Wellfleet, Massachusetts—On a recent moonlit evening, with spring peepers in chorus, a dozen Wellfleet residents gathered inside their town’s grey-shingled library for a public information session on the controversial herbicide, glyphosate.
A bucolic, seaside town with less than 3,000 year-round residents, Wellfleet is famed for its picturesque harbor and sweet, briny oysters.
Its residents, like the rest of Cape Cod, rely on a sole source of drinking water, a shallow underground aquifer, and protecting that aquifer from pollutants such as pesticides and septic wastes from household wastewater is a huge concern.
Semi-rural, with 1,000 ponds, extensive wetlands and pristine beaches, Cape Cod is like a giant sandbar. Anything spilled on its sandy soils can seep quickly into the groundwater and pollute its well water and interconnected system of surface waters.
And so, as organic landscaper and founder of the advocacy organization Protect Our Cape Cod Aquifer (POCCA), Laura Kelley spoke about the dangers of glyphosate, she told Wellfleet residents, “[state pesticide] regulations don’t match our ecology.”
She was referring to the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources’ (MDAR) allowed use of glyphosate to control weeds on rights of way under power lines on Cape Cod. Kelley, and other residents, are concerned that the weedkiller isn’t as safe as regulators say it is, withemerging science suggesting harmful impacts from cancer to birth defects to disruption of hormones and other biological functions that can linger for generations.
Herbicide use by the region’s electricity provider, Eversource, is therefore wildly unpopular on the Cape. All 15 towns are locked in battle with both Eversource and MDAR, the authorizing agency, over the issue.
Cape Cod isn’t alone in facing an uphill battle at carrying out local pesticide policies. While more than 140 communities across the U.S. have now passed a pesticide ordinance or law, and the movement has been scoring big wins — from L.A. County’s glyphosate moratorium, toPortland, Maine’s synthetic pesticide ban, to Montgomery County, Maryland’s appellate court victory upholding its Healthy Lawns Act tonew legislation that would ban glyphosate from New York City parks — moving from victory to implementation of laws or ordinances can be a mixed bag.
Some localities find that passing a law is but a battlefield victory in a prolonged war. State-level preemption laws, resistance from implementing agencies, and lax EPA rules can lead to policies that simply sit on a shelf or are challenged in court.