Pets and municipal weed control
August 7, 2013 11:24 AM   Subscribe

Dogs, cats, and herbicides. My town hires a contractor to spray the gutters for weed control. A truck comes along and hoses down the gutters with Milestone (aminopyralid). It's impractical to give notice to homeowners of application dates because the window of application is extremely weather dependent; therefore I have no idea when it's going to happen and end up blithely walking my dogs straight through freshly applied herbicide at every single street crossing, as we walk four miles nearly every day of the year. Obviously many other dogs and outdoor cats are affected as well. How does your municipality handle weed control? Are you given notice? Are there more environmentally friendly ways of preventing weeds in gutters? Supposedly this is a very safe herbicide but, you know, we've heard that before. I strongly prefer not to walk my dogs in it.
posted by HotToddy to Grab Bag (17 answers total)
Here it's done at the community level and the municipal level; no warnings are posted by the municipality, you just have to use your best judgement. But in places where herbicides are used more frequently, there is also frequent watering.

At the community (neighborhood) level, it's part of the community landscaping contract and dealt with by the contractor; they spray for weeds and bugs and put little signs up that caution kids and pets to stay off until the greenspaces are dry.

If you're concerned with dealing with it personally; ask the muni to invest in signs, or get SoftPaws on the pet or wash their paws after every walk.
posted by tilde at 11:28 AM on August 7, 2013

My town puts up those little flags (maybe 6"x6") on spikes. They say something to the effect of "WEED CONTROL: DO NOT ENTER FOR 24 HOURS." They do not collect them after 24 hours. I guess they figure if you see it once, you'll go around, and if you see it again the next day, you'll know you're safe.
posted by Etrigan at 11:28 AM on August 7, 2013

Not sure about environmentally friendly options, but here's a suggestion to write to your local muni: Couldn't they send out a list of potential spraying dates for each month, along with alternate rain/snow dates?
posted by lovelygirl at 11:29 AM on August 7, 2013

My town just mows (with one of those big side-mounted flail mowers). Simple as that. The same guy that plows in the winter just drives around all summer, and makes a complete circuit of the town's major roads every 2-3 weeks.
posted by pla at 11:30 AM on August 7, 2013

Missed edit window!

If they send out a list of proposed and alternate dates, then at least you have an idea of when the town might have sprayed. That would be better than having no clue until you and your dogs walk right into a recently sprayed area.
posted by lovelygirl at 11:40 AM on August 7, 2013

Response by poster: To clarify: I'm talking about paved streets with curbs and gutters. The herbicide is applied with a hose from a truck-mounted tank. They spot treat outbreaks of noxious weeds on an as-needed basis, and then also apply an herbicide to the gutters prophylactically.
posted by HotToddy at 11:40 AM on August 7, 2013

Do you mean curbs or roadway medians? To me a gutter is that thing on your roof that directs rainwater away safely and I'm having a real hard time believing that the city is soaking your roof with herbicide!

Can you alter your route on spray days to stay on residential streets without medians? I assume they don't come down every side street with the truck and are mostly sticking to the main routes with a median in the middle.
posted by COD at 12:44 PM on August 7, 2013

Response by poster: I mean these: Curb. Gutter. I'm already talking about residential streets without medians and that's exactly what they're doing, coming down every side street and hosing down the gutters with herbicide to treat/prevent weeds.
posted by HotToddy at 12:57 PM on August 7, 2013

Response by poster: Should have said "curbs and gutters"--the whole thing where the curb meets the street.
posted by HotToddy at 12:59 PM on August 7, 2013

Curbs and gutters, yeah, that's how they're done here - spray and treat the swale and the curb and gutter; put a sign on the swale. Medians are mowed or spot-treated; generally when they send landscapers through on the ones that can't get mowed, they spray with spot treatment.

I personally kill it with fire.
posted by tilde at 1:11 PM on August 7, 2013

I'm sort of dubious that weeds in your curbs and gutters are actually that big a problem. Aminopyralid is a strong pesticide specifically aimed at already growing broadleaf plants, not grasses, which I would expect to be what would grow in your gutters. The good news is that it really doesn't seem to be toxic to animals.

My bigger concern is that your curbs and gutters fill with stormwater and then convey it to your local streams. This particular pesticide has a half-life of more than a year to up to three years, which is a very long time for something that's likely to be washed away in every shower. And once it gets into your local bodies of water, it is toxic to algae and aquatic plants.

I am not a huge Round-up fan, but it degrades in the environment much more quickly than this stuff. Honestly, unless your curbs and gutters are just constantly getting overgrown with broadleafed plants, this spraying seems completely unnecessary. Since this stuff is highly water soluble, I doubt it is very effective when sprayed prophylactically--it sounds like it was manufactured to kill broadleafed plants, not prevent weeds from growing in gutters. I think you could easily make this an economic argument to your municipality--how much are they spending to propholactically spray something that washes away in every storm? Couldn't that money be better spent on targetted spraying of actually growing weeds?
posted by hydropsyche at 1:22 PM on August 7, 2013

Where I used to live they put water based colouring in the spray so you could see which plants had been sprayed and avoid them. It washed away in the next rain. This however was a little country town in Australia so might not be relevant. I noticed that the uses over the past few years faded so I don't know if it was environmental or financial.
posted by wwax at 2:00 PM on August 7, 2013

Household vinegar might be a good alternative to suggest. It's amazingly effective at preventing weed growth in the cracks between stones in my walk -- one or two applications covers the whole season. Cheap and non-toxic.
posted by Corvid at 6:51 PM on August 7, 2013

Response by poster: Correction, I just got a phone call from the applicator and they switched this year from aminopyralid to clopyralid, if that makes any difference to people's responses. They also used Roundup in some areas.

Thank you for all the suggestions, this will be very helpful in discussing the issue with the city. If anyone has any other ideas for how the applicator could give notice that an area has been treated (along the lines of flags, coloring in the spray, etc.) that would also be super helpful.
posted by HotToddy at 7:49 PM on August 7, 2013

Clopyralid is only slightly better, unfortunately. It's actually banned from being sold for use by consumers on their lawns, because although it does not kill grass at all (again, what weeds are they targeting here?), it is toxic to most vegetable plants, and, although it is not toxic to animals, it's highly irritating to the eyes. However, it has a much, much shorter half life in the environment (40-50 days versus 300-900 for aminopyralid), so it is somewhat more reasonable to spray in the gutters. Only somewhat, though. It is still highly mobile, so it will wash away every time it rains, which makes it pretty useless for prophylactic spraying. The EPA encourages you to not walk through recently sprayed areas primarily due to the eye irritation issue.

I think you should bring up the EPA warning to them and argue that they really have to mark where they've sprayed in some way, if you can't persuade them that this whole idea is pretty stupid.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:06 AM on August 8, 2013

It might be worthwhile for you to call the sate-level environmental agency for your jurisdiction. One would tend to assume that a municipal government would be well aware of the laws governing application of chemicals to the environment, and would follow those rules, but that assumption would often be wrong. It seems quite possible that doing this sort of application without posting any sort of notice may not even be legal. If that's the case, you would be in a much stronger position.
posted by Corvid at 11:49 AM on August 8, 2013

Response by poster: So much excellent advice in this thread. Thanks to all! (But don't hesitate to chime in if you have anything else to add!)
posted by HotToddy at 1:27 PM on August 8, 2013

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