A seemingly innocent photo posted on Facebook has a group of concerned pet owners up in arms over the potential toxicity of a commonly used item around a popular dog beach.
The post, which was shared by a dog owner, warned members of a local Facebook group in Fremantle, Western Australia, that glyphosate – a commonly-used weedkiller – was being sprayed at South Beach.
"Just heads up to all dog owners," the woman began her post, warning people that the weedkiller being sprayed at the CY O'Connor Reserve entrance to South Beach is "highly cancerous". The post also contains a snap of a warning sign at the park that reads: "Caution: Glyphosate being applied".
"It's also harmful for ground dwelling lizards, insects, then the birds who feed off them and eventually us who eat from trees whose roots go to where the poison was sprayed," the woman added before claiming that the poison can seep through soil into groundwater.
Effectiveness vs health
Concerned members of the group expressed anger over the use of the herbicide.
"Unfortunately, its effectiveness has blinded some to its insidious effect on not just the plants it kills but the surrounding environment and living creatures. 10 countries have banned or will be banning it, another 15 heavily restrict its use. If it was safe there would be no reason to," one local resident wrote.
'What are the alternatives?'
Other members of the group, however, challenged statements about the supposed dangers of glyphosate and claims that it was "banned all over the world".
"What are the alternatives? Are you willing to have weeds go crazy and be uncontrollable?" asked one member of the group.
"Spraying glyphosate is no more dangerous than using your car! Is it ideal? No, but your original comment is so far from the truth," he added.
The truth about glyphosate
Glyphosate has been an active ingredient in many weedkillers since 1974, and over the years has been a subject of study by the scientific community.
University of Adelaide toxicologist Dr Ian Musgrave explained to Yahoo News Australia that concentrations during a walk at a park where glyphosate is sprayed would have to be hundreds to thousand times greater for it to be toxic.
Dr Musgrave explained that as glyphosate is typically controlled when doing weed-killing applications, animals and humans would not be exposed to significant amounts of the herbicide.
"The levels are too small to have any significant impact," he said.
Link to cancer
In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified Glyphosate as "probably carcinogenic to humans", however Dr Musgrave noted that this finding didn't assess for risk and also didn't take into account all potential exposure.
Glyphosate's potential link to cancer – which has been the subject of many legal challenges – remains conflicting, but scientists say there is "no evidence that glyphosate causes cancer in humans".
'Safe to use'
Dr Musgrave noted that the FDA, Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) and organisations such as the European Food and Safety Authority – a group known to be "really tough" – all debunk claims of glyphosate's carcinogenic threat to humans.
The APVMA also addresses the issue on its website, saying that following the IARC assessment in 2015, "products containing glyphosate are safe to use according to label instructions" and says it "found no grounds to place it under formal reconsideration again".
"It's generally safe to use," Dr Musgrave assured, adding that its effect on wildlife would also be minimal.
Citing a 2018 study involving agriculture workers who have regular exposure to the herbicide, Dr Musgrave said that it also found the carcinogenic link to be inconclusive.
The Cockburn City Council responded to Yahoo News Australia's inquiries to the matter, echoing the same stance on glyphosate and assuring the public that its use is kept to a minimum.
"The City ensures the safe use of herbicides is an integral part of weed management practices undertaken in parks, streetscapes, natural areas and on roads, footpaths and median strips for staff and residents. The City minimises chemical use where possible," Cockburn City Council Chief of Operations Anton Lees said.
"Glyphosate with its current constituents is considered safe, subject to compliance with the manufacturer's safety guidelines for application, storage and cartage," Mr Lees assured.
"The APVMA concluded that glyphosate does not pose a cancer risk to humans and that products containing glyphosate are safe to use as per the label instructions. It has not made any change to this stance since the release of the assessment outcomes on 23 March 2017," he said.
Mr Lees further stated that the City does not apply herbicide to residential verges adjacent to private property.
"Residents can register on the City's 'Do Not Spray Register' if they do not want a kerb or footpath near their property treated," he added. "The City uses low pressure spray units where possible. Signage is installed as per the Department of Health Guidelines when chemicals are being applied."
According to Mr Lees, all City officers wear appropriate Personal Protective Equipment and are restricted to spraying on days when wind and other weather conditions are favourable.
"The City uses organic herbicide products in some locations including in aquatic, coastal and wetland areas because they have been approved for use in these environments by the APVMA," he said and added that information about the APVMA's stance can be found on the council's website.
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