Falmouth Board of Health voted Monday, April 8, to create a one-year moratorium, with a variance provision, prohibiting the use of the herbicide glyphosate on town-owned lands.
Glyphosate is the main ingredient in such popular commercial weed killers as Roundup and Rodeo, which have been linked to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and, less conclusively, to other health issues from eye irritation to endocrine abnormalities, according to published reports.
The variance provision would allow the Falmouth Department of Public Works or the conservation department to apply to the health board for a variance to use glyphosate to combat phragmites, a difficult-to-curb wetland grass, Falmouth Health Agent Scott McGann said yesterday.
"This is not a ban forever, this is not a ban everywhere. Residents can still buy and use the herbicides on their properties. It is only on town-owned lands for one year from the vote and then the town will reconsider," Mr. McGann said.
Laura L. Kelley, an Eastham resident and director of the nonprofit Protect Our Cape Cod Aquifer, presented to the health board twice last month, requesting that Falmouth cease using glyphosate products on town-owned lands and also write a new regulation.
"POCCA's mission is to educate residents, businesses and public agencies of Cape Cod about the importance of keeping our drinking water safe by eliminating the use of herbicides, pesticides and other hazardous chemicals in our fragile ecological environment," the group's website states.
Drinkable water does not have border lines as people or towns do, and so local residents, along with town and state officials, must act to regulate dangerous products that enter the aquifer, Ms. Kelley said yesterday. Her organization is meeting with boards of selectmen and health in all 15 Cape towns and on Martha's Vineyard.
"The Sandwich Board of Health approved a town policy on glyphosate last month. Mashpee Board of Health won't even allow me on their agenda. The Bourne Board of Selectmen said I should move forward, but I got a lot of pushback from the Bourne Board of Health," she said.
Falmouth's decision to create a one-year moratorium is the strongest action a town can take, Ms. Kelley said.
"That's what we want. It protects the town from liability in the future. When a town board goes forward with these regulations, the town departments need to comply and switch their products, which is not hard to do. We're asking towns to take glyphosate out of their toolbox and put back in Organic Materials Review Institute-certified pesticides, which are cost-effective and on the same shelves as glyphosate products," she said.
Mr. McGann said health board members will discuss the creation of a working group with DPW and conservation staff to consider the use of alternative products.
In addition, POCCA has been advocating that Eversource and other utility companies be prohibited from using the herbicide when clearing trees and brush.
During its Monday meeting, the board of health agreed to oppose in writing Eversource's yearly operational plan, which includes the use of glyphosate on rights-of-way near power lines, to the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources before the April 19 comment-period deadline.