Laredo’s ‘Agent Orange’ Controversy

Date Put forth on March 23, 2009 by XicanoPwr
Category Posted in borders, Immigration, Mexico, Texas


Along the border, rhetoric is high. As if there were not enough things to worry about here at home US, there is however, one more issue that may create the final perfect storm: Mexico.

The violence in Mexico that has spun out of control so quickly in 2008 has created a political reaction. It is hard to escape the bombardment of reports that has dominated our airwaves. From government and military officials to the talking heads, Mexico has been declared as a failed state, on the verge of civil war, and posing a threat to US national security.

Recently, President Obama weighed in on the issue saying that he was “not interested in militarizing the border.” However, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is singing a different tune. Her recent call for “more boots on the ground” along the border is currently taking place.

Not learning the harsh lessons from the past, Frontera NorteSur has just reported that Napolitano is unleashing a Vietnam tactic on the border. In the Vietnam War, the US sprayed vast tracts of land with the chemical defoliant Agent Orange as part of a counter-insurgency strategy aimed at removing forest cover for Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces.

Because a giant bamboo-like weed known variously as Carrizo cane – scientifically as Arundo donax – has run rampant along portions of the Rio Grande between the US, the US Border Patrol and DHS are eager to find a way to kill it. The variety of Carrizo cane that is common in the Laredo-Del Rio borderlands grows as tall as 30 feet and provides convenient cover for undocumented border crossers and smugglers. On the US side, US Border Patrol plans to use the same Vietnam tactic to eradicate stands of the Carrizo cane.

The herbicide in question is imazapyr. Like all broad spectrum herbicides, imazapyr efficiently kills most plants with which it comes in contact, even those not intended as targets of the herbicide. However, as Jay J. Johnson Castro, Sr., executive director of the Rio Grande International Studies Center at Laredo Community College noted, “Nobody knows the impact of imazapyr.”

However, should the risk outweigh the benefits?

According to CropLife, herbicides are the most widely used type of pesticide and comprise around 50% of all crop protection chemicals used throughout the world. The pesticide industries dismiss the risks and assert that pesticides are regulated and therefore safe. However, there are significant problems with the registration process that do not ensure their safety.

One reason, the studies conducted on pesticide are proprietary or not peer-reviewed. Second, the extrapolations for human safety are from animal research. The animals used are usually rats and they have genes that do not exist in people for the detoxification of chemicals.

The risks and negative aspects associated with obsolete or wrongly managed pesticides should not be ignored. Imazapyr is said to have a low risk, but the general public may not always possess the information to enable them to make an objective judgment and they therefore often exhibit unfounded bias. What is known, A fact sheet prepared by the Washington State Department of Agriculture reports that imazapyr was highly mobile and persistent in soils.

Even though the Vietnam War has ended over 30 years ago, the effects of Agent Orange is still wreaking havoc on millions, including the newly born. Nobody knows when the congenital deformities, one of many horrific health consequences of the toxic chemicals, will end.

US dioxin expert Arnold Schecter found dioxin (Agent Orange) was never diluted by water and is chemically stable so it doesn’t easily decompose. As a result, it still exists, infiltrating the ecosystems and food chains in many parts of Vietnam. This is how the deadly chemical continues to claim its new prey — people who live off the land and water systems contaminated by it.

A report on imazapyr chemical’s history developed for the non-governmental group Alaska Community Action on Toxics (ACAT) found that imazapyr can persists in soil, groundwater and surface water for over a year. Although imazapyr is a known corrosive that can irritate the eyes, skin and respiratory system, numerous epidemiological studies have identified herbicides as a potential risk factor for Parkinson’s disease.

If it is true, there is nothing to worry about, then why was Carlos Montiel Saeb, general manager for Nuevo Laredo’s water utility, told by Border Patrol to turn off their water pumps a few hours prior to spraying?

Last year, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that it would draw up plans for a DHS “surge” on the Mexico-US border to prepare for the possibility that Mexico’s drug war would “spill over” into the US. DHS’ new Secretary, Janet Napolitano, is showing signs she is determined to continue in the immigration crackdown launched by her predecessor Michael Chertoff without looking for humane alternatives.

The US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced on March 6 that it has completed an environmental assessment of the Carrizo cane and concluded that the introducing reed-killing wasps, Tetramesa romana, is the best of a handful of potential solutions.

While there appears to be a growing consensus in the US to assist Mexico in its efforts to combat the drug cartels, but NOT when the health risk outweigh the benefits.

Update: KeyRose at La Sanbe just posted that Pro8news just reported that the date for spraying will be delayed and that negotiations are underway because “our neighbors to the south have something to say.”

This is a minor and temporary victory. The news and local officials can downplay it and spin it all they want. The truth is, word spread fast and furious way in the blogosphere and we should pat ourselves on the back. However, we must stay vigilant and keep an eye on this.

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4 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. odd Agent Orange—2009 Version on the US/Mexico Border Trackback on Mar 24th, 2009 at 4:41 pm
  2. even One Penny Sheet » Laredo’s ‘Agent Orange’ Controversy Trackback on Mar 24th, 2009 at 8:42 pm
  3. odd At the Border Security is Privilege | VivirLatino Trackback on Mar 25th, 2009 at 7:31 am
  4. even » Laredo’s “Agent Orange” Controversy Update - By ¡Para Justicia y Libertad! Trackback on Apr 9th, 2009 at 2:51 pm

15 Comments

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  1. Gravatar Icon kyledeb Mar 24th, 2009 at 8:25 am

    It’s no secret that I love the color orange, but it makes me sick that the color orange was ever associated with a chemical like this. I cringe every time someone confuses Citizen Orange with Agent Orange.

  2. Gravatar Icon Russ Wellen Mar 24th, 2009 at 11:25 am

    Kind of self-defeating: Wouldn’t the Border Patrol be exposed to this stuff as much as anybody?

    Don’t worry, Kyle, you’re the grandest orange of all.

  3. Gravatar Icon Texano78704 Mar 24th, 2009 at 11:55 am

    I read the article about this in the Houston Chronicle this morning. They did mention the name of the chemical that they were planning to use. They mentioned groups that had concerns about herbicide use. However, there was zero mention about anything negative regarding the specific use of Amazapyr or its toxicity.

  4. Gravatar Icon XicanoPwr Mar 24th, 2009 at 12:52 pm

    Yeah, I know. I was disappointed when I saw the Chronicle’s article when they posted it up online around midnight. The op-ed section did provide a link to this post.

    I really am disappointed that the Chronicle didn’t mention anything negative. This is exactly what Jon Stewart was talking about the state of journalism. It’s a matter of those who minimized it and those who blew it off because it didn’t fit their worldview continuing in their plum positions of authority.

    Once again, when people bring up concerns, they are marginalized because they are either some second rate new service, blogs or non-chemist activists. And then they wonder why the state of the news media is the way it is.

  5. Gravatar Icon chabuka Mar 24th, 2009 at 4:42 pm

    Any body seen the bat-sh*t crazy “Pesticide King”, Tom DeLay, lately?……

  6. Gravatar Icon raincrow Mar 24th, 2009 at 4:59 pm

    Replying to Russ Wellen: No, it’s not self-defeating unless you are one of the “little people.” Do you think the gov gives one damn more about border patrol agents than it did about our grunts in Viet Nam or all the human guinea pigs downwind of our various nuclear tests. The blogosphere — across the entire political spectrum — needs to make some NOISE about this.

  7. Gravatar Icon Jules Mar 24th, 2009 at 5:57 pm

    Have they tried using goats to eat the offending plants/canes? These programs have been used extremely successfully in other states with very invasive plants. Goats will eat just about ANYTHING, tough as nails, even many ‘toxic’ plants. No pesticide required. They destroy the vegetation, often pulling it up at the roots for good. The goats are turned loose with bell collars or GPS tracking collars on one or two on and rounded up again at night with a herding dog. The goats don’t go far.

    They are doing this in Florida with some nasty imported plants, and it’s working very well. Other states and other countries have used it as well. It works well, no herbicides are sprayed, and everyone is happy.

  8. Gravatar Icon XicanoPwr Mar 24th, 2009 at 6:10 pm

    Jules, I don’t know about goats, but they have tried another animal, a donkey. It was reported on their local news. According to the person they focused on, Dr. Jim Earhart, a Carrizo cane experiment, it is successful.

  9. Gravatar Icon Border Explorer Mar 24th, 2009 at 7:59 pm

    This makes me literally sick. Have we learned nothing as a nation? I cannot believe we would deliberately poison the earth, kill the creatures there and contaminate the water. Things are worse than I thought.

  10. Gravatar Icon Jules Mar 24th, 2009 at 8:48 pm

    XicanoPwr, that is neat with the donkeys. They are also tough creatures that will eat most anything. I hadn’t heard of that one before.

    I know the goat program was successful because the herd will stay close together working in a “team” and they only need to radio collor or GPS collar one or two to keep track of the whole herd. (They must keep them from running wild, which would case problems of its own once they eat the unwanted veggies they will wander off to farms and lawns!) If the donkeys can work together in herds and don’t stray far, they would work well like the goats.

    I just wonder, if the donkeys pull the vegetation out by the root like goats do, which prevents it from growing back. Or do they crop it off at the base of the plant like horses, so it can sprout back the next season? I wonder.

    Natural solutions are often better and often overlooked. This way they end up with happy people, and happy goats and donkeys.

  11. Gravatar Icon Robert Mar 24th, 2009 at 9:24 pm

    Carrizo Springs in South Texas was named after the cane that grew around the creeks and springs that were once found in the area. However, in the 1930′s a rodent, nutria, was imported by southern fur farmers. Although it was a failure as a source of fur, escaped nutria thrived on riverine vegetation, including the young shoots of cane. Today, you won’t find any carrizo in Carrizo Springs because the nutria ate all of the new shoots.
    A more natural solution to the border proble might be to import more nutria to the area, and then mow down the old cane and let the nutria take care of the new shoots.
    At least you won’t have herbicides polluting the Rio Grande and killing all of the downstream vegetation.

  12. Gravatar Icon nagamaki Mar 25th, 2009 at 11:37 am

    A letter to the President.

    Dear President Obama,

    I’m reading today that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is planning to use an herbicide to eliminate tall grass cover in the border war with Mexico. While herbicides may be effectivie in killing all plant life, it will also contaminate and pollute the environment in which it is used including the ground water. This is not acceptable when alternatives exist!

    A “proven” alternative to herbicide use to accomplish the same objective without harm to the environment is to employ the use of goat herds to eat the problem away. We must stop these ideas of, it’s okay to do harm in the name of good. It is never okay to do harm, especially when there are positive alternatives. One step forward and two steps back is NOT the way to move forward. Create a problem to solve a problem, now we’re beginning to sound like republicans! Is anyone listening? Where is the voice of reason here?
    Thank you for your attention.

    Sincerely Yours,

    Please email the White House; http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/

  13. Gravatar Icon Juan Mar 25th, 2009 at 11:45 am

    No doubt Monsanto is behind the spraying, just as they were Agent Orange in Viet Nam. The single most corrupt corporation in the world (though Exxon and Big Tabacco would be a close behind), Monsanto is absolutely IN LOVE with toxic chemicals. As I write they are and have been spraying Columbia with their Roundup herbicide to kill coca plants there. Of course there is collateral damage, as there always is, and the people there are getting sick and dying. On top of that they are laying waste to the Amazon Jungle with their herbicide.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/mar/12/colombia-drug-war

    They were convicted of INTENTIONALLY dumping millions of gallons of PCBs in the creeks around Anniston Alabama causing many deaths and much misery. They also did the same in the UK.

    Oh, did I mention that they also genetically engineering the food we all eat?

    More about them here:

    http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Monsanto

  14. Gravatar Icon XicanoPwr Mar 25th, 2009 at 8:40 pm

    Thank you for your input and your tips. I am hoping that the powers that be are taking your suggestions to heart.

    We have contacted the Laredo’s Mayor to get a comment, however, he has not responded to us. I don’t see why Border Patrol needs to hire a consultant, that is a waste of taxpayers money considering Mexico considers imazapyr to be a medium risk, and the European Union has banned use of the herbicide in 2003 according to the Laredo Morning Times.

    I will save the Border Patrol, my next post is uncovering new information I found on imazapyr and it supports what I wrote.

  15. Gravatar Icon Meep Mar 26th, 2009 at 12:23 pm

    I am LIVID.
    I hope that others in Texas will fight this tooth and nail. I moved from the state a year ago so I don’t think that I would be as effective, but I do want to get the word out.

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