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Local councils phasing out glyphosate over health concerns and legal risks

Tuesday, 11 June, 2019 - 17:00
Industry news

Local councils around Australia are banning the use of glyphosate, phasing it out or conducting reviews of its use because of health and safety concerns about workers who have suffered extensive exposure to the herbicide which has been linked to non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Councils which have banned glyphosate range from Cook Shire Council in far north Queensland, through to Fairfield City Council and Georges River Council in NSW, down to Moyne Shire and Warrnambool City Council in Victoria.

The Victorian Government has also begun a six-week review into glyphosate use, and many other councils including Sydney’s Willoughby, Ku-ring-gai, Sutherland Shire and Waverley Councils are also conducting their own reviews.

The bans and reviews come after chemical giant Monsanto was ordered to pay more than $300 million to a dying man in California who used Roundup, which contains glyphosate, during his job as a school groundsman.

There have been a number of other successful claims against Monsanto in the US, including a lawsuit in which US$80 million was awarded to a residential user of the herbicide and US$2 billion was awarded to a California couple after a jury found their non-Hodgkin lymphoma was caused by decades of exposure to Roundup.

The first legal action has also been launched in Australia, with 54-year-old Melbourne gardener Michael Ogalirolo looking to take Monsanto to the Supreme Court over claims it ignored the alleged carcinogenic impacts of Roundup.

Ogalirolo was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2011, which he said was linked to his use of Roundup about three times a week over 18-plus years in his work as a landscape gardener in Victoria.

The statement of claim, issued through Carbone Lawyers, provides that glyphosate has been linked to various forms of cancer and in particular non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Sydney firm LHD lawyers is also considering a class action against Bayer (which owns Monsanto) and personal injury firm Maurice Blackburn is evaluating individual cases after it has fielded hundreds of inquiries mostly over exposure to glyphosate in the workplace.

In March 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) announced that it had reclassified the herbicide glyphosate, from ‘possibly carcinogenic to humans’ (Group 2B) to ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’ (Group 2A).

However, Bayer maintains the chemical is safe, while the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) and The NSW Environment Protection Agency continue to advise that use of glyphosate can be continued to safely according to label directions.

WorkSafe Victoria issued an information statement about the safe use of glyphosate and said that employers must control any risk to health associated with the use of glyphosate in accordance with a hierarchy of control measures.

Specifically, the regulator said employers must consider whether any risk can be eliminated, so far as is reasonably practicable – and if this is not reasonably practicable, employers must reduce the risk by substitution, isolation of employees from the source of exposure, by using engineering controls or a combination of these.

This includes considering whether:

  • the use of the glyphosate can be eliminated by use of alternative weed control methods (such as mechanical slashing) that present lower risks
  • a registered ready-to-use diluted form of the herbicide is available, or
  • the herbicide may be applied by a means which will not generate an aerosol (such as a weed wand, coarse spray or low-to-ground spray technique).