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My Turn: State approved herbicides are safe to use

Posted: Monday, July 26, 2004

I am a toxicologist by academic training. I am not working for any stakeholders. I am merely standing up for science and the truth.

Recently, there has been a great deal of public concern over the aerial application of pesticides for silviculture. The sagacity of the state government has been called into question for establishing new regulations to allow aerial application of pesticides (through a permitting process), and more recently for apparently actually preparing to issue a permit to a Native corporation for use of two pesticides.

It has been claimed by some that these pesticides will threaten human health, endanger our fish, and negatively impact the struggling, but crucial, commercial fishing industry.

The pesticides included in the permit application (glyphosate and imazapyr), are actually herbicides. Both are essentially nontoxic to fish, mammals, and people. Over a hundred million pounds of glyphosate are used each year, both commercially and residentially. In 2001, fifty-one people in the United States unsuccessfully tried to commit suicide by guzzling glyphosate (Tylenol killed 63). Fish and even sensitive insect species are safe from exposure to both. This includes their inert ingredients (i.e., their "formulations"). Further, they will not end up in our fish or subsistence foods (i.e., they do not biomagnify). There are enormous amounts of empirical data available that demonstrate this. These studies have been conducted by a wide variety of researchers using a variety of funding sources (i.e., not just big corporations).

The permit stipulates many things, but the enforcement of a buffer zone and a pesticide-free zone are specifically included to protect riparian habitat. It is true that "some chemicals" have been detected 50 miles away after aerial application, but not glyphosate or imazapyr. In fact, some chemicals can be detected hundreds of miles from their source. However, this is more a function of our ability to detect certain chemicals than it is a cause for alarm. Application levels of herbicides necessary for the toxic effect on target species (e.g., alder) would not occur from drift or runoff. The notion that drift will unleash a chemical onslaught that will decimate the habitat (i.e., shade) is, quite frankly, misleading.

It has also been insinuated that the state government is using its power to push this through, because it refuses to listen to the public. This is not true. The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation held multiple public hearings and accepted written comments on the matter.

Marketing is perception. It is a fact that our wild fish are the most pristine in the world. This is great information to use in marketing our fish. But marketing experts should take note that the industry has suffered in spite of this fact.

The Copper River fishery is a success story, but they are the first run and they have implemented an excellent product handling, delivery, and marketing system (longest run equals the most fat). I've had many people down south tell me unequivocally that Copper River salmon are the best because they have to swim the longest distance to their spawning grounds. When I ask them if they have ever tasted any other Alaska salmon, they might reply yes, but further discussion reveals they were talking about $2.99-a-pound humpies. And when I break out the vacuum-sealed, flash frozen, big fat Kenai red fillets (nearly a year old), they are convinced that Kenai red is the best they've ever had.

It is a fact that the state of Alaska has shown, and continues to show, that our fish contain the lowest levels of contaminants anywhere in the world. The other fact is, farmed fish aren't that bad-tasting because they obviously sell pretty well. And, they have a good delivery system. I am not a marketing guru, but there are obviously other factors at play.

The only way glyphosate and imazapyr will have any negative effect on the marketing of our fish is through the dissemination of misinformation.

• Rick A. Miles lives in Anchorage.



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