Sunday, 5 June 2016

Should Brent follow Hammersmith & Fulham and replace glyphosate

I am well aware that dangers to public health are often under-estimated or dismissed only to be cited decades later as the cause of illness and perhaps early death. As an NUT representative at a school in Fulham in the early 70s I discovered asbestos, claimed to have been safely removed over the summer holidays, stuffed behind classroom radiators.  The borough Medical Officer of Health at the time was  not particularly sympathetic. Now the effects of exposure to even small amounts of asbestos dust  is well documented.

Currently concerns over the weed killer glyphosate are being similarly down-played.  When I informed Brent Council about the TUC's concerns about safety concerns for workers who use the spray LINK

The TUC report said:
There is no question that weed killers containing glyphosate are dangerous. If it gets on the skin it can cause irritation and dermatitis. It can also cause oral and throat discomfort if it is breathed in. Eye exposure may lead to mild conjunctivitis. If swallowed it may cause corrosion of the throat and can lead to kidney or liver failure.

It is also believed that it can cause cancer. In March 2015 the International Agency on research into Carcinogens (IARC) announced that glyphosate probably caused a type of cancer called non-Hodgkin lymphoma. This was based on a study of agricultural workers who were exposed to the chemical, although it was backed up by tests on animals. However it is not known whether the cancer is being caused by contact through the skin or through breathing it, or both. It is therefore necessary to try to prevent any workers coming into contact with glyphosate.
It advocated action to protect workers:
Given that the risks to the skin, lung and eyes have been known about for many years, employers should already have been taking action to prevent any contact to glyphosate, even before there was evidence it causes cancer

Now that there is new evidence that glyphosate is likely to cause cancer, all employers must review their risk assessments, including their COSHH assessments. Where possible they should consider alternatives to the use of herbicides, but if that is not possible they must investigate whether there are safer alternatives. If there are alternatives then they should be introduced, regardless of whether they are more expensive. However they should not rush into substituting another herbicide for glyphosate without ensuring that they know the risk from the substitute. All herbicides are likely to have some dangers to humans.

If they are going to continue to use glyphosate then they should look at whether there are alternatives to how it is used now. Often it is sprayed from backpacks (which often leak) and are filled in an enclosed space. The employer must consider alternative ways of applying it and also look at how containers are filled, cleaned and the chemical stored and disposed of. They also need to provide training and information to the workers about the risk.

If, after that, any workers are still likely to come into contact with glyphosate, they must provide protective clothing. That may include gloves, masks and protective overalls. This must be done free of charge, and arrangements need to be made for them to be stored and cleaned. The safety representatives should be involved in any discussion on the best protective equipment.
Employers should also be monitoring the health of all those who use glyphosate (or any pesticide).
 In my email to Brent Council I said:
 I would like to draw your attention to the latest advice from the TUC re Health and Safety and the use of glyphosate  based weed killers which was issued last month.

With many schools out-sourcing grounds maintenance I wonder if a warning could be issued to them as well as clarifying the situation with Veolia.
Samantha Haines replied for Brent Council:
I have spoken to our contractor and the public realm department here at Brent and they have told me that our contractor are aware and adhere to these practices.
This did not address the issue regarding school contractors and of course some schools may have their own premises staff using the chemicals.   Apart from the danger posed to the workers concerned there is also that of exposing children to the herbicide.

Last week Hammersmith and Fulham Council responded to a 38 Degrees petition on the use of  glyphosate.   Wesley Harcourt, the cabinet member for environment, said:
As is the case at almost all local authorities, glyphosate-based herbicides are currently  used by Hammersmith and Fulham council contractors, Quadron-Serco.

However we have been working with contractors for some time to replace these with chemical  alternatives, such as hot foam and steam.
In May a group of 48 MEPs volunteered for a test to detect levels of glyphosate in their urine. The average was more than 17 times the safe limit and the lowest double the limit. at 0.17ng/ml LINK

Jean Lambert, MEP for London, a member of the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee whose personal test results show a glyphosate contamination level of 0.67 ng/ml, said:
It is genuinely frightening that glyphosate is everywhere in our everyday lives. These test results show that no matter where we live, what we eat, or our age we cannot escape exposure to this toxic substance. With glyphosate widely used in cities, in urban parks and public spaces, on streets and pavements, the European Commission must bow to public pressure and put the safety of people and the environment ahead of the profits of chemical industry giants.
The general public using herbicides in their gardens, need to be aware that popular weedkiller Roundup, on sale in garden centres and other outlets, contains glyphosate.  Manufacturer Monsanto is fighting a public relations battle against critics of its product LINK

In May campaigners claimed a minor victory when the EU decided to delay re-approval of the use of glyphosate in the EU.  The Monsanto backed Glyphosate Task Force  complained about ' acute politicisation of the regulatory procedure' while Pekka Pesonen of the main European Farmers' Union deplored the fact that a ban on glyphosate ban would put them at a 'competitive disadvantage'.

The battle continues.

 The 38 degrees petition can be modified for any local authority and can be found HERE

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