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2007-03-24
Athens, GA. Wal-Mart Warned: Stop Selling Contaminated Cypress Mulch

An environmentalist in Georgia has warned big box retailers with garden centers to stop selling contaminated 'cypress' mulch, or face legal liability for doing so. Environmental scientist Dr. Sydney Bacchus of Athens, Georgia, sent a note this week to the legal departments of Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Lowe's and Publix, informing them of the "significant corporate libability" they face for distributing and selling mulch made from cypress trees. "Your stores are selling stacks of cypress mulch in plastic bags," Bacchus told Wal-Mart. "Cypress is a native wetland tree in the southeastern United States. Redbay, another tree native to the southeastern United States, occurs in areas where cypress trees grow. Redbay trees are being infected with a lethal fungal pathogen transported by the Asian beetle, Xyleborus glabratus. That invasive alien beetle initially was documented in 2002 near the Savannah, Georgia port, presumably arriving in contaminated material imported from Asia...In its native lands, that beetle is known to attack all species in the redbay family, in addition to tress in the oak/beech and wax myrtle family...After trees are infected by the pathogen, the leaves 'wilt' and the trees die." According to Bacchus, redbay trees are logged and chipped together with cypress trees and sold as 'cypress' mulch. The chiping process does not kill the lethal pathogen or the Asian beetles in the infected trees. The beetles and the pathogens are "too small to be noticed" during the chipping process, and the bagged materials sold at these big box stores have the beetles and pathogens in them. "Your corporate liability from distributing and selling 'cypress' mulch is not restricted to the potential contamination of the mulch with the Asian beetle and lethal fungal pathogen it carries," Bacchus notes. "During my researh on cypress in the southeast, I documented other fungal pathogens in cypress trees that do not require an insect vector and are capable of infecting many different species of trees and non-woody species." Bacchus says these mulch products are a threat to valued landscape trees and other plants, and that trying to treat this mulch with fungicides and pesticides would only create a hazardous product for customers. The legal liability from selling contaminated 'cypress' mulch is that unsuspecting customers may kill their tress and other plants by using this mulch. Bacchus says the cypress tree is a "critical nesting habitat" for the federally protected wood stork, and the continued harvesting of cypress trees is a "taking" of the wood stork's habitat. "In addition to the extensive corporate liability," Bacchus concludes, "the ruinous practice of selling 'cypress' mulch carries a considerable anti-green stigma that a corporation concerned about its future would choose to avoid." Bacchus gives the big box companies an out: there are environmentally sound alternatives to 'cypress' mulch, such as the chipped melaleuca, which is an alien invasive species. "Hopefully your prompt action to discontinue the distribution and sale of 'cypress' mulch at all of your stores will spare you from legal action arising frm damage caused by this mulch."

What you can do: Companies like Wal-Mart are spending significant corporate resources to appear "green" and friendly to environmental and energy conservation movements. But the "green" Wal-Mart puts first is the green on the back of a dollar bill. If pushed on this issue, these big box stores, no doubt, would trot out some environmental experts who would conclude that the 'cypress' mulch is safe for trees and plants, and that no pathogens or beetles that might be in the mulch pose any significant damage to the environment. Any litigation against these companies would take years, and tens of thousands of dollars to pursue. But there is a way for consumers to change these companies' policy on the use of cypress mulch: don't buy it. Bacchus has asked local environmental groups and activists to take copies of her letter to their local Wal-Mart, Home Depot or Lowe's manager, and show it to them, asking them to pull the product from their shelves. If consumers spread the word through local letters to the editor, urging the public not to buy mulch labeled as 'cypress', the product would eventually disappear. To see a full copy of Bacchus' letter, contact info@sprawl-busters.com.










 
 
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