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.

Oust XP, sprayed by the county on vegetation near Foundry Brook, which supplies drinking water to Cold Spring, includes a warning that it should not be applied near surface water or crops.

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.”

A guardrail along Fishkill Road overlooking the reservoir that supplies Cold Spring’s drinking water (Photo by M. Turton)

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.

Behind The Story

Type: News

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Turton, who has been a reporter for The Current since its founding in 2010, moved to Philipstown from his native Ontario in 1998. Location: Cold Spring. Languages: English. Area of expertise: Cold Spring government, features

6 replies on “Village Raises Concerns About Herbicide”

  1. Wow, it’s bad enough that all the runoff from road ice-melting material goes in that stream. By doing this it adds insult to injury. This is unacceptable. Spraying this stuff that is essentially Roundup on steroids. Thanks to Greg Phillips for taking up the fight. He is to be commended!

  2. I find this spraying unconscionable, harmful to wildlife and humans. Why was this done? There is already so much toxicity in our environment. Just notice the cancer rate increase. In addition the air quality in the Valley has led to a large increase in asthma and allergies. Then there is the possible new cell tower that is not harm free. It all feels so mindless without concern for how pesticides corrode the quality of life on the environment and of course on our neighbor’s well-being.

  3. I applaud the concerned citizens of our town for thinking of this and bringing it to our attention, along with the Highlands Current for researching and publishing this. We have established Stormwater and Wetlands regulations to help ensure that the water quality of both our groundwater and waterways is safe for all but I am concerned even to a larger degree when commercial chemical spraying takes place. How much is sprayed, over how much area, in how much time and how close to the waterway and wetlands is it done? Is testing at three-year periods sufficient to point out dangerous warning signs? Do we really need to do this? Is manual removal that much more expensive when summer students could be employed who need the work? I think it’s time to find alternatives when our Heath could be at stake. It’s time for a county wide discussion.

  4. Many thanks to Cold Spring Water Superintendent Greg Phillips for demanding that the Putnam County Highway department stop poisoning Cold Spring residents by spraying toxic herbicides into our water supply. The County delay in responding to Phillips’ reasonable request for the names of the toxins — so the water can be tested and protected — should be explained, and the County should apologize and detail what changes it will be making in its procedures to ensure such a negligence of its duties never happens again.

    The Town of Philipstown should ban the transportation of hazardous materials (including those County-sprayed herbicides) along Fishkill Road entirely, to prevent spills into Foundry Brook that would poison the whole community. With the upcoming cleaning of the Catskill pipeline (our backup for droughts and other disasters), such a spill would leave the area without any source of water, while sickening hundreds of people.

  5. How long has this spraying been going on for? Can the Putnam Highway Department tell us that? Politicians are always talking about “governmental transparency” — now is your chance to own up to this.

    Will the Village of Cold Spring pursue a criminal complaint or lawsuit against the Putnam highway superintendent to hold him accountable? Maybe they should look into this.

    Didn’t any of the Village or Town officials notice that there was spraying of herbicide along Fishkill Road, near the stream that flows into the Cold Spring reservoir when they drove their cars on Fishkill Road?

    Also will the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) be brought into this?

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