. The compound glyphosate constitutes 49 per cent of VisionMax,according to a 2011 data sheet from Monsanto Canada, the herbicide giant thatproduces glyphosate. Glyphosate is registered for use in a wide variety ofsettings, including agriculture, forestry, and home gardens and patios.

Despite its approval by Health Canada three decades ago, and a finalre-evaluation decision on glyphosate in April that determined productscontaining glyphosate are not a concern to human health or the environment whenused according to the label, many remain unconvinced that the product is not acarcinogen.

“Government should not be going forward with these things that areharmful to people’s health without doing proper public consultation,” saidLenore Zann, the NDP MLA for the Truro area.

“Ten countries around the world have banned glyphosate,” she said.“It’s killing the hardwood trees, it’s killing all of the things that are notsoftwood, not coniferous.”

Kathy Cloutier of Northern Pulp argues that glyphosate is perfectlysafe.

“The vegetation management program is something that has been carriedout for over three decades,” Cloutier said. “It’s very, very heavily regulatedin forestry use and we would not use something that we did not feel was safe orthat we were comfortable with.”

Cloutier said strict government regulations are applied to spraying,including a buffer zone from dwellings, notification of spraying, and certainwind speed and other weather-related restrictions.

The province’s chief public health officer said last September that“there is no evidence that glyphosate creates a risk to human health if usedproperly.”

“Even water can be toxic if too much is consumed in a short period oftime,” Dr. Robert Strang said in his statement. “The difference is between thepossible hazard and the real-life risk.”

Strang said glyphosate poses no risk to humans if the EnvironmentDepartment “is monitoring where, how and when it is used.”

The Northern Pulp spray program is expected to start later this month.

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