We here in the ‘boro have a chronic problem: We live in the ice belt — Virginia reliably gets snow in the winter, South Carolina reliably gets rain, but we’re as likely to get freezing rain and sleet as anything else. And with ice comes falling tree limbs and entire trees. And with those come downed power lines. In our most recent ice storm, a lot of people were dark for close to a week.
Duke Energy wanted to minimize this problem by trimming back trees that are near power lines. Residents (including me, in my ignorance) protested.
Now Duke proposes to reduce the problem by injecting a chemical called Cambistat into the ground near trees adjacent to power lines. The good news is, Cambistat will make blossoming trees blossom even more aggressively while slowing the rate of limb growth. This, in turn, will reduce the frequency with which trees near power lines have to be trimmed back.
(I and others have argued that, over time, burying power lines would save Duke Energy, and therefore ratepayers, money by reducing costs associated with repairing downed lines, utility poles, transformers, etc. I still believe that to be true, but not only would the trenching required to bury lines kill a lot of trees all by itself by damaging their roots, it’s also beside the point of this discussion.)
The bad news about Cambistat? Its active ingredient, paclobutrazole, is a chemical about which almost nothing is known but which might be toxic. Relatedly, not a few local residents grow ornamentals, and even herbs, fruit or vegetables, near trees that would be so treated. And pines and cedars, the trees most vulnerable to ice breakage, wouldn’t even be treated.
But remember: We simply don’t know what the effects of exposure to the chemical would be, whether pure or in the diluted form of an herbicide, whether short-term or long-term. On the other hand, with chemical toxicity, unlike in criminal trials, lack of evidence does not automatically equate to a not-guilty verdict.
So friend and local blogger Billy Jones asked a simple question of a tree service that had responded to a Facebook post of his: “How will Cambistat affect my nearby herb and vegetable gardens?”
From a pure PR standpoint, the response he got made the mendacity of the tobacco companies back in the day look urbane and collegial. That made Billy both angry and even more curious. Me, too, and I don’t even grow stuff.