County sprays near Cold Spring water supply
By Michael Turton
Putnam County has used an herbicide to kill weeds around guardrails on Fishkill Road that overlook the Cold Spring reservoir, despite a warning on the product that it should not be applied near water. The reservoir provides drinking water to the village and Nelsonville.
A resident alerted Greg Phillips, Cold Spring’s superintendent of water and wastewater, about the spraying. One of the two herbicides applied was DuPont’s Oust XP, which states on its label, “Do not apply to water, or to areas where surface water is present.”
Phillips expressed frustration with the county’s response, or lack of one, especially since he had encountered a crew spraying along the road a year ago who assured him the practice would end. “Well, it’s happened again this year, and to me it looks worse,” he said. Dead, brown vegetation can be seen beneath many of the guardrails adjacent to the water.
The Current’s emails to Putnam County Highway Commissioner Fred Pena and Deputy Commissioner John Tully were referred to the County Executive’s office, but no response was received by press time.
The villages’ drinking water flows down Foundry Brook from two reservoirs near Lake Surprise Road to a third reservoir and treatment facility on Fishkill Road. Foundry Brook parallels a considerable portion of the road.
Mowers are used along much of the road but herbicides are applied around guardrails where mowing is difficult. More than 15 guardrails, some longer than a football field, line the road’s numerous turns between Route 9 and Nelsonville. Some of the railings are positioned less than 10 feet from Foundry Brook.
Phillips said he called the county Highway Department on June 7, asking which chemicals had been used, the name of the applicator and other information that would be on the permit required by New York State.
What Was Sprayed
Sulfometuron-methyl, the active ingredient in Oust XP, is a common herbicide that works by blocking cell division in the growing regions of a plant’s stem and root tips. In studies on rabbits and rats, it has been found to be slightly toxic (requiring a “Caution” label). Studies have found that in well-aerated, acidic water, its half-life (or the time it takes for half of its active ingredient to decay) is about 10 days. In more alkaline water, its half-life can be as long as eight months.
Glyphosate N-(phosphonomethyl) glycine, the active ingredient in Credit 41 Extra, has a half-life of anywhere from 12 days to 10 weeks in pond water. It has been found to be moderately toxic (requiring a “Warning” label).
Source: Extension Toxicology Network
He said he was told the county has a New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) permit because most of the county’s roads lie within the city watershed (it obtains water from upstate via the aqueduct that runs through Philipstown). He said he was also told that the DEP has stringent regulations, so any herbicides approved for use countywide were also safe along Fishkill Road.
Phillips disputes that interpretation, based on the quantities of water involved. New York City uses a billion gallons of water a day. By contrast, Cold Spring uses 250,000, so any herbicides that enter the system would be far more concentrated.
He said he received safety data sheets from the county about the herbicides on June 27, nearly three weeks after he requested them, despite support from Legislator Barbara Scuccimarra and the county Department of Health.
“It should have taken a day,” he said. “I don’t think they paid attention to the fact that our water supply and treatment plant are there. I need to make sure the water supply is safe.”
He said the county has not told him who applied the herbicides, although he suspects a private company was contracted. He wonders if the county told the sprayers that Fishkill Road is located in a water supply area. If the company knew, “it’s negligence,” he said.
The DEC requires village water to be tested every three years for contaminants that include herbicides and pesticides. This is not a testing year but “we’re going to test for them now,” Phillips said. The results will take a few weeks. Sampling will include water upstream of the treatment plant as well as downstream. To conduct the tests, the village first had to know what chemicals it was looking for.
Public opinion is also on Phillips’ mind; the spraying prompted a lot of discussion on social media. “People may think we’re not doing our job,” he said, “but we’ve been trying to get answers all along.”
Phillips noted that about a week before being alerted to the spraying, the state Department of Environmental Conservation contacted him. It wanted to organize a meeting with Cold Spring, Nelsonville and Philipstown officials to discuss surface-water protection.