Wednesday, December 30, 2009

"Aquatic Nuisance"


At a pre-Christmas dinner last week in Michigan, pop’s childhood friend K. revealed, after a conversation about invasive species in the Great Lakes, that herbicides were applied to our neighborhood Elizabeth Lake this summer to control the weeds. According to an angry K., residents proposed this measure because they found the weeds “icky” and didn’t want to have to drive their fancy speedboats through them or feel them on their legs when swimming (my sister E. always hated swimming out to the platform when we were kids for that reason). K. told us people were to stay out of the lake for only a week after the application but the realization that my family and I had been swimming there in September made me feel a little queasy.

Does this kind of vegetation control happen often in inland lakes in the US? Is the decision made for aesthetic or environmental reasons or both? What kinds of environmental and health assessments are carried out beforehand? To me, the decision as K. described it seemed disturbingly nonchalant. But was it really?

According to the Waterford Township agenda from March 9, 2009, a company called “Lakeshore Environmental, Inc.” prepared an assessment entitled “Survey of Aquatic Vegetation in Elizabeth Lake” and was tasked with overseeing the herbicide application by the company awarded the bid, Professional Lake Management (“on the cutting edge of aquatic nuisance”). Judging by the websites, the application of aquatic herbicides is a fairly common occurrence regulated by the DEQ and EPA. Here’s a lengthy description from Purdue University Botany Dept. Prof. Carole Lembi on why such applications are safe for humans. Still, the report concludes that:

All pesticides are currently undergoing a reregistration process through the Environmental Protection Agency. What this means is that all of the gaps in the data that relate to carcinogenicity and other adverse effects have to be filled.

Can't say that's very comforting…

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