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Islington Town Hall faces calls to ban ‘cancer link’ weedkiller

‘Gobsmacked’ Islington in Bloom judge leads protest over chemical

05 July, 2019 — By Emily Finch

Flower beds cut down by Islington council – it is not known if the weedkiller was used here

THE Town Hall is facing mounting pressure to stop use of toxic weedkiller which has been banned in other boroughs and cities due to fears it could be linked to cancer.

Dorothy Boswell, a volunteer judge with the council-run gardening competition, Islington in Bloom, said she was “gobsmacked” to see a council worker spraying tree pits near her home at “speed” with a weedkiller believed to contain glyphosate this week.

In the past two years, a series of high-profile legal cases in the US have linked the use of glyphosate to cancer.

Parents from campaign group Islington Clean Air, and the borough’s only opposition councillor, Caroline Russell from the Green Party, have joined in calls for Islington Council to stop spraying glyphosate on weeds.

Caroline Russell at a recent Town Hall meeting

Ms Boswell, who lives off Archway Road, said she was on her way home when she saw tree pits being squirted with the chemical.

She said: “I stopped my car, hooted and hooted and asked what it was about. The worker was going at speed and there was no way he could distinguish between weeds and flowers in the tree pits.”

She added: “I told him I was worried that he wasn’t wearing protective gear and talked to him about the US legal cases, and he told me that he wasn’t worried because he’s been spraying poison all his life. I was gobsmacked.”

Ms Boswell said the worker told her he was using glyphosate – a substance the council has continuously defended the use of despite health fears.

“It just felt very frustrating,” she said. “It’s ludicrous that we have such a small amount of green space, and then the council are paying somebody to spray weedkiller on them which can affect health.”

Helena Farstad, who founded Islington Clean Air Parents, which campaigns for fewer toxic air emissions in the borough, said she had lobbied the council’s environment chief, Cllr Claudia Webbe, for the weedkiller to stop being sprayed in her road.

“It should be absolutely stopped everywhere. The council must be credited, they are listening and they are doing their best, but it’s not good enough yet,” she said.

She added that the potential “health impact of glyphosate was scary” and that it was being sprayed at the same height as a toddler.

Ms Farstad said residents should accept the “aesthetic” of weeds to some extent, adding: “People feel after flowering season that all the plants need to go, but there are sparrows feeding on the seeds and you have all the insects and biodiversity, too.

“Every space we have is precious and valued and by spraying weedkiller the council are removing that sentiment.”

Hammersmith and Fulham Council have already banned the chemical’s use while Hackney and Croydon are trialling non-chemical weed removal.

Cllr Russell (right), who is also a Green Party member in the London Assembly, failed to get Islington Council to ban glyphosate use back in 2015.

But she was successful in passing a motion calling for a spraying ban at the London Assembly yesterday (Thursday) and will now lobby the Mayor Sadiq Khan for its ban throughout the capital.

She said: “If there is a possibility of harm, why don’t we protect our workers and residents? The council are going to have to change their minds from the position they adopted previously and I am sure they will and I hope they will.

“There are alternatives like hot foam, which takes the same amount of man power – it just doesn’t involve things that are increasingly linked to cancer.”

The Town Hall called on residents to remove weeds from their roads to reduce the use of glyphosate this week.


Cllr Webbe said: “We manage weeds across Islington’s streets, parks and open spaces in a range of ways including sweeping, hand weeding, bark mulching, and using herbicide.

“We want to use as little herbicide as possible and this year we are using new systems of spraying on the public highways which should result in a 60 per cent reduction in the amount of glyphosate used through targeted treatment of weeds.”

She added: “We also have a number of agreements with residents who have agreed to remove weeds in their neighbourhoods themselves, avoiding the need for herbicide such as glyphosate.

“We’re very grateful for these residents’ help and invite other interested residents to get in touch. We want to reduce our use of herbicide such as glyphosate still further and will continue to actively look at more ways we can do so.”

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