CN Rail won’t spray but Nova Scotia industrial forest cos & chief public health officer defend it otherwise

Free helicopter Clipart - Free Clipart Graphics, Images and Photos ...A recent article in the Chronicle Herald provides a number of details about the status of herbicide permits for woodlands and rail right-of-ways in Nova Scotia, as well as the weighty comments of experts.

The principle agent is Visionmax, containing 49% glyphosate. Glyphosate is a broad-spectrum, systemic herbicide that acts on enzymes involved in synthesis of organic compounds in higher plants (also in algae, fungi and bacteria) and in general acts only on growing organisms. Its effect on bacteria is generally ignored but there is growing evidence for negative effects on our gut microflora.* It is widely used in agriculture, especially on crops such as GMO corn, soybean and canola genetically modified to be resistant to glyphosate.
*See for example: Detection of Glyphosate Residues in Animals and Humans (2014)

Use of glyphosate in forestry is somewhat akin to chemotherapy for treating cancers; it is applied in late summer/early fall when research conducted by by NS Lands and Forests in the 1980s showed it is least damaging to the conifers, but is still effective on broadleaved plants.

The CH article by Francis Campbell reports that CN Rail “decided not to spray the brush and vegetation that is encroaching on the nearly 120 kilometres of track from Bedford to Brookfield…”, likely in response to negative publicity around use of glyphosate locally. Instead they will use manual methods to set back unwanted vegetation. Thanks CN.

On the other hand, plans to spray forested land are going ahead unabated.

But other companies are still ready to spray herbicides. The four permits issued earlier this month by the Environment Department cover about 1,654 hectares of woodland. The total area cited for spraying included the CN spraying approvals that were to be done by Wilderness Environmental Services of Ontario.

Northern Pulp, which owns the Pictou County pulp mill at Point Abercrombie, has been approved to spray 1,098 hectares of woodland in Halifax, Hants, Colchester and Pictou counties. The company will spray 15 sites and 933 hectares with an aerial spray, and the other seven sites and 165 hectares with a ground spray.

The article cites comments by Nova Scotia’s chief public health officer, Dr. Robert Strang, in a Department of Environment & Health and Wellness Press Release of Sep 2, 2016.

The province’s chief public health officer said last September that “there is no evidence that glyphosate creates a risk to human health if used properly.”

“Even water can be toxic if too much is consumed in a short period of time,” Dr. Robert Strang said in his statement. “The difference is between the possible hazard and the real-life risk.”

That has to be one of the most patronizing and irresponsible statements I have ever heard of from a public health official.

It might have more truthfully read “The difference is between the possible hazard to humans and the real-life risk to Industrial Forestry’s bottom line; in Nova Scotia we choose to minimize the latter.”


“The difference is between the real hazard to amphibians and the real-life risk to Industrial Forestry’s bottom line; in Nova Scotia we choose to minimize the latter.”


– a dozen more tradeoffs that could be cited that favour a few over the rest of us and other species.

Of course the Department of Environment has to approve use of the herbicides and I guess NSDNR. The current Minister of NSDNR argued in support of herbicides when she was Minister of Environment, so there is not much hope for other perspectives on that front. (View Margaret Miller on Glyphosate: I am glad she is talking to Chief Gloade, Post, Sep 16, 2016).

View the Herbicides category for previous posts on this topic.

View also: Biologist challenges chief health officer’s claim that glyphosate is safe by Francis C. in the LocalExpress, Sep 3, 2016.

A Petition against Spraying on NS lands has been launched.

View Pesticide Applications Approvals on NS Environment website for recent approvals including locations. The earliest Start Date is Aug 1, 2017, which seems early in relation to the optimal period cited in the 1980s research and likely to cause some setback in the conifers. Perhaps they figure that 40 or so years is too far ahead to worry about possible reductions in harvestable volumes.

Thanks Francis Campbell/CH for some substantive reporting. It’s time to renew my subscription.

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