In 1962, Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, a treatise on the impact of pesticide use on biodiversity and environmental health. Her research bore crucial witness to the destructive nature of chemicals like DDT, which inspired generations of environmental activists and led not only to the banning of DDT but also the establishment of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

However, despite this legacy and the concrete bans achieved by Carson and those inspired by her work, pesticides remain the first, and often the only, technology used to control weeds, pests, and invasives, to the detriment of our waterways, our atmosphere, and the myriad creatures – including humans – that are unfortunate enough to fall within the path of pesticide runoff and diffusion.

In the Western Cape, every year from April to May and November to December, the City of Cape Town engages contractors to spray Glyphosate (or herbicides including Glyphosate) on the roads and pavements throughout our city to kill any plants that might compromise the integrity of the roads.

This is problematic for several reasons. Firstly, despite attempts at precision, in the  case of spraying – which is practised on our roadsides – “50-70% of the  Glyphosate sprayed “never [reaches its] target organism. This means that large  amounts of Glyphosate land on “non-target organisms – like other plants, fungi,  or earthworms, making their way to creatures higher up the food chain, such as  butterflies and birds – rather than the weeds the herbicide is intended for.  

This is dangerous because Glyphosate is toxic to the environment. It has been  found that Glyphosate poses immense risks not only to creatures but their habitats as it has an “inhibitory effect on microbial growth; it can interfere with plants’

intake of water and nutrients; its use is linked to “increased incidences of … plant  diseases; it is “toxic to earthworms; and studies have linked Glyphosate use to  disruptions in butterfly migrations and bird populations

Humans are equally vulnerable to the toxicity of Glyphosate. Glyphosate is  genotoxic, meaning it can damage genomes, which can “increase the risk of  untoward events such as cancer. Moreover, the WHO considers the herbicide to  be a class 2A carcinogen, meaning that it is “probably carcinogenic to humans –  a disturbing assessment when we consider how the herbicide has infiltrated every  aspect of human life – with Glyphosate found in human urine, in our pets, on our  food crops, and on the crops eaten by livestock

Additionally, contrary to claims that Glyphosate “[binds] to particles in the soil  and therefore does not pass into groundwater, Glyphosate has been detected in  groundwater, giving it the potential to infiltrate our drinking water. Additionally, because Glyphosate is “highly soluble in water, it can be “highly mobile in  aquatic systems and impacts a host of different creatures on its journey through  our water systems, resulting in “considerable damage to populations of  amphibians, and … numerous aquatic organisms, including phytoplankton and  freshwater mussels

This information is made all the more frustrating by the fact that roadside spraying  is unnecessary. Manual removal of weeds allows for greater precision and  removal of only the problematic plants, rather than indiscriminately decimating  both destructive and beneficial plants alike, and prevents spray drift that not only  carries the herbicide to other plants but passes it onto the workers, exposing them  to the harsh chemical. 

Moreover, there are already communities in Cape Town that manage weed  growth through manual removal of problematic plants, and the suburb of  Noordhoek has launched a “no-spray” trial to test other methods of weed control.  These are smaller-scale projects that provide vital examples that the city could  follow on a much greater scale. 

Consequently, we must take into account the long-term cost of pumping poisons  into our environment. The scientific evidence demonstrates that Glyphosate puts all  aspects of the web of life at risk and until proven safe, a precautionary approach  should be adopted by our government authorities, immediately stopping the  spraying of such chemicals in our communities. 

For this reason, on World Biodiversity Day, XR Cape Town are presenting the city  with a letter expressing our demands that the city cease herbicide spraying and transition to manual labour to control weed growth on roads. We stand in  acknowledgement of the destruction pesticides wreak on biodiversity and in  solidarity with the human and nonhuman creatures with which we share our  world, for the benefit of Cape biodiversity and the health of the web of life.

See full press release here.