The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has placed a 30-day moratorium on the use of the controversial herbicide glyphosate on county property “until it can be determined the product is safe for humans and the environment.”
The decision came the same day that a second California jury in seven months found that the herbicide was responsible for causing cancer.
Glyphosate was developed by the agro-chemical giant, Monsanto, and was first registered in the U.S. under the name “Roundup” in 1974, for use as a “non-selective” herbicide. Roundup has become one of the most widely used pesticides in the country, deployed in forestry, agriculture, park maintenance, and home gardens, but mounting evidence that exposure to the herbicide raises the risk of cancer, as well other other illnesses, has raised an increasing number of concerns.
Monsanto, now Bayer, the German chemical company that bought Monsanto in 2018, have pushed back, but as studies and lawsuits pile up, the tide seems to be turning against the pesticide. In 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, classified the chemical as a probable carcinogen. Several nations have banned or restricted the use of glyphosate. Belgium banned the individual use of the chemical. Canada has restrictions or prohibitions on “non-essential,”use and Portugal has completely banned glyphosate in public spaces.
In 2013, the Topanga Creek Watershed Committee worked with Caltrans to discontinue the use of the herbicide on the state agency’s Topanga Canyon Boulevard. In 2016, the Malibu City Council committed to follow Topanga’s example and worked with Caltrans and Southern California Edison to eliminate pesticides from Pacific Coast Highway, but failed to achieve Topanga’s success. Glyphosate continues to be sprayed by Caltrans along miles of Pacific Coast Highway.
The widespread use in California received two major recent challenges. In 2018, a San Francisco jury awarded former school groundskeeper, Dewayne Johnson, $289 million after determining Monsanto caused his terminal non-Hodgkin lymphoma by hiding the health risks from the public.
The verdict found that Monsanto “acted with malice,” deliberately hiding a known risk from consumers. In March, a second lawsuit resulted in a jury finding that exposure to Roundup caused Edwin Hardeman of Santa Rosa to develop the same type of cancer.
According to the non-profit organization Environmental Working Group (EWG), Bayer AG faces more than 11,000 U.S. lawsuits alleging that glyphosate causes cancer. Observers have compared Bayer’s situation as potentially being similar to that of the tobacco industry’s once the link between tobacco and cancer was established.
“Kicking Bayer-Monsanto and its cancer-causing weedkiller off LA County property was absolutely the right call,” said EWG President Ken Cook. “We know glyphosate causes cancer in people and shouldn’t be sprayed anywhere–period. We don’t know how many Angelenos have been exposed to this dangerous chemical through its use by the county, but we can keep others from being exposed.”
Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who proposed the county moratorium, noted that while the county’s use of glyphosate “is compliant with federal and state regulations, recent concerns about exposure to the herbicide study, mandate a study of the risks associated with its use.”
“I am asking county departments to stop the use of this herbicide until public health and environmental professionals can determine if it’s safe for further use in LA County and explore alternative methods for vegetation management,” Barger said in a statement.
The moratorium impacts the county’s departments of public works, parks and recreation, beaches and harbors, and the agricultural commission, which is tasked with studying the health risks associated with the herbicide, and make recommendations within 30 days.
Banning commercial sales of the herbicide is complicated and must be done at the state level, but local governments do have the authority to opt out of using glyphosate.
Poison Free Malibu founder Kian Schulman, who is working to get the herbicide out of the Santa Monica Mountains, applauded the county moratorium.
“Public landscapes such as playgrounds, picnic areas, and turf fields should not be covered with toxic pesticides which can be endocrine disruptors, neurotoxins, and cancer-causing agents, just to control weeds,” she told the Messenger Mountain News. “Children, pets, and pollinators such as bees and butterflies are especially vulnerable.There are alternative techniques that work that do not include pesticides.” Schulman said the County’s moratorium is an important step, one she hopes will lead to a countywide ban on the use of the herbicide.
Los Angeles County oversees dozens of parks, amphitheaters, including the Hollywood Bowl, and community gardens across more than 4,700 square miles, with a population of over 10 million, more than many states. If the County ultimately does ban the use of the herbicide on its property, it will set a precedent for other areas.
Schulman is asking Santa Monica Mountains residents to support turning the moratorium into a permanent ordinance by contacting supervisors Barger (Kathryn@bos.lacounty.gov), and Sheila Kuehl (email@example.com).