London’s Alarming ‘Cocktail’ of Toxic Pesticides

5 Apr 2022

London councils are risking the health of residents and wildlife by spraying ‘cocktail’ of toxic pesticides.

According to Pesticide Action Network UK, recently released information reveals that London’s local authorities are using a staggering 22 potentially harmful chemicals to remove weeds on London’s streets, parks and playgrounds.

The list includes seven pesticides linked to cancer and nine groundwater contaminants threatening aquatic wildlife.

Glyphosate, a synthetic herbicide, was found to be the most commonly used pesticide with over 26,000 litres, equivalent to 130 bath tubs – sprayed in London’s public spaces over the past three years.

In 2017, the World Health Organisation labelled glyphosate a ‘probable human carcinogen’. Since then, the manufacturer, Bayer/Monsanto, has been battling with billion dollar lawsuits from thousands of plaintiffs alleging that exposure to the company’s glyphosate-based products caused non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

“It is absolutely clear that glyphosate can cause cancers in experimental animals”, affirmed former Director of the US Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Chris Portier, who worked on the IARC, International Agency for Research and Cancer review on glyphosate.

“And the human evidence for an association between glyphosate and cancer is also there, predominantly for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma”, added Portier.

Pesticides can impact our health; they are capable of causing different types of cancer, including leukaemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, are endocrine disruptors, which interferes with hormone systems, therefore causing birth defects, developmental disorders, infertility and sexual function.

In addition, they are considered a neurotoxin affecting nerve tissues and the nervous system. Children and expectant mothers are the most susceptible to the effects of pesticides.

A recent study published in Environmental Research demonstrates that exposure to glyphosate and its breakdown product reduces pregnancy length, increasing the risk of preterm birth. Preterm births occur when a fetus is born early or before 37 weeks of complete gestation.

“We are in the midst of a biodiversity crisis with species such as bees declining rapidly and pesticides named as a key driver. We also know that children are more vulnerable to the impacts of pesticides because their bodies are still developing. But despite these serious public health and environmental concerns, most London councils are routinely using chemical weed-killers for no other reason than keeping places looking ‘neat and tidy’”, said Nick Mole from PAN UK.

YouGov polling released alongside PAN UK’s research reveals that half (49%) of Londoners would support a ban on the use of weed-killers in their local area, with just 18% opposing. Approximately one third (32%) didn’t know whether they would support a ban, highlighting there’s still lack of information on the subject, as councils are not obliged to notify residents when spraying is taking place.

Source: Data presented based on PAN UK collation and analysis of the Freedom of Information requests to thirty-two London borough councils in September and October 2021. 31 councils responded (all but Ealing Council).

The good news is that there are already more than 40 UK councils which have gone pesticide-free, including the London Boroughs of Hammersmith and Fulham in 2016, and most recently Lambeth.

“While it’s encouraging to see so many councils take steps to make parks safer for people and wildlife alike, there is a real lack of joined-up thinking. Our capital’s pavements remain largely forgotten and continue to be sprayed often, just meters away from people’s doorsteps and designated ‘wildlife-friendly’ spaces. Councils are letting residents down and undermining their own positive efforts to support nature”, mentioned Emma Pavans de Ceccatty from PAN UK.

In the run-up to the 2021 London Mayoral elections, candidates from all political parties publicly agreed that ending pesticide use was a vital steep to meeting challenges linked to climate, nature restoration and the health and well-being of people using green spaces.

Sadly, PAN UK’s research reveals that more than two-thirds of councils have no plans to stop spraying the streets with toxic pesticides.

Dr. Marcos Orellana, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights, identifies a non-toxic environment as one of the substantive elements of the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment where people can live, work, study and play.

Orellana highlights State obligations, business responsibilities and good practices related to ensuring a non-toxic environment by preventing pollution, eliminating the use of toxic substances and rehabilitating contaminated sites.

With one month to go until London local elections, Londoners should secure commitments from candidates to phase out pesticide use. PAN UK is urging voters to attend borough events to call on their prospective councillors to support going pesticide-free.

As we continue to face the effects of multiple crises, including the Covid-19 pandemic, a conflict in the Ukraine, an economic, energy and climate crisis, we must make every effort to remain focused on our right to live in a clean and safe environment.

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