Row over Sheffield council's use of cancer-causing herbicide

Sheffield Council is continuing to use glyphosate-based weed killers - despite thousands calling for it to be banned.
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Campaigners have long been caling for the council to stop using the herbicide, which studies show is a likely cause of cancer and kills insects like bees, butterflies and ladybirds.

Those calling for it to be banned have persistently urged the council to use alternatives through questions at full council, writing and a petition.

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Tensions flared recently when Coun Paul Turpin, Green Party representative for Gleadless Valley, saw workers spraying it on his street during lockdown.

He said lots of others had also been in touch or posted on social media with concerns, so he wrote to the council and its contractor, Amey, asking them to stop.

He wrote: “It is not suitable for domestic use and I am appalled you see this as essential work.

“My young children walk along the street picking dandelions from the cracks, dandelions your workers have saturated in poison potentially minutes before.

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“I am also appalled you are sending your workers out without personal protective equipment. The man spraying the streets in my ward is not wearing gloves, goggles or a mask.

“Your callous attitude to the safety of your workers and Sheffield's citizens is outrageous.

“I urge you to cease the covering of our city with this deadly poison immediately."

A Freedom of Information request showed the council used 1,750 litres of glyphosate on pavements, verges and parks in 2018 andcontinues to use it.

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Central government approved the use of glyphosate-based weed killers until 2022, but Coun Turpin and others want the authority to follow other areas and cease use now.

The chemical was banned in countries including Austria, India and France, as well as by some councils around the UK such as Brighton and Bristol.

Sheffield Council said it is yet to find a suitable alternative but is continuing to trial other options.

In a reply to Coun Turpin, Amey said: “The adopted highway needs to be kept free of weeds as they can cause hazards such as obstructions in the road or footway, displacement of paving slabs and kerb stones.

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“Amey ensures this is achieved by the spraying of visible weeds in hard-surfaced areas.

“The current situation is changing rapidly and we are reviewing the tasks we are undertaking on a daily basis.

“We are aware the evidence surrounding glyphosate usage is under review and await further guidance from central government on this matter.

“In the meantime, please be reassured our use of glyphosate-based weed killers is meeting the EU sustainable use and water framework directive standards and is currently licensed and approved for use in the public environment.

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“Be assured, all our operatives wear the correct PPE while applying herbicide. We take the safety of our operatives and the public seriously.

“In the coming months, we will be trialling a non-glyphosate weed killer. However, this is not yet approved to be used on hard surfaces such as the footway and road."

The petition to ban the use was started by Graham Wroe, Green Party activist and lecturer, and is backed by Extinction Rebellion, Green Parents and Greenpeace.