HEFLIN — A host of speakers who oppose the use of herbicides to kill weeds on the right of way addressed the Cleburne County Commission during a Tuesday night meeting.
The spraying has been completed for the year along roads and highways, but the speakers urged the commission to end the practice once and for all, citing adverse health effects from the spraying.
First to speak was Greg Flanders, who has been a vocal opponent to the use of herbicides on the rights of way.
“We’re all in this together, we want to help, use us,” Flanders said.
Flanders said that the county is not saving money by spraying compared with traditional mowing — and had sheets of financial data to back him up. Even if the county has saved money, the negative effects of the practice, according to Flanders, is not worth it.
“If we do save a dollar or two I urge you to look at the Gibbs settlement,” Flanders said.
According to Flanders, in 2019 the county awarded damages to an individual who had been harmed by the roadside spraying.
During 2019 the county sprayed the herbicides itself instead of using a contractor, as it did in the most recent spraying season.
Flanders also said that a Birmingham TV station is investigating a herbicide truck that sprayed too close to a child.
When asked about the lawsuit before the meeting Cleburne County attorney Jason Odom said, “No comment,” and added the matter was handled by the county’s insurance carrier.
Flanders said the county does have the money to mow the rights of way instead of using herbicides.
Flanders provided the commission a detailed breakdown of the costs of mowing vs spraying and pleaded with the commission to end the spraying of the rights of way.
“It just isn't working,” Flanders said, referring to Cleburne County Road 65 that has been sprayed twice and said, “It’s a mess.”
Cleburne County resident Tammy Pate spoke and said that she, her pregnant daughter and grandson were walking on County Road 42 on June 26 and encountered the herbicide truck and pleaded for them to stop spraying.
“He comes on up and he stops and I said, ‘would you please stop the spraying,’ I said, ‘for one my daughter is pregnant, this is my grandson and he’s only 13 months old, I don’t want them exposed to that,’ and he said, ‘well the county is paying me to spray and I’m going to spray,’ and he was very disrespectful,’” said Pate.
Pate said that the truck turned around and kept on spraying.
Pate said her daughter, Crystal Pitts, was very short of breath on that Saturday and Sunday after the incident, and the young mother was subsequently taken to the doctor to be checked out to make sure her unborn baby’s heartbeat was normal.
A week later Pate’s grandson, Maverick Pitts, got sick and developed a rash “all over him” and still has it on his legs, the grandmother said.
He was taken to the emergency room and was told to follow up at his doctor who diagnosed him with strep. According to Pate, it was unknown if the spraying had anything to do with his illness.
Pate said that people's health matters much more than just saving a dime.
Pitts said that after being exposed to the spray she developed a bad headache.
“We were probably about 30 foot from the truck that was spraying and I was trying to make it back to my yard because I didn't want me or my child or my unborn child to be exposed to it,” said Pitts.
Pitts said before she could get out of harm's way the truck turned around and continued to spray the herbicide.
Pitts hopes her unborn child will have no ill effects from the toxins.
“I’m very afraid but I’m going to keep praying to God that we have no problems,” said Pitts.
Pate said she wished the county had notified residents of the spraying.
“It just makes me very angry that we were not warned and weren't told and you’re not expecting it and you're just out doing your normal beautiful day walk and you’re imposed with chemicals,” said Pate.
Kaycee Cavender then addressed the commission and said she hopes the county will make the public aware of the spraying.
Cavender cited many instances that the county has warned citizens during bad weather, road hazards and other dangerous situations though social media, newspaper and other means.
“But when it came to the county’s decision to spray herbicides, they’re labeled as possible carcenginics, and warn of health hazards upon exposure or contact with chemicals there was no warning for the citizens,” said Cavender.
“Our children played in our yards and in our creeks without having any idea that they may come into contact with these herbicides. We know this because we have videos of trash cans, mail boxes and waterways being sprayed by IVM Solutions,” she said.
Cavender and others at the meeting were wearing yellow ribbons to signify the color of canaries in coal mines. A long time ago, canaries were used to warn miners of toxic gas in the coal mines; if there was too much toxic air in the mine, the little birds would die, thereby warning the miners to get out.
Cavender pleaded with the commission to pass a resolution to abolish the roadside maintenance agreement.
Later in the meeting, District 1 Commissioner Laura Cobb made a motion to end the spraying of herbicides in her district. The motion died for a lack of a second.
Near the end of the meeting Commissioner Roger Hill did admit that there is a problem with the spraying of herbicides in the county. Tammy Pate and Crystal Pitts both live in Hill’s district.
“The commission needs to come together and resolve this, we don’t need to do it one district at a time, we need to do it countywide,” Hill said.
Cobb then wanted to change her failed resolution to include the entire county.
“There’s issues, we’ve all seen it,” said Cobb.
“The spraying is not the solution, we can save money some other way,” she said.
Because the spraying has ended for the year, the commission will take the matter at a later date.