Protect Your Family From Herbicide Spraying

Submitted by Sue Phelan ( or 508.362.5927)

The corporate giant NSTAR/Northeast Utilities (NU) and others such as National Grid, the railroads and MTA are all poised to spray their toxic mixtures of herbicides over residential and public properties statewide. These corporations do not own the land in most cases. They only have easements over the properties and contend they have the right to spray harmful chemicals if they choose. Peer reviewed studies supply ample evidence of potential harm to human health — especially to pregnant women and children. Last year NSTAR contractors on Cape Cod sprayed in violation of the NSTAR Yearly Operational Plan and the federal law that regulates pesticide use. This incident demonstrated yet again that federal and state laws are not enforced by state agencies charged with regulating the spraying. An appeal filed on behalf of property owners on Cape has been hung up in the bureaucracy.

We are on our own to protect our families and drinking water supply from the immediate and future health impacts from this stew of herbicides along with a very high percentage of unknown ingredients (“trade secrets”). These herbicide formulations are not fully tested for human health effects such as endocrine disruption. They are not tested with the unknown ingredients included in the final formulation (which can be more toxic than the main ingredient), and they are never tested as the mixture which will be sprayed “in the field.”
The following are actions we can take to limit the damage to ourselves and our families.  Unfortunately, the effects of exposure to pesticides may not be evident immediately but can have lasting consequences for future health. Preventing exposure should be a priority, even though many — including state agencies, will dismiss your concerns.

What to do prior to spraying (if you are notified):

  • If you are a direct abutter or the easement is on your property, research your deed for the specific easement language. Older deeds tend not to include language specifying chemical maintenance. You may have the basis for a legal action. Work with your neighbors so you can all benefit.
  • Relocate sensitive persons from your home before subcontractors start applying herbicides.  Remove sensitive persons from the home during and immediately after the spraying only if there are concerns about possible immediate health problems. Dial 911 in an emergency.
  • Close windows. Keep children and animals away from sprayed areas until the next significant rain.
  • Leave shoes outside to keep chemicals from getting into your home. Herbicides remain in house dust for years.
  • Bring in toys, outside furniture, pet dishes, and other objects usually left outside prior to spraying.
  • Harvest your vegetable gardens prior to spraying, and don’t harvest after the spraying.
  • When driving through an area that has been recently sprayed, close your windows and vents.
  • For NSTAR utility easements, abutters should contact Bill Hayes, Senior Arborist 1-800-592-2000 and request an exemption for your property.
  • Call your town Dept. of Health and State Rep. or Senator if an exemption is not agreed upon or you get no response to your request. Make noise; your health is important!

If the contractor hasn’t started spraying yet:

  • Ask to meet the person overseeing applications or monitoring spraying and ask for his or her name.
  • Ask to see maps of the area including notations of wells, water bodies, wetlands, endangered species habitat, gardens, etc. Check to see if they are current and your property or well is visible on the map.
  • Ask the contractor how or if they are determining wind velocity. Are they using an anemometer? Remind the contractor that wind speeds are strictly dictated on the label of each herbicide which has the force of federal law.
  • Ask if setbacks from wells and other bodies of water are posted.
  • If you are elderly or have any immune system issues (e.g. cancer, Lyme disease, HIV/AIDS, asthma, chemical sensitivity, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Crohn’s disease, MS, diabetes, thyroid disease, Parkinson’s, etc.) or chemical sensitivity, you should approach the contractors hired by NSTAR and let them know exposure to herbicides will impact your health.
  • Insist on an exemption from spraying based on your health or the health of family members.
  • If you believe you are in immediate danger from imminent spraying and the contractor is ignoring or dismissing you, call the state coordinator of the Rights-of-Way (ROW) program Michael McClean 617-626-1781 or 617-626-1776; consider calling the police.

Document what you see:

  • Do not endanger yourself by going outdoors once spraying begins.
  • It is illegal for NSTAR and other Rights-of-Way (ROW) contractors to spray if the wind is less than 3 MPH or more than 10 MPH. Spraying outside of this range is a violation of federal and state law. Report it by phone and in writing to those listed below.
  • Take photos and videos to insure against procedure violations, but don’t endanger yourself by going outdoors to videotape.
  • Take follow-up photos/videos of the sprayed area at intervals until next year with attention to areas of suspected overspray on your property.
  • Record location, date, and time of spraying, weather, and wind velocity. The damage will not be immediately evident and will be more obvious in the following months or next year.
  • Record info about the spraying truck: license number, business name, and any type of spray device.
  • Could you see spray being released off target? What property was being sprayed?
  • Document any effects you notice immediately: any odor, strange behavior of bees or other animals, irritation to eyes or mucous membranes, headache, nausea, and other symptoms.

In case of illness due to herbicide exposure:

In the case of physical illness of people or animals, see a physician or veterinarian to confirm symptoms ASAP, obtain a diagnosis, and receive treatment. Get a written report signed by the physician or veterinarian. (Note: Many physicians and veterinarians are unfamiliar with the symptoms of pesticide poisoning, which may resemble symptoms of a cold, flu, or a nervous disorder) Tell them about your pesticide exposure and make sure they make a note of it on your record.

Report any possible violations or chemical exposures immediately to:

  • MDAR- Michael McClean at 617-626-1781 or 617-626-1776
  • Your local Department of Health
  • GreenCAPE at 508.362.5927 (GreenCAPE will maintain a list)


Click here for more about the campaign against NSTAR

Click here to visit

Comments are closed.