LYME Regis Town Council received applause from the public last week when it agreed to stop using glyphosate products, such as Roundup weed killer, now known as a “probable carcinogenic”.
Councillors considered a report which outlined how American company Bayer, the owners of Roundup, had recently lost a third court case that asserted glyphosate causes cancer.
The report also said that, while the product was still licensed in the EU, the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer had increased its rating from “possible carcinogenic” to “probable carcinogenic” – its second highest carcinogenic classification group.
Five councils in the UK had already gone pesticide free, with campaign groups being set up in many more, but all county and city councils continue to use glyphosate, except in Bristol.
Several members spoke passionately in the public forum at last week’s meeting.
Keen environmentalist Simon West, from Broad Street, said: “One of the things not mentioned in the report is the damage it is now scientifically proven to do to the bee population. Many studies have been done that prove that glyphosate adversely affects the gut bacteria of bees and is a contributory factor to the declining number of bees we have in our countryside.
“I ask the council please to stop using this very dangerous poison. As mentioned in your own report, there are major lawsuits going on in the United States, some extending to $2billion against the manufacturers. What I would hate to see is our council being sued by its own employees for continuing the use of something that is now a probable carcinogen.”
Steve Philips, from Woodberry Copse, added: “This item is very important to us; it cannot go on, it must stop. The report talks about the few councils that have banned them but that’s nothing, it’s the tip of the iceberg. They are councils leading the way, in the way it’s got to be.
“I don’t want this stuff used within 100 miles of me. It’s a killer, it’s an absolute killer and it should be stopped immediately. You can show the way for the rest of the county that this is how it’s got to go.”
Nigel Ball, from Talbot Road, has worked as a horticulturalist for 35 years. He said he had used glyphosate many times and was “on the fence” on the issue.
He suggested that the council could still use small doses of Roundup in small areas to get rid of weeds on hard surfaces, and the council had to question what the alternative was.
“People will shake their heads at this because they don’t realise the simple implications of what you’re letting yourself in for,” he added.
“You do not have the staffing levels to cope with what you’ve got and you must take that into consideration.”
Tracey West, also from Broad Street, replied: “Spraying glyphosate on hard surfaces you will incur run-off and the run-off comes down and goes into our waterways. It definitely does kill, it kills creatures so we have to consider that.
“Using vinegar does work, by hand does work, it’s a longer process, I know, but there are more natural ways to deal with weeds and it’s wonderful to see the town council take a strong, positive step forward with this.”
‘Stop this poison’
Deputy mayor Jeff Scowen started the council’s debate, commenting: “We really need to take a lead here and stop it immediately, dispose of it properly and show the way. We are leading in plastic free, in environmental issues. This is the thing to do, stop this poison.
“It’s not just about the possible effect on the people that use them. As we’ve heard tonight it’s about the bees and the whole environment. We lose bees and we’re dead; no bees, humanity dies.
“This is a positive thing for us, let’s fly the flag. Yes, I know it’s going to cause problems and it’s not easy to get rid of weeds but let’s get our priorities right. Health and safety of the planet trumps everyday being able to get rid of weeks effectively.”
Councillor Belinda Bawden said that Bridport Town Council stopped using Roundup last September and had reported no problems, complaints or increased costs, although it used some volunteers to tackle weeds.
Committee chairman John Broom replied: “There must be additional costs from hand weeding rather than spraying. That is ridiculous, it’s just not true.”
Councillor Gillian Stammers suggested that the council ask its outside workforce how they felt about using the product.
Operations manager Matt Adamson-Drage said the team were split 50-50 on the issue.
The Mayor of Lyme Regis, Councillor Brian Larcombe MBE, questioned what the alternatives were and was told that a foam sprayer, flame thrower or simply hand weeding were the options, but these were not as effective as Roundup.
Councillor Scowen commented: “We’re looking at this the wrong way. One member of our staff left about six months ago – he left his career – because he did not want to use it. We really need to grab the bull by the horns. I don’t care if we need contractors or expensive equipment, let’s look after our staff.
“Asbestos – the best fire-retardant material known to man, but it’s carcinogenic, like this stuff. Get real, look at the internet and all the reports like I have and you will be horrified. Companies do not pay out billions of dollars if they’re in the right.
“Take the lead and stop using the stuff, and from that point work on how we deal with the weeds. Don’t look at it the other way around, I implore you, it’s poison.”
Councillor Michaela Ellis said she could see two sides to the argument.
“The council decided before that we would continue using it because it was licensed until we came up with another solution to deal with the weeds,” she said.
“At the moment I can’t see that solution, unless it’s going to cost us more and more man hours with the workforce or we’re going to find a mass of volunteers throughout the town that will help us.
“I want us to not just think about banning it tonight, we need to have a solution in place. If we do this we’re going to need more staff and then the townspeople will be asking how may more staff are we going to get.”
Councillor Scowen said: “There is no effective alternative to Roundup, let’s not kid ourselves, it’s not out there. But let’s get our priorities right; we, the staff, the planet, the bees, the flowers – they come first.”
Referring to an earlier debate in which Councillor Scowen had suggested the outside workforce spend more time improving the appearance of Langmoor and Lister Gardens, Councillor Kelsey Ellis commented: “You’re going on about the workforce having to focus on improving the gardens, but if you’re then going to make them weed by hand that’s going to take up even more of their time.
“I’m on the fence with this because I totally agree it’s harmful to the workers and to the environment but also have to think about how the workers are going to deal with it.”
Councillor Scowen replied: “I can’t believe this council. It is clear cut; forget the problem of sorting out the weeds, look at the poison to the users, look at the facts in America and make your decision. We can cover the cost of additional work to get the weeds out. I implore you.”
Although members of the public are not allowed to speak during council session, Mr Ball then tried to add further comment about his experience in using chemicals to tackle weeds.
He was immediately interrupted by Mr Philips, who commented: “I’m not having this. Just because this is the Jurassic Coast doesn’t mean you have to behave like dinosaurs. Please, look at what’s going on here – ‘Roundup’s OK, I’ve been using it for years’. It’s not OK, it’s a killer, it’s terrible.”
Mr Ball then said he had used lots of chemicals in the past 35 years, some of which had now been banned. However, he had disagreed with the way the former county council sprayed Roundup over vast areas, because of its effect on the environment and run-off into the river.
“All I suggested was that it could be used on some hard surfaces and that the council has to consider what it’s going to do.”
It was eventually agreed to ban the use of Roundup on council land with immediate effect, passed by six votes to five, which received applause from the public gallery.