Outcry over U-turn on toxic chemicals

June 29 2018

CAMPAIGNERS are calling on the city council to think again after it appeared to rule out changes in its weed control policy.

The Bristol Safe Pesticides Alliance has been calling on the authority to cut back on spraying and phase out harmful chemicals such as glyphosate altogether by 2020. It says the use of toxic weedkillers in public spaces poses a significant public health risk, especially to children.

The group was angered in the spring to see workers spraying the pesticides on verges close to schools in Fishponds, including Begbrook Primary Academy and Little Hayes Nursery School, which declared itself a pesticide free zone in 2015, during Bristol’s year as European Green Capital.

One parent, Kate Cooper, said: “I couldn’t believe my eyes. As parents we actively avoid chemicals that could harm our children, so why would the council allow glyphosate to be sprayed right outside schools, just as all the kids arrive?”

Campaigners urged the council to clarify its policy and consider more sustainable methods of controlling weeds and pests. They pointed out that the Mayor, Marvin Rees, had promised in his election manifesto in 2016 to “stop using harmful pesticides”. 

But a spokesman for the council told Fishponds Voice last month: “Glyphosate has been fully licensed for use in the UK and is therefore is considered an approved, safe product. 

“As with all chemicals, the council’s policy is to reduce use where it can. In order to explore reducing the use of chemical weed control, the council recently carried out some research into alternative solutions, and did not find any that were cost effective or did not have adverse environmental impacts. As a result of this, there are no current plans to use alternative methods.”

Emma Rose, from BSPA, said the council had done nothing except a “pitifully unambitious” experiment using vinegar as a weedkiller in one area of Bristol two years ago.

She said: “Other British cities are stepping up with glyphosate bans, alternatives are becoming more available, and poll data shows that three in five people want pesticide use stopped around schools. The UN refers to the ‘silent pandemic’ of disease attributable to childhood exposure to pesticides, and calls for their use in playgrounds to be stopped. Even the EU, which controversially approved glyphosate for another five years, did so with an advisory to member states to ‘minimise its use in public spaces, such as parks, public playgrounds and gardens’.

“We understand the council has a hard bottom line in terms of the budget available for safer weed control. We urge BCC to learn from best practice in other cities, and think constructively about resolving the situation, for instance by buying or leasing safer weed control technologies in partnership with other urban land managers or neighbouring local authorities.”

The BSPA urges individuals to join in: http://www.pesticidesafebristol.org/pesticide-free-pledge/