October 19, 2015
By Ned Kehde
For a number of years, we have been concerned about the vast quantities of herbicides, pesticides, and other chemicals that homeowners put on their lawns, farmers put on their crops, golf course managers put on their fairways and greens, roadway and highway maintenance workers put along the shoulders and medians, and reservoir caretakers spray into waterways.
At times we have carped about it in our Midwest finesse columns, and to our chagrin, this terrible situation seems to be getting worse.
For instance, while I was fishing along the dam at a community reservoir in northeastern Kansas one day this past summer, one of the public-works' employees was driving a John Deere Gator and spraying a herbicide (I suspected that it was Roundup) along the edge of the pathway that courses across the top of the dam. He was not wearing a wardrobe that would protect him from breathing the spray and to keep it off of his hands, arms, neck, and face. He was not alerting the folks who were walking, running, and riding their bicycles along the pathway that he was spraying a herbicide that might jeopardize their health. What's more, there was a breeze angling out of the north by northwest, which caused some of the herbicide to drift into the reservoir and towards me. The spray caused me to hightail it to the boat ramp, put the boat on the trailer, and go home.
As I made my 26-mile drive to our home, I was in a cantankerous state of mind, and I spent much of the time thinking about the ways Kansans have become too cavalier about their duty to be wise stewards of our land and waters.
On top of having a public-works employee unknowingly and unintentionally spray me and the water that I was fishing, I became a tad more distraught as I crossed several bridges on my way home, and I noticed that these bridges and adjacent areas were stained from being sprayed with a herbicide. I suspected that some of the spray inadvertently drifted into the water below those bridges, and I feared that some of that toxin would end up in the flatland reservoirs where some of my Midwest finesse colleagues and many other anglers fish.
Shortly after these two herbicide encounters, my spirits were uplifted when I read that the California Environmental Protection Agency declared that glyphosate, which is the primary ingredient in Monsanto Corporation's Roundup and other herbicides, is a carcinogen, and they want Monsanto to label it as such. The World Health Organization also noted that glyphosate causes cancer in humans. Some entomologists and botanists also noted that glyphosate was contributing to the sudden global decline in the monarch butterfly population. Another study declared that long-term exposure to small amounts of glyphosate can provoke liver and kidney problems in humans.
Of course, Monsanto argues that Roundup is non-carcinogenic and the contentions of the California EPA, WHO, and other critics are flawed.
For a short spell, I thought that we might be experiencing a watershed moment and gradually escaping from the chains that Monsanto and others had wrapped around us. I was hoping that California EPA's and WHO's initial steps to protect people and wildlife from this toxic pesticide would enlighten others about the necessity to limit its use.
Then In-Fisherman's senior editor, Steve Quinn of Brainerd, Minnesota, destroyed my slight hopes that the world might be taking tiny steps to begin protecting our waterways and landscapes from pesticides like glyphosate. Quinn accomplished this in an email that he sent me on Oct. 1.
His email announced that Monsanto has created a new genetically modified corn that can withstand being sprayed with the herbicide dicamba. One of the reasons why Monsanto created this new GMO corn stems from the fact that the weeds that grow in the corn fields have adapted, and they will not die with just one application of Roundup, and to kill those weeds farmers have to use more Roundup than they used to use. To contend with these weeds that the farmers and Monsanto call super weeds, Monsanto created the dicamba-ready GMO corn. According to Quinn's email, Monsanto's new creation will likely cause more problems than its Roundup Ready GMO Corn, noting that dicamba "is a harsh chemical that threatens the health of the public, the livelihoods of farmers, and the environment."
For years on end, Quinn, who was a fisheries biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources from 1983 to 1988, has been urging his fellow fisheries and aquatic biologists to limit their usage of herbicides to eradicate aquatic vegetation that is deemed to be an invasive species — such as Eurasian milfoil. Unfortunately, his astute petitions have not yielded many dividends. Likewise, we have echoed his appeals to the biologists and reservoir caretakers in Kansas, but it has been to no avail.
Quinn closed his email by saying: "It seems that these GMO crops are driving pesticide use higher, and to even more deadly mixtures. There needs to be a way to keep big agriculture under some more ecological controls. We will try to get the word out."
I responded to Quinn's email by saying that I will help him get the word out by publishing a few words about it in a Midwest finesse column.
(1) On Sept. 7, 2011, we published a Midwest finesse column about how the flatland reservoirs in northeastern Kansas and at scores of other waterways across the United States have become too polluted with pesticides for my family to eat the fish that we catch. Here is the link to that column: http://www.in-fisherman.com/midwest-finesse/atrazine-glyphosate-and-other-pollutants-have-killed-our-hankering-to-eat-fish/.
(2) Here is a link to an insightful essay about Tyrone Hayes and his research on atrazine, and all of the woes that unfolded upon him: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/02/10/a-valuable-reputation.