Anti-beetle pesticide accepted, questioned

May 13, 2011
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(Gazette Photo by Rebeca Oliveira) U.S. Department of Agriculture officials Robert Baca, Phillip Lewis and Clint McFarland, part of the Asian longhorned beetle eradication team, answer audience questions next to a beetle display at the April 28 community meeting at Faulkner Hospital.

JP SOUTH—At the first of two community meetings about the federal government’s plan to use pesticides against the invasive and highly destructive Asian longhorned beetle (ALB) in Jamaica Plain, many audience members accepted the idea but questioned one of the application methods chosen to apply the pesticide through the selected area.

The Arnold Arboretum, the largest affected property owner, has chosen pesticide soil injections in addition to trunk injections on its trees. All of the other 3,200 trees in targeted area would receive trunk injections. The Neighborhood Pesticide Action Committee (NPAC) have started a petition to ask the Arboretum to not use this method.

The planned use of imidacloprid to kill off the ALB could begin June 1.

Many of the 30 audience members at the meeting, held April 28 at Faulkner Hospital, ground zero for the infestation, expressed alarm about soil injections. Ground injections allow the pesticide being used, imidacloprid, to spread further into the ecosystem and possibly impact other insect species, such as bees, the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) team said.

But, they said, the pesticide would pose a minimal health risk to people and other mammals. A child would need to eat over 50 leaves from a treated tree or drink seven gallons of exposed water in one sitting to feel any effects, they said.

The team also said that ongoing research shows no links between the pesticide and large-scale damage to other insect populations. They acknowledged that imidacloprid does kill individual members of other species.

“It’s a pesticide. It kills insects,” said Robert Baca, APHIS’s environmental compliance expert.

Baca explained that the pesticide is “considered safe when used properly,” and that it is frequently used by lawn care companies and golf courses. Imidacloprid is available over the counter.

The ALB is an invasive species that kills hardwood trees by burrowing into them. ALBs were found last summer in six trees at Faulker Hospital in Jamaica Hills. Since then, JP has been under a federal quarantine on moving wood out of the area. No further beetles have been found since and the three-year pesticide application program is a precaution.

No arboretum representatives were present at the meeting. While the arboretum will mostly use ground injections for its trees, it will still use trunk injections in 400 trees near the Bussey Brook to prevent the pesticide’s spread to the brook, Clint McFarland, the USDA’s project director for the eradication effort, said.

“We thought this was better for the health of the trees. We thought the ground injections were more appropriate for our collection,” Arboretum spokesperson Audrey Rogerson told the Gazette in a phone interview.

According to McFarland, the arboretum chose ground injections for most of its trees for looks—trunk injections create holes that take years to fill in.

Rogerson later told the Gazette in an email that “aesthetics were not a factor in our decision…Our decision was guided solely by what would be best for the overall health of the trees.” The Arboretum already uses pesticides in its routine tree care, as the Gazette has previously reported.

Most audience members did not oppose the use of the pesticide, only the ground application.

“The Toxic Action Center and I have spoken with some experts and while we are still not certain 100 percent, it appears that the least toxic method [trunk injection] could be justified in this case,” said Margaret Connors, speaking as a representative of NPAC. “Soil injection…is the worst way to apply this pesticide.”

The Toxic Action Committee is a grassroots pollution-prevention and cleanup organization with seven offices in New England.

McFarland said the Arboretum made the decision after months of discussion with APHIS.

NPAC asked for signatures on a petition addressed to Ned Friedman, director of the Arboretum, on May 7, during the Wake Up the Earth Festival. In two hours, they garnered 60 signatures on the petition, which read, “We urge you to abandon the plan to dump hundreds of gallons of toxic pesticide into soil around trees in the Arboretum.”

McFarland stressed that the program start date is flexible. If the community still has concerns that haven’t been addressed by June 1, the eradication team is willing to push back the start of treatment.

The plan involves treating 3,200 trees in a quarter-mile radius of the original infestation site—Faulkner Hospital at 1153 Centre St. That area covers 92 property owners, including the City of Boston, Faulkner Hospital and the Arboretum along with homeowners.

While the treatment is voluntary, if any infected trees are found on any property, the tree will be removed and destroyed.

“We do surveys, but the surveys aren’t perfect. Something might get missed,” McFarland said. “This is a rather intense process, but it’s necessary.”

City Councilor Matt O’Malley scheduled a public hearing on the eradication efforts on May 10 at the Franklin Park Clubhouse, after the Gazette’s deadline.

“To their credit, the administration has done a really good job of educating the public. The [ ALB eradication team] has handled this in a textbook way. The devastating effects could wipe out thousands of trees,” O’Malley told the Gazette last week.

The tree species preferred as hosts by the ALB are hardwoods, including several maple species, box elder, horsechestnut, buckeye, elm, London plane, birch, and willow trees.

The environmental impact assessment for the plan can be viewed at http://www.aphis.usda.gov/plant_health/ea/downloads/ALB-Norfolk-Suffolk-MA-EA.pdf. Comments can be e-mailed to theresa.rice@aphis.usda.gov or sent via regular mail to Theresa Rice, 4700 River Road, Unit 26, Riverdale, MD 20737.

Corrected version: The previous version of this article incorrectly described the pesticide-targeted area as 10 square miles. In fact, it is under two-tenths of a square mile.

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