Dangerous local plant poses health risks

Reactions from hogweed or wild parsnip plants can occur as soon as 15 minutes after exposure.

Hogweed and wild parsnip are two area plants that local experts say pose serious health risks. Coming into contact with sap from either plant can create a dangerous chemical reaction when exposed to sunlight.

This can cause serious burns or even blindness if eye contact is made. The effects can even be long term. "You may be sensitive to it for years and years afterwards, and it can also cause the scarring or burn areas to be dark, almost leathery," says Dr. Melissa Fierke from SUNY's Environmental and Forest Biology Program.

The state DEC has released a 2012 map of active hogwood sites. Many are concentrated in Central and Western New York.

Not long ago, Hogweed was used in the area for decorative purposes.

"It wasn't too many years ago, in fact, that at flower shows - one reported in the Rochester area - that they had it [hogweed] purposely as a plant to plant in your garden. And they were handing out seeds. And, lo and behold, that's how things get spread around," said John Dehollander, District Manager of Oswego County's Soil and Water Conservation District.

If you come into contact with hogweed or wild parsnip plants, Dr. Fierke recommends washing the area with cold water and staying out of the sun. If the reaction is bad, she says to contact your physician.

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