Coastal Post Online


March 2002

Possible Ban Of Roundup On Corte Madera Bike Paths

By Carol Sterritt

As both a reporter and as an activist, I sometimes fall into the throes of over-enthusiasm. This past week has been one of those times. On the evening of February 15th. I received a phone call. It was Ginger Souders- Mason, Chairwoman of a local group called "Marin beyond Pesticides."

"Carol, I've just found out today that Hal Brown plans on proposing a moratorium on pesticide spraying. He will call for a vote on having a moratorium on pesticides in certain areas of Marin on February 26th at the regular Board of Supervisor's meeting! Can you believe it!" (Currently, Brown serves as Supervisor for the Southern Central Marin District.) Both Brown and Souders-Mason had attended a rally and protest organized in part by the Parents Education Group on Thursday, February 14th. The people at this rally wanted to make their feelings and beliefs known about the constant spraying of the chemical RoundUp on the bike paths along the Corte Madera Creek.

One of the unfortunate aspects of life in Marin is the constant threat of the chemical applications. Since we do not experience a severe winter, there is always a road crew or parks crew or County crew out there spraying something somewhere. The area along the Corte Madera Creek, from Greenbrae through Kentfield, receives excessive amounts of spraying done by the County Works crew. This chemical application of RoundUp occurs at least every three months. So there is not a single season in the year that this area is not impacted. Add to this the fact that the College of Marin also applies RoundUp and other even more toxic chemicals, and you begin to wonder about the health of our County's residents. Because of the 1999 Pesticide Reduction Ordinance, County work crews must now post in advance any pesticide application that they are planning. However, the College work crews are known for simply going ahead and spraying without advance warning.

In the weeks prior to the February 14th rally, the Marin Independent Journal had run a series of articles detailing the sad fact that Marin County's breast cancer rate is now 20% higher than two years ago. And that much of this increase was affecting women in the 45 to 64 years of age category. The odds of having a personal friend with this disease are quite high. Last spring, I attended the wake of my friend, Francine Levien (who could meet Francine, even for a few minutes, and not feel that they had just met their very best friend?), and I have silently commemorated my Caledonia street buddy, Val Peterson who died just a few months ago.

After some thirty years of treating this breast cancer, researchers are realizing that breast cancer resembles prostate cancer in that there are different types. Some women have a slow growing type of cancer. Some women have a faster and more alarming type. Until just recently, oncologists did not recognize these differences, and all women patients were treated with the same aggressive therapies. Now there is the beginning of the attitude that it is better to identify the type of tumor the cancer patient has, and to monitor the treatment accordingly. This is the first real change in breast cancer therapies in the past thirty years.

So the women in Marin are becoming nervous. "RoundUp on the one hand, and breast cancer on the other" is a thought many friends have frequently shared with me. Is there a connection?

Unfortunately, I don't know of anyone who knows. In most studies that I have read, RoundUp is looked at all by itself. A lab rat endures this one chemical, but is not also dealing with the copy toner from the copy machine, from the caffeine from a double latte, from the stress most women experience of always needing to look good and feel good and also trying to pay $2000 a month for a two bedroom place. Lab rats have only one stressor at a time inflicted upon them.

As I have pointed out in past Coastal Post articles, it is extremely difficult to prove scientifically that one thing causes another. The Surgeon General began imprinting a warning upon cigarette packages sold in the US way back in the 1960's. The actual definitive proof of lung cancer and cigarette smoking being connected was not established until late in the 1990's. Apparently, the office of the Surgeon General was comfortable with the "Precautionary Principle."

This principle is now the rallying cry for many activists. We don't want to sit and wait around for proof. We want to see that "reasonable and justifiable actions" are taken to remove the sources of possible endangerment. There are just too many friends that I would rather not lose over the next decades while science comes up with "positive proof."

I have examined documents that indicate that RoundUp is linked to certain kidney and liver cancers (Environmental and Molecular Mutagenesis, Vol. 31, pp 52 through 59, 1998.) The authors of this study claim, "Additional experiments are needed to determine which chemical in the Roundup mixture is causing the damage. They point out that this will be very difficult because "the precise composition of the not available due to protection by patent regulation." In other words, Monsanto doesn't have to reveal to the public exactly what chemicals are in Roundup." (Last set of Quotes indicate material taken from magazine "Organic Gardening, Summer, 2000.)

However, I am fairly familiar with the components of RoundUp. It is comprised of 41% glyphosate, 15% polyoxyetheleneamine (POEA,) and the rest is water. RoundUp's manufacturer, Monsanto, examined glyphosate way back in the early 1970's. At that point in time, all Monsanto had to do to win the EPA's approval and licensing for sale was to do tumor studies on lab animals. Although there were indications previous to this study that RoundUp's most injurious pathway into the body was through skin absorption, they were careful to see that the entryway into the lab animals, dogs in this case, was through their stomach. Therefore, the study that they devised was a feeding study, with the animals being monitored for a period of time, and then examined for tumors.

However, although this carefully-contrived study allowed Monsanto to receive high grades from the EPA, there are a great many things it does not do. It is concerned with tumors only. Many of the diseases that are reaching epidemic proportions in our County are those of the neurological and immune system. They are chronic diseases such as allergies, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's', learning disabilities, etc. Where are Monsanto's tests regarding these illnesses and their product RoundUp? They simply have never been done. And since RoundUp is a sell-out product, with over 50 million tons being bought and used here in the United States, I doubt that Monsanto ever will investigate RoundUp more thoroughly.

Occasionally independent investigators do look into this pesticide. One thing they have discovered: the product effectively knocks out a liver enzyme in all mammals that offers protection from the ravages of pollution if products like RoundUp do not destroy it first. This enzyme, cytochrome P-450, seems to make the difference in whether I experience Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. On days when Cal-Trans or the County spray areas where I hike, I am set off by everything from that point on: perfume, copy machines, bus exhaust, etc. The thing that saves me on those days is my having read Dr. Marc Lappe's explanation that a vitamin called Glutathione, when taken in conjunction with NAC, will relieve my symptoms.

(Interestingly, Lappe is a researcher who was asked to "fudge" figures in his report on RoundUp when he was working for the Stanford Research Institute. He now heads his own concern, The Center for Ethics and Toxics (CETOS) in Northern California. He also serves as a Consultant to the FDA's General and Plastics Surgery Division of the Center for Medical Devices. He was forced into becoming independent after being black-listed inside the industrial community for refusing to compromise the facts of his research.)

As this article gets finished for my Feb 20th deadline, I wonder what effects that Hal Brown's request for the RoundUp ban along the bike paths will have. In a perfect world, the other Supervisors would see the wisdom of Brown's resolution and vote in accordance with him. Will Stacy Carlsen, County Agricultural Commissioner, put forth a detailed monetary study that supports the resolution or that opposes it? I wonder if his fiscal report will take into account all the many costs that, although hidden, do indeed exist.

For instance, not only does the County of Marin have the dubious distinction of having the highest breast cancer rate in the Country, but it also holds the record for having the youngest child to be diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Yes, a Greenbrae girl was diagnosed with this condition back in the mid-nineties, when she was only two years of age. Curious to me, since Greenbrae has a highway median strip along Sir Francis Drake that requires continual applications of RoundUp. What does it cost the County to provide for the special education needs of an individual for their entire life? Would those costs, if considered, allow the County to decide that it would be cheaper to simply handpull or maybe even tolerate the weeds?

And of course, there is my own proposal (and its financial cost) that should Brown's requested moratorium not take place, that the County then offers a better training program for those individuals that actually do the spraying. On February 19th, I personally called the Region Nine, San Francisco office of the EPA, to report on that individual who so often has, as a County worker, sprayed RoundUp along the Corte Madera Creek. This is in violation of the warnings on The RoundUp label and its Material Safety and Data Sheets, which stipulate that RoundUp is not to be used near waterways because of hazards it poses to aquatic life. And any time that a worker violates this labeling, they are violating Federal law. The man had also bragged to another Marin Beyond pesticide member that he liked to mix RoundUp with other pesticides, which again violates the labeling on the product. Since these misdeeds have occurred over a three-year period, there seemed to be little chance that the individual concerned was ever going to do better.

I would like to give the final words on this moratorium to its author, Hal Brown. In speaking of his great notion, Brown stated his request to the other Supervisors as being "A reasonable and justifiable action to take place in regards to the bike paths and other areas which children and women frequent." Let's hope that by the time you are reading these words, those other Supervisors will see the wisdom of this action.


Coastal Post Home Page