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Cleburne County commissioners are urged to halt herbicide spraying

Sign of protest

A "No Spray" sign was displayed at the Cleburne County Commission work session Tuesday afternoon, held by Marty Van Lonkhuijzen seated with his wife, Kay Ashley, at the meeting. 

HEFLIN Tell me where to mow and I’ll mow it myself.

That was the message one Cleburne County resident had for Cleburne County commissioners Tuesday as they heard of fears about environmental contamination if roadside chemicals continue to be used to control grass and weeds on public rights of way. 

The resident, James Beason, said he spoke from the experience of having been exposed to Agent Orange during long-ago deployment to Vietnam. A chemical used in the county’s herbicide is also a component in Agent Orange, according to Christy Hiett, who leads a local group called Cleburne Cancer Concern.

Beason’s point: It’s safer to cut the weeds down than to poison them.  

County commissioners heard from these persons and others during their afternoon work session as residents again voiced their concerns about the spraying of herbicides along the county’s rights of way. At last month’s meeting residents told commissioners of their displeasure with the practice and county resident Mark Truett presented a petition with over 700 signatures opposing the herbicide spraying.

First to speak was Hiett, whose group is trying to find the cause or causes of “astronomical amount of cancer” in the Fruithurst and Muscadine areas.

Hiett told the commissioners that three universities, concerned individuals and several of the commissioners helped with cancer research.

Hiett said that the groundwater is contaminated in the Fruithurst area.

She told the commissioners that according to the national cancer institute’s data, on average the residents of Fruithurst are six times more likely to have cancer than the national rate.

“It’s very alarming,” Hiett said.

Hiett said that when the herbicide is sprayed, the runoff gets into the creeks and eventually gets into the groundwater in Fruithurst and anywhere else in the county.

“Those people are not going to have an option but to drink contaminated water,” she said.

Hiett claimed she can prove that the contaminants are in the wells 

Hiett then named all of the chemicals used in the herbicide the county uses, including glyphosate, which is an ingredient in the weed killer Roundup, and 2-4 d, which is a main component in Agent Orange used to kill vegetation during the Vietnam War.

Hiett said that glyphosate is labeled as a “probable human carcinogen,” meaning that it is probable that it will cause cancer. 

Hiett then asked if the city limits of Ranburne, Heflin or Fruithurst were being sprayed. Cleburne county engineer Lee Estes answered “no." 

“The areas you are not spraying have the least amount of poverty, the areas you are spraying have the highest amount of poverty and that can be proven,” she said.

Hiett said that residents that are on well water in the county can’t afford the $1,075 fee to hook up to county water.

“It’s a huge health disparity that’s being created,” Hiett said.

Hiett asked the commissioners, if a person has skin or eye irritation from being exposed to the herbicide, then who would pay for medical attention or advice? Estes said any complaints need to be addressed to the company spraying the herbicides.  

“Can the county commission give Cleburne County residents a guarantee that there will be no medical impact from this spraying?” Hiett asked.

After a noticeable pause Hiett said, “Don’t everybody jump in at once. Can’t do it, can you? You cannot do it.” 

“We don’t have to spray, why can’t we just mow the right-of-ways, is there an answer to that other than money, is that an option,” Hiett asked and once again her question was met with silence. 

After Hiett spoke, it was Beason’s turn to address the commissioners. 

“I was a Marine in Vietnam and almost every other day we were sprayed with Agent Orange, I left in 1969,” Beason said.

Beason said in 2000 he started having health problems including diabetes.

“It’s all been attributed to Agent Orange,” he said, adding that he now has stage four kidney failure.

“I have at best four years to live, if you use this spray which has a major component in it of Agent Orange you’re condemning people to death,” said Beason.

Beason said the effects of Agent Orange continue for up to five generations, causing birth defects. 

Beason then made the commission his offer: “As long as I’m physically able, I have a tractor and a bush hog, give me a map, give me a schedule, I’ll cut it for free if that's what it does to keep you from spraying this poison.” 

He continued, “This can be stopped if you take action, but if you don’t and you let it go and you continue to use this that is your decision, and the results, I hope you can live with it.” 

A crowd of about 25 applauded.

Greg Flanders, who spoke last month, was brief in his remarks.

 “If you can’t listen to what James Beason said there is no hope for this county,” said Flanders. 

Commissioner Laura Cobb, the lone commissioner against the use of herbicides, urged the other commissioners to stop the spraying.

“I’m begging you to stop the spraying in this county. You can’t put money on a child’s life or our future,” Cobb said. 

“Please do not renew the contract to spray Cleburne County,” she said.

In other business, the county mulled over the reopening of the shuttered county landfill to take in construction and demolition debris. Taking such materials would be a source of additional revenue for the county.

Mike Doran, principal scientist with Southeastern Environmental Compliance, told the commission that the landfill could be reopened as a “C&D” landfill accepting only construction and demolition debris.

The Cleburne County landfill was opened in the 1970s and closed in 1994 after tighter federal regulations required landfills to have a liner. 

The landfill, a 105-acre piece of property with 30 acres of actual landfill near Chulafinnee, has to be monitored for 30 years after closure due to contaminants found in the groundwater when it was closed.  

After the meeting Hiett said the reopening of the landfill was not a good thing.

“It’s the dumbest thing that could ever happen for our county,” she said.

Even though Doran had said no hazardous waste would be allowed at the landfill, Hiett was not convinced.

The next commission meeting will be on June 15 at 4:30 p.m. at the Mountain Center. 


​Staff writer Bill Wilson: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @bwilson_star.