Mississippi lab supports Auburn

When Auburn University officials needed help investigating an attack on part of their school's history, they turned to Mississippi State University.

According to an Auburn University statement, school officials learned that a Jan. 27 caller to The Paul Finebaum Show, a nationally syndicated radio show based in Birmingham, claimed he had applied an herbicide to the soil around 130-year-old live oaks at Toomer's Corner on campus.

After the radio show aired, soil samples were collected for analysis. The Alabama State Pesticide Residue Laboratory was unable to process the samples due to a fire that occurred there in Dec. 2010. To expedite the process, the samples were sent to the Mississippi State Chemical Laboratory, a state regulatory agency under the Office of the State Chemist, located on MSU's main campus.

"The Alabama State Lab called us and explained the situation," said Kevin Armbrust, Mississippi's State Chemist. "We were more than happy to help them out and get the samples processed quickly."

Analysis showed that an herbicide known as Spike 80DF, or tebuthiuron, was applied in lethal amounts. The herbicide is manufactured by Dow Chemical and is typically used to kill trees along fence lines.

The staff of the Mississippi State Chemical Laboratory quickly provided results to their counterparts at the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries at Auburn. The Mississippi State Chemical Lab frequently works closely with other regulatory labs throughout the southeast and the nation.

"It is a really strong network, and we have a great working relationship with all the labs," Armbrust said. "We have experience in pulling together in times of crisis. The labs supported one another's efforts during the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Hurricane Katrina. We consider this incident a crisis as well. Someone attacked the cultural heart of one of our sister universities and we were happy to be available to help them."

Auburn horticulturists said it is unlikely the trees can be saved. An arrest in the case was made on Feb. 17, and officials continue to investigate.

"This is an unfortunate event and one that we should all take seriously," said Dean of MSU's College of Forest Resources George Hopper. "We were honored to have the opportunity to help another land grant university. We stand ready to assist in future discussions regarding the long-term health of the legacy trees on Toomer's Corner."

By KAREN TEMPLETON | MSU Agricultural Communications

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