Concern over use of weed killer in Havering unfounded says council

A weed killer widely used by Havering Council is not being used enough to cause cancer, a senior officer claims.

There have been calls for the council to stop using herbicide Glyphosate on highways, parks and council land in Havering due to possible health risks.

Havering Council, however, maintains that the levels of Glyphosate sprayed in the borough are so low that there is no risk to human health.

On Tuesday (November 30), waste and external contracts manager Jacki Ager told councillors it has only been linked to cancer when there were “high levels of contact”, such as in large scale agricultural use.

Presenting a report on pesticide use to members of the Environment Overview & Scrutiny Sub-Committee, she said: “The product utilised in Havering by our weed control contractors is a highly-diluted clean-label product.

“It is also sprayed in a targeted way to limit over spraying and is clearly focused on weeds, it’s there to control weeds on the highway.

“Havering limits its use of herbicides in parks and open spaces as per best practice guidelines, to facilitate biodiversity.

“A London councils survey shows Havering has adopted a similar operation to the majority of boroughs, mainly on highways or paved areas whilst limiting its use in parks and open spaces.”

Owned by agriculture giant Monsanto, Glyphosate was described as a “probable human carcinogen” by the World Health Organisation in 2015.

The European Union, which has licensed the product’s use until 2022, is gathering scientific evidence on whether it should continue to allow its use in agriculture.

Ms Ager said studies on how dangerous it is are “conflicting”, with some viewing it as linked to cancer and others concluding there are “no such links”.

She said other weed control methods have been trialled in Havering, which has a £113,000 weed control contract with SH Goss Ltd, but they “represent a substantial cost differential with purported lower efficacy”.

A comparison of weed control methods shown to councillors says natural herbicides such as soap or vinegar based acids are less effective and would cost eight to nine times the price.

Committee member Micheal Deon White said he had been sent messages from residents containing “passionately held beliefs” that cited “reports that support their view”.

He added: “There is not any perfect solution, in a discussion such as we have here, where there are opposing views, I’m of the opinion that we have to also give mind to the responsibility we have towards the taxpayers.”

Councillor Carole Beth said she was concerned about Glyphosate’s use in children’s playgrounds and whether dogs have become sick after licking  their paws.

Ms Ager replied: “I’m confident that it does not cause the sicknesses that Cllr Beth alludes to, sick dogs are not something I have heard about before.”

Josh Mellor

Local Democracy Reporter