FRANKENSTEIN wasn't the first scientist to have the next best thing become the exact opposite. He won’t be the last. Glyphosate-based products have long been the standard for weed control. Now concerns are being raised about their long-term effect. The jury is still out so, for once, perhaps we should take a cautious approach. Remember DDT?
It wasn’t until 1962 that Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring raised concerns about the indiscriminate use of DDT, its links to cancer and disastrous effect on a variety of freshwater and marine beings. This research startedtoday’s environmental movements. DDT was banned in America in the 1970s, and finally outlawed in Australia in 1987.
That drawn out process should be contemplated when our council considers a petition presented this week by a group of concerned Bass Coast residents. The petition, with 30 signatures, states that many countries have acted to ban or phase out the use of glyphosate and many cities are trialling non-chemical weed control for public areas. They asked the council to fund a pilot scheme using alternatives to glyphosate at child-care centres, schools, playgrounds and parks.
Accepting the petition, Mayor Jordan Crugnale said it was good to see members of the community bring information and issues of concern before the council in a productive and constructive way.
Chemical control of weeds is more cost-effective than paying for the labour to pull them out. For many years, glyphosate (marketed under brand names including Roundup and Zero) has been the go-to herbicide, deemed the safest and most effective, with no long-term residues.
But just as with DDT, the former go-to insecticide, concerns have been raised about the long-term effects of glyphosate exposure on humans. Last year the International Agency for Research on Cancer, an agency affiliated with the World Health Organisation (WHO), reclassified glyphosate into a group of chemicals that is “probably carcinogenic to humans”.
That wasn’t the end of the matter, however. In May this year experts meeting at WHO headquarters concluded glyphosate was unlikely to pose a carcinogenic or genotoxic risk to humans.
This month the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority, the authority responsible for assessing and registering pesticides and veterinary medicines, concluded glyphosates were safe as long as users followed the label instructions.
Cr Neil Rankine was also at the acceptance. He has been following theherbicide debate for some time. He said there were arguments and counter-arguments but the council needed good, evidence-based assessments.
“Just as we can buy organic vegetables or non-organic vegetables, one option is to set up ‘organic parks and playgrounds’.”
Jessica Harrison and Joan Woods present a petition asking the council to fund a pilot scheme using alternatives to glyphosate at child-care centres, schools, playgrounds and parks.
“A weed is a plant growing where we don’t want it.”
He asked the chief petitioner, Jessica Harrison, to provide the council with information produced with academic and scientific rigour by reputable organisations. “We need to see actual potential harm.”
He also asked what other councils were using as alternative weed control measures.
Several Melbourne councils are trialling weed steamers. Bayside Council has undertaken not to spray glyphosate within five metres of picnic areas and playgrounds. Yarra Council has banned the spraying of exterior fences and playground areas where soft fall matting could act as a giant blotter for chemicals. Some councils are even using goats to control weeds.
A small number of biological pest controls are available but most control insects rather than weeds. Weed control on a large scale requires either the application of chemicals or a large paid or volunteer workforce to carry out non-chemical controls.
Mulching is often used for weed control but it’s an expensive exercise that needs to be repeated annually. The upside is that it may end up conditioning the soil and leading to better plant growth in the long term. Using glyphosate as part of an integrated weed management plan (along with hand weeding and mulching) would decrease the amount required.
Bass Coast council’s manager of infrastructure and maintenance, Damian Blackford, said the council regularly reviews the use of chemicals to ensure it was using the lowest-risk product for each application and using it correctly. Council staff responsible for spraying are Chemcert trained and follow safe working practices derived from corporate safety data.
Ms Harrison will present supporting evidence at the next community engagement meeting in the council office from 3-5pm on September 14. The petition will be presented at the September 21 meeting and lie on the table for a month for assessment and comment.
You can add your name to the petition at: https://www.change.org/p/ceo-bass-coast-phase-out-glyphosate