Residents of the Sharps Chapel community are angry with Powell Valley Electric Cooperative (PVEC) for allegedly using unhealthy chemicals to rid unwanted vegetation from around its electrical poles. A petition is in place that calls for a ‘safe’ alternative to the current method that many residents say are affecting their health, the lives of their animals and, in some cases, their livelihood.
Some 110 signatures are currently on the petition, which can be accessed online. Many of those petitioners left public comments about their personal experiences with the chemical spray.
Sharps Chapel resident Rhonda Parks claims she became “very ill” just four days after eating berries located on her property, some 20 feet outside the public right-of-way. She claims the berry stands must have been sprayed by PVEC contract laborers, without her knowledge or permission.
Parks claims she is currently undergoing tests for “abnormal” kidney function, as a direct result of the PVEC spraying.
Tara Coy claims she developed a serious rash requiring ongoing medical attention shortly after the PVEC contract laborers sprayed her property. She insists her husband and one of her dogs have been very ill since the incident.
Several residents, including Coy, maintain that their well water ‘heads’ were sprayed with the chemicals, contaminating their only sources of drinking water.
“There is no long-term, independent scientific research data to show the safety of these herbicides. And, these toxins were mixed together,” said Coy, referring to the spray PVEC routinely uses.
Shari Selke claims the spraying of the herbicides ruined an eagle’s hunting grounds located behind her property. The eagle, a regular occupant for several years, has abandoned his nest, she said.
In her petition comments, Debbie Sims states there are no threats to the power lines from the natural grasses, wildflowers, shrubs, berry vines and other growth that can be found alongside the electrical poles.
The ‘toxic’ spray, Sims claims, poisons all vegetation that results in the destruction of natural ground cover, allowing water runoff.
“Every ditch, branch, stream and creek in Sharps Chapel flows into Norris Lake. Thousands of people get their water from Norris Lake,” said Sims, in her comments.
Nedra Ewart supplements her limited retirement income with produce from berry bushes and expensive fruit trees.
“They sprayed things that never grow tall enough to touch the power lines. They killed my raspberry bushes that would have produced 40 pounds to 80 pounds of fruit for canning, wine making and selling,” said Ewart.
She insists the PVEC employees did not wear protective gear and were not trained in the proper way to handle the spray.
The laborers sprayed in a wild pattern, missing trees that were closest to the power lines and killing her Quince and peach trees, located further away, she claims.
Since the laborers did not speak English, Ewart says it was impossible to communicate with them.
According to Ewart, the chemical instructions warn all users to thoroughly clean their hands and bodies after use.
“These men ate lunch with no way to wash chemicals off their hands,” said Ewart, adding the men never used gloves to protect themselves, while spraying.
Apparently, members of other communities are just as unhappy with the current hack and spray method used by PVEC.
New Tazewell resident Rosanna Papier claims her honeybees were destroyed as a direct result of the spraying.
“We have ‘no trespassing’ signs at the gate of our property and these signs were completely disregarded. We were not notified that spraying would be taking place,” said Papier.
Sneedville resident Anna Tursich, who tends beehives on her property, says she was able to prevent spraying, this time, after “quite a robust argument” with the site supervisor and with PVEC via a telephone call.
Harrogate resident Linda Weaver claims her land was sprayed despite her having called ahead of time to ask them not to do so.
“The men who sprayed denied it but the dead foliage tells the truth. One stand of bees died the next week and another a few weeks afterward,” said Weaver.
Tazewell attorney David Stanifer, who is the general counsel for Powell Valley Electric Cooperative, said PVEC is “continuing to work on its policy that will benefit all of its customers, while addressing these concerns.”
Years ago, PVEC did away with the old helicopter drop of herbicide sprays in favor of the hack and spray method. If the chemical spray portion of the current method were to be discontinued, the costs in manpower to ‘hack’ all the offending brush would be astronomical – very likely tripling the current costs of the method.
These costs would be, in all likelihood, absorbed via customers’ monthly electric bills.
A group of Sharps Chapel residents met last month with the Powell Valley Electric Cooperative board of directors. The board agreed, at that time, to draft a ‘friendlier’ policy for eradication of foliage along the Cooperative’s power lines.
Apparently, representatives from the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), present at that meeting, assured those attending that the chemicals PVEC uses are ‘safe.’
Sharps Chapel resident Mike Shelley said in a recent telephone interview that he and Coy have been working with other concerned community residents to get PVEC to stop spraying the ‘dangerous’ chemicals. Shelley claims they have tried to interest state representative Jerry Sexton and senator Frank Nicely in proposing new legislation to do away with the spraying of ‘harmful’ chemicals.
“They (PVEC contract laborers) came through in late June, early July and sprayed a mixture of chemicals throughout our community without telling a soul, which is a violation (of the law). The chemical killed one of my animals and has put me in the hospital with kidney issues,” said Shelley.
A representative from the regional office of the Department of Agriculture (DA), Shelley claims, took a sample of his water.
“I told him one water sample wouldn’t be sufficient because it’s a spring-fed cove and it’s been over three months since they sprayed – that he would need to pull soil and vegetation samples. He wouldn’t do it,” said Shelley.
The Department of Agriculture representative, Shelley claims, called back a couple weeks later.
“(He told) me that the water samples were fine. And, he didn’t pull the soil samples and the vegetation samples. I came unglued and had to talk to his supervisor in Nashville to get him to pull the proper samples in the proper procedures.
“He called me back in two weeks to let me know that the soil samples taken from the water’s edge of Norris Lake contained the chemical Iprodione mixed with diesel fuel. Iprodione is highly toxic and highly lethal to be used in residential areas or anywhere near water. Furthermore, it’s highly toxic to invertebrate,” said Shelley, pointing to the routine use of the spray as a possible reason for the decline in the mussel population in the Clinch River.
According to Shelley, the mixing of chemicals creates a bond that amplifies the strength of the solution, allowing the mixture to remain in effect much longer than the use of a single chemical would do.
“Iprodione is highly regulated. The only place you’re allowed to use it is in a golf course, if there’s no adjoining houses. You can’t use it near water or residential property,” said Shelley.
The normal ‘shelf life’ of Iprodione, he claims, is 120 days. The water sample taken by the DA representative detected the presence of Iprodione and diesel fuel some 150 days after the spray date, he said.
Shelley claims he asked the DA representative whether mixing Iprodione with any other chemical is safe. He insists the representative refused to answer the question.
“(We) have a binder full of receipts …(that include) the chemicals we were told they sprayed up here. However, the soil samples that we’re pulling out don’t match up with the chemical list they supplied to the state. We also learned that the company did not have a permit for the spraying, which is illegal. We learned they didn’t have proper protection – respirators. They did not have a bilingual translator with them, the entire time. They had too much pressure coming out of nozzles. You can drive down through Sharps Chapel Road and see trees that are dead, up to 50 feet in the air. Meaning, that they have put a chemical behind that nozzle to hit the tops of these trees, which is illegal,” said Shelley.
He claims he took the Department of Agriculture representative everywhere the PVEC employees had sprayed, including alongside the Sharps Chapel Elementary School property.
“He called me back a couple weeks ago to tell me that he wouldn’t be taking the investigation any further. He would not give me a reason why. The only thing he could tell me was, the company’s records are in compliance,” said Shelley.
One of the jobs of the Department of Agriculture is to regulate the cooperative power companies, according to Shelley.
“So, right here, we have a complete conflict of interest,” he said.
He claims those affected by PVECs chemical spraying could easily bring a ‘major’ lawsuit against the Cooperative. The community has hesitated, to this point, because the residents are more interested in getting PVEC to stop the chemical spraying on its own volition, he said.
According to the Friends of Sharps Chapel Facebook page, the group of disgruntled residents has now retained an attorney.
Shelley maintains his latest figures show that at least four cows, seven dogs and several cats have died as a direct result of the spraying.
Shelley insists that one woman’s hair turned orange after shampooing in well water that had been allegedly contaminated with the spray.
Many Sharps Chapel residents are trying to find the best way to dispose of what they allege is contaminated foliage. According to Shelley, the stuff cannot be burned, because of the metal flakes in the spray use by PVEC. You can’t simply haul it to a landfill, because it is contaminated material, he said.
Shelley says he is waiting for the Department of Agriculture to furnish him with the file generated through his complaint. It is currently overdue by a few weeks, he said.
As of press time, the representative could not be reached for comment.
The good news is, Sharps Chapel is not scheduled for another spray until 2018. What could be the bad news is, until a ‘healthier’ method of doing away with brush is adopted, PVEC will continue to use its regular hack and spray method in other communities stretching throughout eight counties in Tennessee and Virginia.
Anyone interested in signing the petition may do so by logging onto www.change.org/p/powell-valley-electric-cooperative-stop-pvec-spraying-of-herbicides-in-sharps-chapel-tn.
For updates in this ongoing struggle, log onto the Friends of Sharps Chapel Facebook page.
The Claiborne Progress will have more information on this issue as it becomes available.
Reach Jan Runions at 423-254-5588 or on Twitter @scribeCP.