Council defends glyphosate weedkiller use despite health fears

Islington Town Hall. Photograph: Islington Council

Glyphosate-based weedkillers will continue to be used by Islington Council, despite fears that they could cause cancer.

The herbicide is used in well-known household products around the world, including agriculture giant Monsanto’s Roundup.

It came to national attention this month when a jury in California found Monsanto’s products caused the cancer of school groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson.

Concerns about glyphosate have mounted since a 2015 World Health Organisation (WHO) study classified the weedkiller as “probably carcinogenic to humans”.

Some “limited evidence” also suggests a link to blood cancer non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, suffered by Johnson.

A Town Hall spokesperson said: “Islington Council uses glyphosate across parks, open spaces and streets to treat weeds growing on pathways, in shrub beds, tree pits, in preparation of wild flower meadows and to deal with invasive species such as Japanese knotweed.

“Staff are trained and qualified with a nationally-recognised certificate and follow the application guidelines.

“Whilst genuine concern about glyphosate exists, there is no clear evidence to suggest that the product, when used correctly by councils or people in their gardens to treat weeds, is detrimental to the environment or human health.

“It is currently approved for use by the EU, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs and the Health and Safety Executive, and is used across the country.

“Staff already keep its use to a minimum and the council will keep this under review and respond to any change in official guidance, but there are no current plans to stop.”

Monsanto continue to deny that glyphosate causes cancer, and intend to appeal this month’s ruling, which awarded Johnson damages of $289 million.

The WHO findings on glyphosate are based on studies of mostly agricultural exposures in the USA, Canada, and Sweden published since 2001.

It also states that there is “convincing evidence” that glyphosate can cause cancer in laboratory animals.

On the basis of tumours in mice, the United States Environmental Protection Agency originally classified glyphosate as possibly carcinogenic to humans in 1985.