By Benjamin Cohn
Weaverville – The use of Roundup, a weed killer manufactured and sold by Monsanto Agrochemical Company, alarms those familiar with its potential dangers. Similar weed killers, including Accord XRT II by Dow AgroSciences, contain the same potentially-toxic ingredient as Roundup, known as glyphosate.
Duke Energy is responsible for powering Weaverville and the area. Part of that responsibility includes keeping plant life, mainly trees, away from their power lines. In addition, however, Duke Energy has been seen spraying herbicides around the homes in its distribution path, according to one Weaverville resident.
Essentially, according to local artist Sarah Faulkner, homes in Duke Energy’s right of way may be subjected to the use of herbicide without the owner’s knowledge. “Their [Monsanto’s] research is very dubious,” Faulkner said. “This [use of herbicide] has been going on for decades.”
Faulkner explained to the Tribune how she first learned of Duke Energy’s vegetation management process.
“They [Duke Energy] came down our street and did a lot of tree trimming. I was very concerned about how extensive that was going to be,” she said. Faulkner took it upon herself to learn what was going on. Her research turned up the name Roy Smith, Duke Energy’s Vegetation Management Specialist for the Weaverville area.
“I met with Roy Smith from Duke Energy about what was happening. He came down and was a really nice guy. He’s pro-Roundup, he feels that it’s good for pollinators. He said that, quote unquote, to me. But, again, everyone has a different opinion.”
Representatives from Weaverville’s local honey headquarters, Honey and the Hive, expressed concern over the use of certain herbicides and their impact on local wildlife, specifically bees.
“It’s not an insecticide, it’s an herbicide, said Mary Tolly, an employee at Honey and the Hive, referring to glyphosate-based products.
“What that does is, when the honeybees go to get the nectar, get the pollen, all that good stuff, because the herbicide is killing off the plants, there’s not any nectar or pollen for them to collect.
“It’s a food source [for bees] that they’re killing.”
Faulkner described her interactions with Smith as “very helpful,” and called Smith “very communicative.”
Representatives from Duke Progress Energy did reach out to the Tribune to clarify the company’s position.
According to Meghan Miles, Corporate Communications for Duke Energy, “All products used by Duke Energy are registered by the Environmental Protection Agency and approved state agencies.” Additionally, Miles says Duke Energy uses “professional contractors who have been trained” on the safe application of approved herbicides.
Faulkner clarified that her issue is not with Duke Energy or with any individual. She views the situation as an opportunity to bring public awareness to a topic about which she feels passionately.
“This purely, for me, is a public service announcement. A lot of people may not know they can opt out [of Duke Energy applying herbicide on their property].”
Further research brought Faulkner to the Town of Weaverville itself. She showed the Tribune a post by Selena Coffey, Town Manager, to a Facebook page.
“I’ve noticed a few posts of folks mistakenly assuming that the Town is responsible for the tree trimming,” Coffey said in the post. “Please be advised that this is NOT being done by the Town, nor did the power company notify the Town.”
Requests from the Tribune for Coffey’s further comment were met with a simple statement, “I was unaware that this was their practice,” that she’d “need to research its [glyphosate-based products] effectiveness and potential impact on the environment” before being able to “weigh in adequately.”
Faulkner figured Coffey was referencing a surge of complaints to the town regarding Duke Energy’s tree trimming.
“It appears that a lot of people have been [complaining to the Town of Weaverville],” Faulkner said. “I’m sure there were a number of people like myself who saw the tree trimmers coming and then just topping off [lopping off] trees … not having been given any notice.
“There is a real health concern about this [use of herbicides] and there are a lot of people who are concerned about this,” Faulkner insisted. “The European Union has banned the use of this [Roundup] in 28 countries. It’s not only for human health, but the health of the environment.”
The US’s official stance on Roundup, a glyphosate-based herbicide manufactured by Monsanto, is that it is not toxic to humans. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, there is no evidence that the active ingredient [glyphosate] is carcinogenic for humans. Duke Energy’s website listing of herbicides used in the vegetation management program never lists the brand name Roundup, but does list Accord XRT.
Despite that, large civil settlements have been publicized where Monsanto was forced to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in damages to those claiming Roundup caused their cancer.
The process of removing one’s house from Duke Energy’s routine spraying of glyphosate-based products includes a phone call to the customer service line and the completion of a certain form. The form, titled “agreement to avoid herbicide application on right-of-way form” has concerned homeowners who state definitively their desire to be removed from the herbicide program.
“You have a right to say, ‘I don’t want that stuff near my house,’ Faulkner reminded the Tribune. “They can contact Duke and say, ‘am I on the map of distribution lines?’”
Opting out of Duke Energy’s herbicide use is possible. Those interested in opting out of the program can call the customer service center at 1-800-452-2777.