Monday, 23 October 2017

Weeds on our streets - change of direction needed

We are approaching the end of another season where the Council has struggled to cope with its duty to remove weeds on streets and pavements.  Increased effort to kill off weeds has been replaced by efforts to find other methods of dealing with weeds.  In the main these methods are more expensive.  There is an interesting story here which I think you might like to know.

Back in 2015 the Council was persuaded to move towards the phase out of the main weedkiller used in controlling weeds on pavements and streets and the reason cited was that a World Health Organisation report had stated that the widely used weedkiller was 'probably carcinogenic to humans'.  The Council has since embarked on what is a more expensive, (and from the state of our streets - less effective), process of tackling weeds (or in some cases, not tackling them). You can see the report on this policy submitted earlier this month here.

The report points out that the weedkiller concerned is low in toxicity and very effective if applied under the right conditions.  Further, I was intrigued to note that the sole report from the World Health Organisation, the only one cited in the Council decision, was in opposition to a range of reports from  organisatuions such as the European Food Safety Organisation, the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment and the US Environmental Protection Agency and our own UK Government.  Indeed, some lab tests show that at very high concentrations the weedkiller has around one tenth of the toxicity of coffee!

So here we are with weeds out of control on our streets and pavements and our Council on a path to find other, more expensive and generally less effective, means of what used to be a relatively straightforward duty to our residents and all users of our streets.

Now consider a report from Reuters News Agency earlier this week on an investigation their reporters had carried out.  It relates how the WHO organisation produced a report on the very weedkiller used by Edinburgh and details Reuters' findings that a draft of the report contained multiple lines of evidence that there was insufficient evidence to conclude that the weedkiller was carcinogenic.   These references were edited out of the final report. Here is a key paragraph from the investigation.
'Reuters found 10 significant changes that were made between the draft chapter and the published version of the IARC's glysophate assessment.  In each case a negative conclusion about glysophate leading to tumours was either deleted or replaced with a neutral or positive one. Reuters was unable to determine who made the changes.'
So let me summarise:

  1. Edinburgh has a very significant problem with weeds.
  2. The Council has long used a very low toxicity weedkiller to control weeds.
  3. Edinburgh Council was persuaded to adopt a process of moving away from the traditional weedkiller.
  4. The one report cited for that policy turns out to be a small, selective part of the evidence.
  5. That same report is now under the cloud of an apparent major scientific scandal which needs urgent investigation.
  6. Finding alternatives in Edinburgh is proving more expensive and taking up officers' time and resources.
The weedkiller, which is being considered in this post is a chemical referred to as glysophate.  It is found in many garden weedkillers and is widely used because of its low toxicity but effectiveness in controlling weeds.  It is often marketed in garden centres as 'Roundup'.  Like many of the chemicals used in your kitchen and home scientific evidence suggests it is relatively benign when used properly.

There is an international campaign against glysophate fronted, as you might expect, by Green groups. (Details, for example, here and here). Indeed, the move to push Edinburgh towards other methods of weed control, citing only the one, now suspect, report was the Green Group.  

Edinburgh has been ill served by this move both in terms of the state of our streets and the impact on our finances.  The tale underlines the need to ensure sensible action is based on sound scientific evidence rather than sentiment.

1 comment:

Evil said...

Cooolll postt !!!

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