Four days ago I published an article which revealed that Thanet and Kent County Councils are spraying our highways, streets, parks, open spaces and school grounds with tens of thousands of litres of potentially health damaging glyphosate based weed killers every year.
Today, I reveal that TDC and KCC, have ignored Government best practice on the reduction in use of glyphosate based weed killers by local councils. Amazingly this best practice was based upon a £562,000, 5 year, research project which took place in Thanet and which was supported and facilitated by both the District and County Councils! But before I tell the story here’s some background information on glyphosate weed killers.
Glyphosate weed killers have been used for over 30 years in commercial agriculture and by domestic and local authority gardeners and grounds maintenance staff. The best known brand of glyphosate weed killer is Roundup produced by US firm Monsanto. In 2015 glyphosate weed killers were linked to cancer in humans and animals by the World Health Organisation. The Netherlands have banned domestic use of glyphosate weed killers and Bermuda and Sri-Lanka have stopped their importation.
Last year the European Parliament voted to re-licence the sale of the glyphosate weed killers for 7 years but with stringent conditions on their use. This vote was not binding and it’s very unlikely that the conditions will be imposed by the EU. However the vote indicates that there are serious misgivings about the safety of glyphosate weed killers within the EU. All the major environmental organisations, including Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth and Green Parties across the world are campaigning for an international ban on the use of glyphosate weed killers.
In 2009 a very important research project on the use of glyphosate weed killers by local councils was launched. The project cost £562,000 and lasted for 5 years. It was paid for by the Government’s Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs and supported by the Health and Safety Executive. The project was managed by scientists from the prestigious, Kent based, East Malling horticultural research centre. The project was set up in response to changing EU environmental legislation especially the Water Framework Directive and the Sustainable Use of Pesticides Directive which required EU member states to reduce pesticide and herbicide use by commercial agriculture and horticulture industries and public authority grounds maintenance operations. The project brief was to explore the environmental and cost effectiveness of reducing, or eliminating altogether, the use of Glyphosate weed killers and replacing them with “mechanical, manual, thermal or electrical means of disrupting weed growth”.
The project ended in 2015 and a 27 page report entitled “Best Practice Guidance Notes for Integrated and Non-chemical Amenity Hard Surface Weed Control was produced. The ground-breaking report recommended that local councils adopt an integrated approach to weed control whereby the use of glyphosate weed killer was reduced, but not eliminated altogether, and that the level of mechanical and manual weed control be significantly increased. The research upon which this report was based was carried out in Thanet and included detailed scientific observations and measurements of work carried out by grounds maintenance staff from Thanet District Council and Kent County Council. The report was launched at a press conference held at Thanet District Council offices in March 2015.
But, unbelievably, instead of implementing the recommendations of the report they helped to produce, Thanet Council and Kent County Council have not reduced the amount the glyphosate based weed killer they use to control weeds in the district. Nor have they begun to use mechanical or manual weed control alternatives to replace, or reduce, chemical control methods. The responses to my Freedom of Information requests indicate that TDC and KCC remain virtually 100% reliant on the use of glyphosate based weed killer to control weeds on our streets, highways, open spaces, parks, and school grounds. Bearing in mind the rapidly growing public, scientific and political concern about the use of glyphosate based weed killers and the environmental and health damage that they are likely to cause, it’s astonishing that TDC and KCC have not introduced a programme to reduce their use of these potentially dangerous chemicals.
I have checked the minutes of KCC and TDC meetings in the 2 years since the DEFRA report was published. I can find no reference to councillors having discussed the use of glyphosate based weed killers in that time. In fact Kent County Council’s website says about weed control “The chemical we use is Glyphosate. It is the most commonly used weed killer and is marketed as safe to its users and the public. It is suitable for use on and around roads”. Clearly Kent County Council is massively out touch with the scientific and political debate about the safety of glyphosate based weed killer and has ignored the recommendations of the DEFRA report it was involved in producing. This is extremely worrying because Kent County Council has a statutory responsibility for the promotion of public health in the county, yet when it comes to considering a very controversial public health issue, it takes not action. This lack of debate and action by KCC and TDC is nothing short of corporate irresponsibility and negligence which may put the health and welfare of staff and the communities the 2 councils serve at risk.I accept that the jury may be still be out about the health and environmental impact of glyphosate based weed killer, but I believe that on major matter of public health such as this, our councils, especially KCC, should adopt the precautionary principle and stop using these chemicals until definitive scientific research on their safety has been conducted. I will be doing all I can to persuade KCC and TDC to put the health and safety of residents first by ending their use of glyphosate based weed killers