Barcelona agrees to stop using glyphosate and other toxic herbicides on the city's green areas, streets and squares.

22/12/2015 18:18 h

Ecologia Urbana

The City Council has stated that its objective is to eliminate the use of this herbicide and reduce the use of phytosanitary products in the upkeep of the city’s public garden areas. For this reason, it will look into more appropriate ecological alternatives that are environmentally friendly and less harmful to people’s health. It has also set a time limit of one year to complete a transition to complete compliance with this objective.

Through the Ecology, Urban Planning and Mobility Commission, Barcelona City Council has approved a proposal to stop using glyphosate and other toxic herbicides on the city’s green areas, streets and squares.

This means that Barcelona will look into more appropriate ecological alternatives that are more environmentally friendly and less harmful to people’s health. It has also set itself a maximum transition period of one year for achieving this goal.

Glyphosate is a broad-spectrum systemic herbicide that is used to kill off weeds and bushes. It is readily absorbed into soil, highly soluble in water and it persists in the environment, which means it can easily pollute aquifers. It is toxic to aquatic fauna, pets and farm animals.

A carcinogen according to the WHO

The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared glyphosate to be a probable carcinogen in humans, and there is scientific evidence that links the use of glyphosate to some maladies and illnesses. Adverse effects include: Sub-acute and chronic toxicity, genetic damage (it is mutagenic),  reproductive disorders and an increase in the frequency of sperm anomalies and carcinogenesis.

Currently, every herbicide preparation employing glyphosate also contains other substances that multiply its toxicity. These ingredients include N-nitroso which, like other nitrogenous compounds, is also a carcinogen. Over time, glyphosate breaks down into formaldehyde, which is also carcinogenic.

The Centre for Analysis and Health Programmes (CAPS) has declared that the "Precautionary Principle" should always prevail (Art.191 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which is also part of the SPS Agreement formulated at the WTO), concerning herbicides that may have carcinogenic components and which legislators have not regulated due to pressure from multinationals.

The risks involved in combating "weeds”

A number of local administrations use quick-action herbicides to eliminate invasive plants (known as “weeds”) in forest-fire prevention activities and the maintenance of parks and gardens. But the use of chemical herbicides may involve serious risks. Various scientific research programmes have shown that glyphosate and other commonly used herbicides have harmful effects on people’s health and the environment.

Phytosanitary products are a subject of concern because of their possible negative impact on people’s health and the environment. The European Union and its member states have produced legislation on this problem and have made progress in rationalising their use, in order to reduce the risks and negative effects on human health and ecosystems.

These include EU Directive 2009/128/CE, by the European Parliament and Council, of 21 October 2009, and Royal Decree 1311/2012 of 14 September from the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment, concerning the rationalisation of the use of phytosanitary products in order to reduce the risks and negative effects of pesticides on human health and the environment, and the National Action Plan required to achieve this end.

All of this information and scientific research mean that public administrations have to develop plans and ways to eliminate glyphosate from gardening activities, in accordance with the Precautionary Principle.

Therefore, Barcelona City Council has stated its position on this matter and approved a ban on using glyphosate on the city’s green areas, streets and squares , substituting the use of herbicides for non-polluting methods that do no harm to people’s health or the environment.

For more ecological gardening methods

After today’s approval of the proposal, work will begin on a transition to ecological gardening methods using quality and sustainable criteria, avoiding the use of agrotoxins, excessive pruning and the use of species that are not adapted to the local environment or which have excessive hydrological needs.

Barcelona City Council will inform the general public of the reasons for avoiding glyphosate and the possible advantages of transforming the urban landscape, because in some cases, letting plants grow will benefit biodiversity and the quality of the urban environment.

Questions and requests concerning the application of glyphosate and other herbicides, formulated by organisations and individuals, will be addressed. Article 45 of the Constitution, the Aarhus Convention and some European directives recognise the right to information and public participation for obtaining access to justice on environmental matters.

Promotion of the initiative outside Barcelona and in the private sphere

In order to help ensure that this measure is effective and has a snowball effect, with benefits at a supra-municipal level, Barcelona City Council suggests that other Metropolitan Area councils also take similar measures.

For questions of public health and in order to avoid the use of this kind of harmful products in private gardens, plant nurseries and areas outside municipal control (such as railway lines) awareness-raising campaigns and informative sessions will be held, aimed at private gardens, professional plant growers and representatives from other administrations.

Clinical trials will also be held on the health of parks and gardens workers, in order to evaluate any possible toxic effects they may be suffering from. A sufficiently large population sample will be needed in order to reach any epidemiological conclusions.