I submitted a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to the 2 councils to find out more. KCC told me that its “Highways Department treats the hard surface of the road and footpath with a single application (of chemicals) between mid-May and the end of July. This includes the kerb line, paved footpaths, rear of footpath against hard objects (walls / fences) and around traffic islands and roundabouts. We occasionally use a targeted treatment on some shrub beds and on a small number of verges for noxious weeds as defined under the Weeds Act. We use the glyphosate products Kernel, Roundup ProVantage, and Blaster Pro”. Thanet District Council told me that they use “Barclay Mascot Hi-Aktiv (active ingredient is Glyphosate Isopropylamine)….. Weed control is variable, can be once per year or 3 times per year and is entirely dependent upon growth rates and timing”.
Glyphosate based weed killers were, following an in depth review of scientific studies by the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer, classified, in 2015, as being “probably carcinogenic to humans” with “a positive association being observed for non-Hodgkin lymphoma” in humans and “sufficient evidence in experimental animals for the carcinogenicity of glyphosate”.
Environmental groups, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, have been campaigning for a ban on the sale of glyphosate based weed killers for several years. Last year the European Parliament voted 374 to 225 to severely restrict the use of glyphosate based weed killers including; granting a 7 year, instead of a 15, year licence for their sale in the EU; banning altogether their non-professional use; and stopping their use in or close to public parks, playgrounds and gardens. These recommendations are being resisted by the European Commission. Meanwhile the UK Government via the Department for Environmental and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) is calling on councils and other users of glyphosate based weed killers to cut down on their usage volumes because of the potential toxicity to humans and animals.
But there is no evidence to suggest that Thanet or Kent County councils, or any other councils in Kent who may be using glyphosate based weed killers, have either reviewed their use of these products, reduced the quantities they use, or restricted their use in public areas. Indeed in the case of Thanet and Kent County Council’s there is evidence that they have actually ignored UK-wide good practice guidelines. Something I will be writing about soon.
But this shocking news is hardly surprising. Thanet Council is an organisation which has a criminal record for recklessly and deliberately flouting health and safety laws and best practice guidance. Just last December it was fined £250,000 for industrial scale breaches of safety rules leading to 20 of its of staff contracting the debilitating industrial disease Hand, Arm, Vibration Syndrome (HAVs). With an appalling and shameful record like this it’s not hard to see why Thanet Council appears to have paid scant attention to the potential health risk to its staff and to the public, associated with spraying our streets and open spaces with large volumes of a chemical which the World Health Organisation says is “probably carcinogenic to humans”.
I will be making this an issue during the forthcoming Kent County Council elections. We need candidates who will fight for our health and environment and who will fight against bad practice such as this. The people of Kent deserve better.