Conn. Residents Unfazed by Herbicide Use Roiling Massachusetts

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Cleaning up from this week’s blizzard with unhappy linemen is job one right now in Connecticut but utility giant NStar is catching some serious heat for the use of herbicides it uses to kill foliage and vegetation growth on land it owns under its power lines in Massachusetts, particularly along Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard. Yet Northeast Utilities (NU) uses the same chemicals in Connecticut and state officials say they’ve had no complaints.

NStar and Northeast Utilities are now one and the same after their multibillion-dollar April, 2012 merger. The company has been rebranded as Eversource Energy.


NStar is dealing with not only complaints from abutting landowners but with organized opposition. Officials in both Massachusetts and Connecticut say the herbicides used are completely safe and are regulated by a plethora of agencies. But that hasn’t stopped 15 towns on the Cape and Islands from passing resolutions against the spraying program.

To say Massachusetts residents, politicians and advocacy groups are up in arms about the spraying would be an understatement. Most of the concern is about the fragile environments along shorelines.

The Boston Globe editorialized that more testing of the chemicals is needed. “…some residents near the power lines began complaining of rashes, migraines, and putrid tastes in their mouths after the spraying was completed. Advocacy groups worry that the chemicals used could easily filter through the soil and enter the water table — an especially troubling outcome on the Cape, where nearly everyone gets their drinking water from a single aquifer,” the paper wrote.

In Connecticut, where Northeast Utilities uses the same herbicides, there doesn’t seem to be a problem. Michael Coyle of the state’s Public Utilities Regulatory Authority says, “DEEP’s [Department of Energy and Environmental Protection] Pesticide Program Manager advises that DEEP receives the occasional inquiry about power line spraying, but they are not common, and few require any follow up. He further reports most power line spraying is selective, with low growing brush untouched, and trees that could grow into the lines specifically targeted.”

Like his counterparts in Massachusetts, NU spokesman Art Lara says the herbicide spraying program is safe, done responsibly and necessary. “NU only uses herbicides that have been registered and approved for utility brush control by the U.S. EPA, CT [Department of Energy and Environmental Protection] and the Mass. Departments of Agricultural Resources,” Lara told The Hanging Shad.

“We adhere to all state and federal regulations pertaining to herbicide use, including regulations that require maintaining specific distances from wells, wetlands and other water sources. Certified and licensed contractors use a low-volume, low-pressure application method to the individual foliage and stems of the targeted plants so as not to impact surrounding vegetation or natural animal habitats,” he said.

While the issue will continue to be contentious in the Bay State, Connecticut residents seem ok with it.