Alaska Railroad Herbicide Use

The Alaska Railroad has made repeated attempts over the past three decades to spray harmful herbicides to kill vegetation along the railbelt between Seward and Fairbanks.

Alaska Railroad train to Spencer Glacier
Alaska Railroad near Spencer Glacier between Anchorage and Seward. Photo by Frank Kovalchek.

Herbicide spraying along the railway poses an unacceptable threat to water quality, aquatic life, wildlife, workers and public health.

Since our founding in 1997, Alaska Community Action on Toxics has lead repeated grassroots campaigns to prevent the Railroad from spraying dangerous herbicides. In fact, as a result of grassroots efforts, the Railroad has been prevented from spraying herbicides under Republican and Democratic governors since 1984.

What’s Happening Now

Despite widespread citizen opposition, the ADEC issued a permit in 2010 that allows the Alaska Railroad Corporation to spray herbicides along areas of track between Seward and Indian. ACAT led a legal challenge that went to the Alaska Supreme Court. Our legal action resulted in a partial stay on the permit and further protection of drinking water sources.

With the public interest environmental law firm, Trustees for Alaska, ACAT will continue to pursue legal actions as well as grassroots support to prevent additional spraying of herbicides by the Alaska Railroad Corporation.

Background

The Railroad submitted a permit request in 2009 to Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC) to spray Aquamaster and Agridex along the 90 miles of track from Seward to Indian.

The proposed herbicide spraying threatens salmon streams, drinking water sources, berry-picking areas and neighborhoods in close proximity to the railroad.

The active ingredient in Aquamaster is glysophate (also used in Roundup). Glysophate has been linked to endocrine, reproductive and developmental health effects in humans. Agridex is a surfactant designed to disperse the herbicide more effectively which also enhances the toxic effects, bioaccumulation and persistence in the environment. Agridex contains a proprietary combination of chemicals including at least two that are considered likely to cause cancer.

The Alaska Railroad’s permit application:

  • Fails to properly identify potentially affected water bodies;
  • Does not offer measures to protect ecosystems and communities;
  • Does not provide justification for use of the herbicide mixture.

To learn more:

  • Read ACAT’s public comments submitted to ADEC
  • View GIS maps showing sensitive aquatic habitats that could be affected by herbicide spraying

Alternative, Non-Toxic Measures of Vegetation Control

Chemical control of weeds is unnecessary and harmful. Alaska Community Action on Toxics maintains that an integrated non-chemical approach would be highly effective.

Other alternatives to the use of herbicides tested and used in Canada and Europe include: mechanical removal, steam, competing and replacement vegetation, timely mowing, thermal infrared, vacuum cutters, geotextile applications, use of soybean-based fuels to support infrared treatment. Safer alternatives can replace the need for herbicides and are discussed in more detail in our public comments.

Take Action!

Urge the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation to require that the Alaska Railroad establish a public oversight council to fully evaluate, develop, and adopt an integrated least-toxic vegetation management system for the Alaska Railroad, including mechanical, cultural, and biological methods. The public oversight council will ensure proper implementation of economically feasible alternatives to the use of herbicides for controlling vegetation in railroad rights-of-way and rail yards.

Write to the Alaska Railroad Corporation to ensure that they are accountable to Alaskans through a public oversight council.

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