Hogweed can cause blindness just by brushing against it

4:23 PM, Jun 14, 2012   |    comments
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By Shannon Kantner

Lansing, MI (WILX/CNN) - A potentially dangerous problem is springing up in some people's yards in Michigan.

It's a plant called giant hogweed.

Just touching it can cause skin irritation, and even blindness.

"We liked it. It looked tropical," said Kim Huguelet.

Little did they know the impressive plant can cause depressing damage. Just touching it can make you go blind.

"So we just said, 'It's gotta go now," said Huguelet.

They called experts at MSU, who needed hazmat gear to dispose of the 10 foot tall hogweed, with leaves as big as five feet, covered in little hairs of toxic sap.

"The public needs to understand that this is not like having a plant that, if it gets out of control, it lowers someone's yield of sugar beets or something. This is really a toxic hazard for family and loved ones," said Peter Carrington, an MSU toxic plant expert.

"We have grandchildren running all over, small grandchildren over here all the time, and we were very concerned," said Huguelet.

They weren't hurt, but children and pets are especially at risk while they play outside. They just have to brush against it, then expose that skin to sunlight and some type of wetness, like sweat or rain.

"And what this produces is rather disfiguring, unsightly, fluid-filled vesicles of blisters, which, unfortunately, also pigment the skin," said Carrington.

It looks and feels like leaving your arm on a hot stove, and it takes months to clear up. Then, there are scars. Clinical steroids help to some extent.

"Modern treatment of this is not as great and efficacious as treatment for poison ivy is," said Carrington.

But it doesn't always take a hazmat team to kill the plant. Round-Up works, you just have to watch out next year.

"Once they get started, they do need to be followed," Carrington.

The giant hogweed is considered an invasive species in the U.S.

It's actually a federal offense to import it, export it, or transport it between states unless you have a permit.


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