In an effort to assuage concerned citizens, the White Pass and Yukon Route railroad has removed RoundUp from its herbicide plan and replaced it with Oust Extra.
A product of DuPont, Oust Extra is a light brown, granular herbicide containing 56 percent sulfometuron methyl and 15 percent metsulfuron-methyl. According to Ousts’s safety data sheet, the herbicide is classified as non-hazardous under the criteria of the Federal OSHA Hazard Communication Standard and, as found by the State of California, does not contain any known cancer causing substances.
Its label warns against applying directly to water or where surface water is present, and adds that non-target plants may be adversely affected from drift and runoff.
AK Scientific, Inc., a dealer of fine and specialty chemicals in catalog and bulk, lists sulfometuron methyl and metsulfuron-methyl as very toxic to aquatic organisms, with metsulfuron causing potential long-term adverse effects to the aquatic environment.
But a study conducted by Oregon State University for the Washington State Department of Transportation in 2006 found sulfometuron to be very low in toxicity to humans, practically non-toxic to animals and birds, and just slightly toxic to fish. Its half-life in soil ranges from 20 to 28 days.
A similar study conducted by Utah State University for the Bureau of Land Management in 2005 states that while it is possible for terrestrial and aquatic plants downwind of application areas to be harmed, adherence to application guidelines would minimize the effects on both plants and other species.
A study conducted on the ecological risks of metsulfuron-methyl for the US Department of Agriculture Forest Service found no clear basis that effects on terrestrial or aquatic animals are likely, and found that the most common sign of toxicity was a loss of body weight. The chemical was not found to have any reproductive or cancer risks. Depending on the conditions, the study found adverse effects on some non-target terrestrial and aquatic plants to be plausible.
WP&YR Executive Director of Human Resources and Strategic Planning Tyler Rose said the applicators, Deangelo Brothers LLC, reached out to the municipality in an effort to comply with municipal code and made the switch from RoundUp to Oust Extra.
“We’re doing it because we want to try to be good citizens of the community. We are hopeful that we will assuage the people’s concerns,” Rose said.
He said the product will only need one application this year and will still manage to take care of the Canadian Blue Grass, Equisetum, and Yellow Toadflax.
Now that they are in compliance, Rose said they aren’t sure whether they will only go north or if they will also spray into town, while adhering to applicable setbacks.
“Hopefully by complying with this, folks will be less resistant,” he said.
Skagway Borough Manager Scott Hahn said that the Oust Extra is not listed as a prohibited substance and does not violate city code.
Municipal code restricts the use of pesticides that are classified as carcinogenic to humans or as “restricted use” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, herbicides classified as “Class 9” by the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change in Ontario, Canada, herbicides classified as a “Category 1 Endocrine Disrupter” by the European Commission, the neonicotinoid family of pesticides and finally, any herbicide identified as persistent by the U.S. Composting Council.
“I don’t have any evidence that this substance is considered a problem for the general populace,” he said.
In a June 2 assembly meeting, Skagway Assemblyman Steve Burnham Jr. addressed the change in herbicide and said in some ways, it’s a good thing.
“But in others, it’s still a concern because the municipality has waivers regarding discharges in the area for our drinking water,” he said. “So, any mass discharge could potentially cause us to have to give up the waivers and start testing more regularly than we already do and even potentially have to build a treatment plant.”
White Pass plans to spray between June 18 and 23, and will host a meeting on June 16 at AB Hall from 5 to 7 p.m. to answer any questions or concerns.