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Northern Ireland council quizzed on weedkiller link to cancer chemicals

By Eamon Sweeney

Belfast City Council is using weedkillers containing an ingredient that the World Health Organisation (WHO) claims is a probable cause of cancer in humans.

Three of the brands being sprayed on lands for which they have responsibility contain glyphosate, according to information revealed after a Freedom of Information request.

Altogether, the council uses a total of nine different weedkillers.

In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a branch of WHO, produced a report stating that Roundup, the world's leading brand of weedkiller was "classified as probably carcinogenic" to humans.

Glyphosate is the active ingredient in the brand which is manufactured by US agriculture company Monsanto.

IARC also concluded that there was "limited evidence" that glyphosate could cause non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in humans.

Discovered by a scientist working for Monsanto in 1970, the company has marketed the substance as a weedkiller under the name Roundup since 1974.

Two other weedkillers used by Belfast City Council also contain glyphosate. The other two listed in the Freedom of Information response are the brands Dual and Hilite. Both these brands are manufactured by the Nomix Enviro company.

The Freedom of Information request was submitted to Belfast City Council by west Belfast resident James McIlwee who said he had become concerned about the effect that the materials being sprayed was having on land in Glencolin Way.

"I noticed the effect this stuff had and that's why I asked what was being used. Once I found out what was being used I began to read about glyphosate and the effects that it has," he said.

"I think this a matter of concern for council workers and everyone else using Roundup, Dual or Hilite and those coming into contact with treated areas such as playgrounds, parks and schoolyards and, in fact, everyone's own garden.

"Given the fact that every supermarket has shelves groaning under the weight of these products, the gardens of Belfast must be awash with the stuff. Isn't it time that we and Belfast City Council banned these dangerous chemicals?" he asked.

In 2015, the European Food Safety Authority compiled a report that concluded that "the substance is unlikely to be genotoxic or to pose a carcinogenic threat to humans".

Other organisations have however been at odds with what IARC and WHO concluded two years ago. And in the last few years several countries - Sri Lanka, El Salvador, the Netherlands, Argentina, France, Germany, Columbia, Peru and Mexico - have banned glyphosate.

A spokesperson for the local authority said: "The herbicides we use are safe."

They said they also carry out risk assessments on substances potentially hazardous to health.

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