Sandwich Yard Poisoning Remains A Mystery

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By: Mary Stanley
Published: 08/12/11

The damage done to John D. Lee’s yard on Wood Avenue back in May is not getting any better. It is getting worse.

He still does not have any answers to what was poured onto the ground around a big red maple tree behind his home. The substance defoliated the tree and is killing the grass on a large part of the property.

Recently, Robert E. Hoxie Jr., owner of Hoxie Landscaping, inspected the yard. He did not like what he found.

“The grass is not just dead there, the ground itself looks putrid,” he said. “To me, it’s a pretty clear case of vandalism. Someone did this on purpose.”

Mr. Lee first discovered the damage in May while preparing for a family party. When he went out to the back yard, he noticed a 12-inch patch of dead grass encircling the maple. Since then, with every rainfall, the patch of dead grass has grown in size, traveling to other parts of his lawn, following the pattern of rain runoff on the property.

Mr. Hoxie, who has 35 years of experience in landscaping, said the pattern of the damaged grass suggests that somebody tried to poison the tree, perhaps to improve their view of the nearby bay.
“It’s quite obvious that someone poured a liquid or granule herbicide or pesticide on the ground around the tree,” Mr. Hoxie said.

Mr. Lee agrees with Mr. Hoxie’s assessment. But right now, he does not care who did the damage or why. He wants to find out what was used, “so I know if it’s safe for my grandchildren to play outside there.”

“If you’re asking me, I wouldn’t want kids playing on that ground,” Mr. Hoxie said.

In June, the Enterprise published a story about the damage along with photographs. In the story, Mr. Lee asked for anyone with knowledge of what was used to please come forward—even anonymously. But it has been to no avail.

“I’ve heard nothing at all,” Mr. Lee said.

Mr. Hoxie and Arborist Peter M. Childs, who also examined the tree in June, said it is impossible to determine what chemical was used just by looking at the damage.

Mr. Hoxie said it must have been a water-soluble chemical that is diluted when it rains, causing it to spread and travel in the direction of the water runoff on the property.

He said if it was something such as gasoline, that substance would simply sink into the ground and stay wherever it was poured. “It wouldn’t move and kill the grass like that. It would just sit there,” he said.

Mr. Hoxie added that whatever herbicide or pesticide was poured down on the ground is probably something that is no longer sold. “There are very few modern pesticides or herbicides that are current products used in landscaping that would continue to damage the soil like that,” he said.

But determining what chemical was used is no easy feat. He said when a soil sample is sent to a laboratory for testing, the laboratory wants to know what chemicals to test for. He said testing for every possible chemical is a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack. It would be time-consuming and costly.

Mr. Lee said he has been told it would cost approximately $300 for each individual test.

Mr. Hoxie also could not determine the extent of the damage to the soil. “Is it damaged six inches down or two inches down?” he said.

He said if Mr. Lee tries to reseed the affected areas this fall and grass grows, then it can be assumed that the soil has recovered and is free of any toxins.

“If it doesn’t grow, then it means that the soil is still toxic to anything with a root system,” Mr. Hoxie said.
Mr. Lee is not holding out much hope that whatever is in his soil now is completely gone. He said he tried reseeding both affected areas and unaffected areas. The grass grew in the unaffected areas but never grew on the damaged areas.

Initially, Mr. Childs thought that the red maple, which appears to be the target of this act of vandalism, would survive. Although the tree’s leaves fell off in the spring, they quickly returned. Mr. Hoxie also thought the tree might survive. “Red maples are incredibly durable and rugged,” he said.

He further stated that whatever was poured around the tree was poured right at the base of the tree and he did not expect that it would affect the tree’s root system. “It was dumped right around the base of the tree but the tree’s root system is 50 to 60 feet out from that base,” he said.

But this week, Mr. Lee said he noticed the leaves falling off the tree again and believes that whatever was poured onto the ground is still damaging the tree.

“All of the leaves will probably be gone in a few more weeks,” he said.

Mr. Lee said if anyone has any information about this vandalism or knows what was poured down on the ground, he would appreciate that they provide him with the information.


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