Fertilizers affect tree planters’ health

A hypothesis put forward by a senior Weyerhaeuser forester, at a recent Workers’ Compensation Board inquiry as to why treeplanters are getting sick, was that they have no opportunity to wash their hands after handling professional fertilizers before eating or smoking.

During the past few years, there has been an alarming increase in the use of fertilizers in the woods. We are very concerned about long-term health effects caused by repeated handling of these Monsanto-style substances. Within the Material Safety Data Sheets that accompany these products, are ambiguous and contradictory warnings and disclaimers such as ”may irritate eyes.” Treeplanters are required to manually handle these fertilizers hundreds of times a day. When it was suggested that fertilizing should be delinked from the treeplanting process and only applied mechanically by willing people with appropriate Hazardous Materials Handling Certification who understand what they are dealing with, Weyerhaeuser claimed, ”That is not cost effective.” The spineless WCB verdict was that: 1) the product should not be handled during very dry or very wet conditions and 2) an engineering solution was preferred. To date, there aren’t any kinds of regulations governing the handling of these toxic substances and thus Weyerhaeuser will continue to force us to distribute these fertilizers into the B.C. wilderness.

[Ingmar Lee is a professional B.C. treeplanter who has planted over a million trees. He lives in Victoria.]