Herbicides: to use or not to use

Herbicides are poisonous chemicals used to kill unwanted plants and weeds.  The Town Council of Quatre Bornes and maybe other councils as well, uses herbicides to kill weeds and grass along roadsides. There are however many undesirable side- effects associated with the use of herbicides, particularly in crowded areas. Exposure to these chemicals constitutes a health hazard to people, animals (pets), plants (flowers) and the environment at large. I wonder whether such a practice should be condoned or condemned,as everyone including the Government is advocating for a cleaner environment free from toxic chemicals.

Although there is no known study of the side-effects or the impact of herbicides on the inhabitants in a populated area like Quatre Bornes ,the ill-effects of the herbicides cannot be ignored. Literature abounds on the detrimental effects of herbicides. Further, herbicides containers are labelled “poison” and there is a “skull and crossbones” symbol placed thereon indicating the danger on exposure, contact, or inhalation. There are instructions to avoid skin and eye contact with the chemicals.

In spite of the foregoing statutory warning and the necessity to use safety equipment: eyewear, masks, gloves etc in line with the Safety and Health regulations, the sprayerman is more often seen spraying the herbicides without  any protective equipment.

The droplets of herbicide in the air are carried away and drift.The people of the locality, the passers-by, children are exposed to the hazards of the herbicide without any knowledge about the danger. Even birds, bees and animals ( pets) are at risk. Potted plants on the balconies, flowers in front door gardens very often show signs of the detrimental impact. They wilt. The droplets (invisible) that land on food (dholl puri, gateau piment) are potential poisons and carcinogens,  as rightly stated in the budget speech: “The food we consume is more and more contaminated with pesticides, insecticides, fungicides and other chemicals.” The impact of these chemical contaminants on consumer health and well-being is often apparent only after many years.

There are certain symptoms which may appear within hours of exposure. Skin irritations or rashes are some of the most common effects, and are most likely to happen on exposed areas, such as face, hands and forearm. There can be nausea and headaches as well. More dangerous symptoms, such as seizures and convulsions; and even correlation with life-threatening disease have been reported in medical literature

The residual herbicide in the soil affects and can destroy the microflora. Herbicides are generally not biodegradable. They can leach and contaminate groundwater and/or  be carried in runoff to water dams and reservoirs with the potential to harm the environment – flora, fauna and human beings alike.

We all want to be environment friendly and believe that the short-term benefits do not outweigh the wide spectrum of known and suspected long-term risks to public health, food quality and the environment.

The decision  to use or not to use will rest on you the  newly-elected municipal councillors.

*  Published in print edition on 12 June 2015

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