In 2015, a working group of 17 experts from 11 countries met with the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC is a special branch of the World health Organization) to review published data regarding several herbicides, including glyphosate.
In March of that year, the World Health Organization issued its assessment of glyphosate, finding that this herbicide was probably carcinogenic to humans due to cases of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in farm workers, cancer in laboratory tests on mice and changes to human chromosomes.
Many botanists also believe that the use of glyphosate has devastated the monarch butterfly population because it destroys milkweed, an important source of pollen for these much-beloved insects.
Glyphosate is commonly sold by Monsanto under the name of Roundup and is still being used widely in the United States. But this is starting to change.
In July 2017, California began requiring a cancer warning on the Roundup label by adding the chemical to the state’s Proposition 65 list of chemicals and substances known to cause cancer. And now a successful lawsuit by a farm worker claiming that Roundup caused his cancer resulted in an $80 million punitive award against Monsanto.
For many public agencies this event made it obvious that it is time to review their use of this herbicide, both out of concern for the well-being of the landscapers who have to apply it and worry over the possibility of monetary damages to which they too might be liable.
Cities throughout Southern California began to ban its use and last month, the county of Los Angeles placed a ban on it while they studied whether it should be permanently banned. (Signal, March 19)
In our own valley, the school districts have been in the forefront of this movement, undoubtedly out of concern for the children as well as their workers. According to staff, both the Saugus Union and Newhall school districts are now using a machine that efficiently kills the weeds with hot steam instead of using a poison.
Ironically, however, neither the city of Santa Clarita nor many of the local homeowners associations have banned its use.
So for instance, while the Newhall School District carefully eliminates weeds with a safe process, the city of Santa Clarita may still be spraying the park right next door with this carcinogenic chemical.
And although residents of Bridgeport have asked that the use of Roundup be stopped in their neighborhood, the HOA board has not yet agreed to this, so the children from the elementary school are still walking home through an area using this chemical.
The continued use of Roundup in the Bridgeport community is not from want of the residents trying to get it discontinued. Over the past several months they have circulated a petition against its use and attended homeowner board meetings to ask that it be discontinued. But the board has not yet agreed to stop using it. (Contact [email protected] for more information).
We are grateful to these residents for bringing this issue to their HOA, and to our local school districts for finding a safer way to kill weeds. We urge the city to take note and follow suit on the county’s action to ban the use of this herbicide in county public places, especially parks.
When there is a safer way to kill weeds (and other pests too, for that matter) than using poisons that may affect human health and cause unintended consequences to the natural world, that method should be the mandated choice for our communities.
Lynne Plambeck is president of Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment (SCOPE).