One summer day three years ago we were driving down our road with the windows down enjoying the fresh air and we observed a man on the other side of our dirt road bent over. Thinking something was wrong with him we slowed down just in time to get wind drifted herbicide spray full in the face. It felt like someone stuck hot pokers in my eyes and with chronic asthma I went into an immediate attack. I almost used up my rescue inhaler before we got home which was only a few minutes from the incident.
I got myself breathing again, and following several eye washes my vision cleared almost to normal. Since we live in a HOA community - actually a landowners community - I then e-mailed the association to advise me what I had been sprayed with. One sentence, one simple question or so I thought. I had seen someone spraying previously but had not given a thought to the activity. Now I was very interested. They would not tell me what was being used. I threatened them with a report to the EPA, and was told I could go ahead and report them. I did, and at least found out what was being applied to the edge of the dirt roads and the common area’s that we all use. It was 2-4-D Amine 4.
That started a saga that went on for nearly three years. During the process I learned a lot about toxic herbicides, Colorado law and how to deal with unruly and belligerent people. Perhaps if I share the experience with readers they may be better equipped to deal with similar situations and at the same time avoid my mistakes. The two mistakes were trying to reason with unreasonable people, and assuming they would mend their ways.
I had no idea what 2-4-D Amine 4 was so went to work on the Internet to find out. The more I read the more alarmed I became. It is a known carcinogen, highly toxic to the eyes, children and pets. It adheres to the foilage for about two weeks and can be absorbed via the skin, be inhaled, or ingested. I researched the product and received reports from the EPA, USDA, several environmental groups and Colorado Department of Agriculture. The more I learned, the worse it became. I asked the association leadership to at least post notice where it had been applied so we could avoid it. I received a very belligerent and demeaning refusal to do that. It turned out the association had an alleged toxicologist that had assured them it was safe. The president of the association claimed they had sprayed it themselves and their dogs got in it with no visible harm - at the same time complaining that their dogs were losing their teeth and they couldn’t understand why.
The EPA advised me that while the association was inappropriately applying it they did not have enforcement power and referred me to the Colorado Department of Agriculture who did have that power. I then reported it to them as it was clear the association was geared for a battle and would not listen to any of my requests. The DOA said they lacked manpower to do anything. I sent a letter to our Governor. No response. The second letter, which was a little stronger, was sent and suddenly the DOA became extremely interested.
Shortly thereafter, one of two State investigators came and investigated and issued an immediate cease and desist order to the association to stop spraying. It turned out only professional applicators had to post signs showing where it was applied. In the meantime requests to the association to post signs or switch to something like Milestone for our meadows went totally ignored. Finally the leaders either retired from serving or were voted out of office. The current leaders are more realistic regarding dangerous chemicals and are using better-suited herbicides or not spraying.
So that brings me to lessons learned:
- When you run up against belligerent and unreasonable people, don’t deal with them but go to someone who has authority to do something.
- When you hit a road block with government officials just keep going up the ladder until you get someone to listen. don't quit. The same people who blew me off the first time were more than willing to help when the Governor got involved.
- Don’t think you won’t be vilified and censored by people who don’t want to be bothered with doing the right thing. You will as I found out. Don’t be distracted by personal attacks or threats.
- Do your research. Being armed with solid facts is your best defense against all the false claims that will be thrown at you.
- And lastly, be persistent and stick to the subject. Don’t lower yourself to hostile and belligerent people’s level. We had false rumors started about us, were told to move from the community, and threatened. When that happens you know you are hitting close to home and they are nervous. Persist, persist and persist. And last but not the least, get help if you can so you don't have to go it alone like I did. I had offers but didn't want anyone else to have to be attacked like I was. Get help if available. One lady from Denver who heads an environmental group was a huge help in helping me do research.
Hopefully this will be of some benefit to anyone experiencing the same problem. Favorable results won’t be guaranteed when dealing with people who are so mean spirited as I was dealing with, but it goes a long way to insuring success if you don’t drop to their level and are armed with reliable solid facts. Good luck and I hope you don’t have to experience people who are more interested in killing weeds than protecting their neighbors. You never know when you will be drawn into one of these situations so be calm and mostly be prepared.