July 3, 2009
The Border Patrol has temporarily postponed — but refused to cancel — plans to use helicopters to spray herbicide along the banks of the Rio Grande between the cities of Laredo, Texas and Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, in order to kill a fast-growing river cane that provides cover for undocumented migrants, smugglers and other border crossers.
The controversial plan has drawn fire for its similarities to the U.S. government’s defoliation strategy during the Vietnam War, in which the government sprayed more than 21 million gallons of “Agent Orange” and other herbicides in order to eliminate hiding places for Vietnamese guerillas. An estimated 4.8 million Vietnamese citizens and thousands of U.S. soldiers were exposed to the dioxin-based chemical, resulting in more than 500,000 birth defects and 400,000 deaths and disabilities among adults.
The Border Patrol proposed to begin by defoliating 1.1 miles of the river, possibly eventually expanding the program to 130 miles and perhaps even to other parts of the border.
Local citizens and environmentalists on both sides of the border have widely criticized the plan. The Mexican government has objected that there is insufficient scientific data over the health risks of imazapyr, the herbicide to be used, and that it wants to conduct its own assessment. The Border Patrol has postponed the plan, but has not promised to await the results of further studies.
“Nobody knows the impact of imazapyr,” said Jay Johnson-Castro Sr., executive director of the Rio Grande International Study Center. “It’s no different than Agent Orange.”
Environmentalists say that in addition to killing the targeted carrizo cane, an invasive species, imazapyr would kill native plants and destroy the habitat of more than 1,000 animal species. Along with Mexican officials, they have raised concern about contamination of local water supplies.
“We don’t believe that is even moral,” Johnston-Castro said. “It is unprecedented that they’d do it in a populated area.”
Sources for this story include: www.chron.com; news.newamericamedia.org.