Edinburgh Council urged to stop using cancer-linked chemical to kill weeds

Overgrown weeds in Edinburgh
Overgrown weeds in Edinburgh
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The city council has been urged to stop using a weed killer linked to causing cancer - despite a drop in surfaces being treated by the authority from last year.

Green councillors want the city council to consider using alternative chemicals to glyphosate amid health concerns. The council said it wants to halt using the chemical when an "effective and financially viable alternative is found".

A report to the council's transport and environment committee last year highlighted that "some studies suggest that glyphosate has carcinogenic potential, whilst others have associated glyphosate use with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and reproductive problems". But the document adds that "the European Chemicals Agency and the European Food Safety Authority both concluded that there is no evidence to link glyphosate to cancer in humans and that it should not be classified as a substance that causes mutation or disrupts reproduction".

In 2018, 1,150 litres of glyphosate-based chemicals was used to kill weeds in Edinburgh - a 52 per cent reduction from 2017 when 2,405 litres was sprayed.

The council confirmed that no glyphosate was used to treat school playgrounds in 2018-19 - but the chemical was used on school grounds and housing estates.

Green Cllr Gavin Corbett said: "Across Europe, councils have been ending all use of glyphosate. Given increasing concerns about its impact, on health, on other species and on the environment generally, I don't doubt that the time is coming when it will not be used at all. While Edinburgh's use of the chemical is reducing that might be as much to do with the hot summer of 2018 as to do with a significant reduction.

"Green councillors have consistently called for alternatives to glyphosate, both other types of spray and mechanical removal. As the city seeks to become more wildlife friendly we need a more focused approach where weeds are removed because they are actually causing a problem rather than because they are simply, in some eyes, unsightly."

But other opposition councillors have called for the SNP-Labour coalition to tackle overgrown weeds. In some parts of the city, no roads and pavements at all have been treated with herbicide this year.

Conservative transport and environment spokesperson, Cllr Nick Cook, said: "With the council failing to deliver yet another basic service, it should use any and all measures available to tackle the weeds overwhelming too many streets.

"It's frankly sad that the weed problem has been allowed to take root again this year. Edinburgh deserves better than this failing, low energy SNP-Labour administration."

The council says it has reduced its use of glyphosate in treating weeds and has taken an "integrated approach" to the issue.

Cllr Lesley Macinnes, transport and environment convener, said: “Weeds can, contrary to many expectations, be genuinely beneficial to the city’s biodiversity at certain times of the year and in certain places. For example, we take a tolerant approach to dandelions on the verge-side during springtime as they’re very important for bees and other pollinators – something we discovered following joint research with the University of Edinburgh.

“In terms of controlling weeds generally, we take an integrated approach and have greatly reduced our use of glyphosate-based herbicides by using a variety of methods, such as deep cleansing streets, mulching, strimming and hoeing.

“We have also trialled a number of glyphosate-alternative herbicides, hot water and hot foam, and ultimately plan to move away from using glyphosate-based herbicides when an effective and financially viable alternative is found, however for the moment they remain the most effective treatment on roads, pavements and other hard surfaces.”