Glyphosate weedkiller to be ditched over cancer fears

Edinburgh council staff clear weeds from the pavements. File picture: Ian Georgeson
Edinburgh council staff clear weeds from the pavements. File picture: Ian Georgeson
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PARK managers are set to end the use a controversial weedkiller which has been branded a cancer risk by global health bosses.

Each year, the city council sprays around 4700 litres of herbicide – mainly glyphosate – in parks, green spaces and other public areas in a bid to kill pests such as Japanese knotweed.

But the chemical – which is used routinely in the Capital – has been named a “probable” carcinogen by the World Health Organisation (WHO), prompting the French and Dutch authorities to ban it.

City bosses have now agreed to explore phasing out glyphosate entirely, with officers also committing to undertake at least two pilots aimed at trialling other weedkilling approaches. A report outlining future options will be presented within 12 months.

Specially adapted “blowtorches”, more frequent use of hoes and hot water treatment are among methods currently being considered.

Green councillor Chas Booth – who successfully lodged a motion calling for the council to look at alternatives to glyphosate – said the new measures would be crucial to protecting the health of the general public and council staff.

He said: “I think the alternative will not be a single weed-control measure but an overall strategy that will see the use of different approaches in different circumstances.

“We should obviously be extremely concerned about the public health impact of the chemicals we are using, and particularly with the council workforce, which could be exposed to the chemicals over longer period of time.

“I’m very glad the council has made a pretty firm commitment that will look at alternatives to these chemicals.”

The WHO announcement on glyphosate’s cancer-causing potential has sparked international alarm.

As well as France and the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden have banned or restricted its use.

However, councils across Scotland routinely use the substance to tackle unwanted plants and park and health campaigners have welcomed moves towards ending its use in the Capital.

Heather Goodare, convener of Friends of the Meadows and Bruntsfield Links, and chair of the Edinburgh Health Forum, said: “When you’re working with children, you really don’t want to have carcinogenic stuff around. Ideally, we would do all the weeding by hand and not need to use weedkiller at all but I know that’s a little bit unrealistic.”

City leaders have confirmed staff are looking at alternative weed control strategies and will conduct trials where necessary. A spokeswoman said: “A report will be presented to the committee within 12 months with options and costs of alternative weed-control methods.”