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Essex County Council has said it will stop using a type of weedkiller “immediately” if it is proved to be unsafe, after figures showed enough of the chemical has been used to treat an area equivalent to 60,000 football pitches over the past year.
In 2018/19 Essex County Council’s highways contractor used 5,015 litres of Roundup – enough to produce a diluted mix to cover 40,120 hectares.
The council has said that in the previous 12 months around 7,200 litres of the chemical was used – enough to treat an area equivalent to 90,000 football pitches.
All eyes are now on the EU and a decision due in 2022 as to whether or not to renew a licence – although it is unclear whether the council will abide by any ruling, with the UK set to leave the EU before then.
Several councils have ceased using Roundup – including Glastonbury, Hammersmith and Fulham in West London and most recently Bury in the north west.
The chemical has been brought into sharper focus after a couple won £1.54billion in damages from the manufacturer of a weed killer which they claimed caused their cancer.
A Californian court awarded the couple, Alva and Alberta Pilliod, the money after they blamed Bayer AG’s Roundup weed killer for their non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The jury found that the glyphosate-based Roundup had been defectively designed, that the company failed to issue a warning about the herbicide’s cancer risk and that it had acted negligently.
The jury awarded a total of £1.54billion in punitive damages and £42.5million in compensatory damages.
The large punitive damages award is likely to be reduced due to US Supreme Court rulings that limit the ratio of punitive to compensatory damages to 9:1.
A spokesman for Essex County Council said: “Highways uses the product approved and licensed by the EU and so the UK for these purposes.
“The EU has a standard process to test any new evidence regarding its safety before the projected licence renewal date of 2022.
“If the product should fail to achieve a licence at that date or before we will cease its use immediately.”
He added that ECC “will always act in line with the law and appropriate/relevant guidance”.