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Go Pesticide-Free!

Why (and how to) end pesticide use in our towns and cities

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Summary Every year, hundreds of tonnes of pesticides are used in the streets, parks, schools and open spaces of our towns and cities. Many of these pesticides have the potential to cause serious diseases like cancer, or have been linked with birth defects or reproductive disorders. The real scandal is that most – if not all – of this pesticide use is unnecessary: cost effective and safe non-chemical alternatives exist and are already being used in towns all over the world. In fact, cities like Paris and Toronto have been “pesticide-free” for over a decade. Hundreds of other cities, towns and villages around the world from Copenhagen in Denmark to Seattle in the USA successfully manage their public spaces without pesticides. It is time for the UK to catch up. This briefing explains some of the problems with pesticide use and shows how local communities have taken control and successfully persuaded their towns to restrict, or even end, pesticide use. It also gives advice on what YOU can do to make your local area safer (see page 10). We hope it will inspire you to become part of a new movement to persuade the UK towns and cities to Go Pesticide-Free!


Go Pesticide-free! Pe

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Why (and how to) end pesticide use in our towns and cities

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Every year, our towns and cities, the places where we live, work and play are sprayed with a cocktail of potentially haardous pesticides. Annually hundreds of thousands of kilograms of active substances were applied to the non agricultural land in England and Wales. Our streets, playgrounds, parks and schools are treated with a range of different chemicals, many of which have the potential to cause harmful health effects – particularly to children. The good news is that most – if not all – of this use is unnecessary. Plenty of welltested and cost-effective non-chemical alternatives exist and thousands of local authorities all over the world manage their public spaces without resorting to chemicals. We at Pesticide Action Network UK (PAN UK) think it is time for UK councils to catch up with other progressive authorities around the world and stop using pesticides in our towns and cities.

This document aims to give you the information that you will need to make decisions about the use of pesticides where you live, work and play. We believe that the public should not be exposed to what are, potentially, very hazardous chemicals. There is another way and it is long overdue for our elected representatives to protect us from these harmful chemicals.

What are pesticides? The simplest description of a pesticide is that it is a poison designed to kill living organisms: that is the job of a pesticide, to kill things. And they usually do this very effectively. When we talk about “pesticides” we are referring to 1000’s of active ingredients. These chemicals are designed to be toxic to different pests and weeds but, the very properties which make them effective against those undesirable living beings, also make them potentially hazardous for humans because pests have similar systems to humans. Chemical nerve agents developed for use in WWI and WWII were adapted for use as pesticides from the 1940’s onwards.


Initially targeted at killing a wide range of insect pests we have since then seen a massive proliferation of pesticides that are designed to kill not just insects but plants (weeds), fungal problems, rats and mice and a host of other living organisms. The problems with pesticides have been well documented over the years, starting in the 1960’s with the publication of Rachel Carson’s ground breaking book Silent Spring. She reported on how the use of DDT was devastating bird populations in the US. Her work ultimately led to a ban of the use


of DDT. This is a pesticide that was initially declared safe by regulators and advertised with the marketing slogan, “DDT is good for me”! This is a pattern that has been repeated over and over: a new pesticide is developed to replace one deemed dangerous to human health or the environment and, itself, is subsequently found to be not as safe as at first thought. And so it continues. It is time to get off the pesticide treadmill, to stop poisoning ourselves and the planet and to instead look at non-harmful ways of dealing with – or living with – those things that toxic pesticides are used to kill. We can start this process in our towns and cities.

Image from Killing Salt Chemicals advert for DDT in 1947

Where are they used? Pesticides are used in pretty much every area; in agriculture, towns, cities, private homes and gardens to kill unwanted pests. The highest amounts of pesticides are, of course, used in agriculture, but significant amounts are also used in towns and cities. The most visible use is to control “weeds”, such as that vicious thug of a plant the dandelion, that grow through the cracks in the pavements. Pesticides are also used in the parks where our children play and in the schools where our children learn, in hospitals, streets, gardens and on golf courses. Pesticides, along with a whole cocktail of other potentially harmful chemicals, are all around us and we are exposed to this mixture of chemicals every single day of our lives.

Should you be concerned? Pesticides are poisons and, unfortunately, they can harm more than just those “pests” that they are targeted at. They are toxic and exposure to pesticides has been linked to a range of serious illnesses and

diseases in humans, from respiratory problems to cancer. The various mechanisms by which pesticides can harm the body are listed below: Acute Toxicity Pesticides can be acutely toxic. This means they can cause harmful or lethal effects after one single episode of ingestion, inhalation or skin contact. The symptoms are evident shortly after exposure or can arise within 48 hours and can manifest as:

66 Respiratory tract irritation/sore throat/cough 66 Allergic sensitization 66 Eye and skin irritation 66 Nausea/vomiting/diarrhoea 66 Headache/Loss of consciousness 66 Extreme weakness/seizures 66 Death Long term (or Chronic) Toxicity This is when a substance causes harmful effects over an extended period, usually following repeated or continuous exposure to very low doses. Low doses don’t always cause immediate effects, but over time, they can cause very serious illnesses.

Pesticides commonly used in UK towns and cities Pesticide


Acutely Toxic






























Developmental or Reproductive Toxin

Endocrine Disruptor

Probable Yes


Suspected Yes Suspected Suspected























Long-term pesticide exposure has been linked to the development of Parkinson’s disease; asthma; depression and anxiety; cancer, including leukaemia and non-Hodgkin lymphoma; and attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Carcinogenicity A substance is considered carcinogenic when there is evidence that it can cause cancer. There are many different types of cancer, but all of them are characterized by the development of abnormal cells that begin to divide without control and spread into surrounding tissues. Cancer is caused by changes to genes that control the cellular functions, especially their ability to grow and divide. These changes can be induced by several agents, including pesticides. Cancer symptoms are not immediately evident, and many years can pass between the exposure and the diagnosis of this kind of disease. Single exposure events rarely cause cancer but repeated contact (through mouth, eye, skin, lungs) with the carcinogenic substance, even at very low doses, can lead to cancer. Developmental Toxin Developmental toxins are substances which can have an effect on unborn children. If an expectant mother is constantly and repeatedly in contact with these kinds of chemicals, they can affect the fetus and adverse effects can be manifested at any point in the life span of the child. These effects can include death of the foetus, structural abnormality, altered growth, and abnormal organ function.

sexual behaviour, infertility, altered birth process and problems in the offspring. Endocrine disruptor The term endocrine disruptor refers to substances that interfere with hormones and hormonal balance. Hormones are chemical messengers of the body, and are necessary to regulate different functions, in particular growth and reproductive functions. The endocrine effects can be activated by very low concentrations of chemicals. They can manifest as:

66 Men: reduced semen quality with consequent

decreased fertility, genital malformations, testicular and prostate cancer

66 Women: early puberty, appearance of cysts in the ovaries, uterus’ anomalies, breast cancer, pregnancy complications with early abortions, decreased fertility

66 Diabetes and obesity 66 Neurological disorders, especially disorders in

brain development, and degenerative changes in the brain such as Parkinson’s disease

66 Hyper and hypo thyroidism and thyroid tumors Combined effects Another problem is that the effect of an individual chemical can be enhanced or changed if it is combined with another such substance. Every day we are exposed to a cocktail of chemicals and the fact is that nobody knows what effect this consistent low level exposure to such a mixture of chemicals is having on us. We are being experimented on.

Reproductive Toxin Reproductive toxins (often abbreviated to ‘reprotoxins’) are substances which can induce adverse effects on sexual function and fertility in adult males and females. These effects can include: altered © F re e I m a g



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Children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of pesticides (see box), and so reducing and stopping their exposure should be a key aim. There is no need to use

pesticides in schools or in playgrounds and it is, in our opinion, a gross violation of the rights of the child to be exposed to such chemicals.

Pesticides and Children Children are at more risk from pesticides because they have higher exposure rates than adults and are more vulnerable to their effects:

66 Their behaviour – crawling and playing in areas

Non-Human effects It is not just people that are suffering from the effects of pesticides. Our bee and pollinator species are in trouble, and there is little doubt that pesticides are part of the problem. Around the world, populations of honey bees, wild bees and other vital pollinator species have seen massive declines in their numbers due to several factors such as habitat loss, disease and parasites. But pesticides are also playing a role: at high doses, pesticides kill these insects directly, but even small doses can cause longterm harm and compromise the viability of bee colonies. The massive use of herbicides is also having an impact by killing the plants and flowers that insects forage on and reducing the variety and amount of food sources available. The UK government recently launched a new National Pollinator Strategy with one of the key recommendations being that we need to increase habitats for pollinators in urban areas. Reducing the amount of pesticides used and leaving areas that are sprayed to grow bee friendly food sources is a great way of achieving this goal.

treated with pesticides or putting contaminated objects in their mouth – increases their exposure. Children spend more time in areas like parks and playgrounds where pesticides are used. They sit, lie and play on the ground and can readily come into contact with the freshly applied pesticide or dust contaminated with pesticides. 66 They absorb pesticides more easily through their skin. Not only is a child’s skin more permeable than an adult’s but their skin surface area relative to body weight is also higher making it easier to absorb higher rates of pesticides – in fact infants will absorb around three times more pesticides than adults from similar exposure episodes. 66 They take in more air, water and food relative to their body weight compared to adults, iak which increases their total s ru Jęd exposure. For example, the a / Il o n m o c . breathing rate of a child in its first s © Fr e eI m a ge twelve years is roughly double that of an adult. As a result, the amount of airborne contaminants reaching the surface of the lung can be much higher. Not only is exposure likely to be higher, but a child’s ability to cope with pesticide poisoning will be different to an adult’s. The systems that our bodies use to deal with toxins are less well developed in children and this can make them less able to cope with these substances. As they grow, children’s brains and bodies undergo complex changes that effect tissue growth and organ development — these developmental processes can be irreversibly altered by exposure to pesticides. The upshot is that incidents of pesticide exposure that would be tolerated by adults, can cause irreversible damage to unborn babies, infants and adolescents. To find out more about why children are more vulnerable to pesticides download Poisoning our Future: Children and Pesticides at


There is a greater diversity of plants to feed on in cities and bees do not come into direct contact with anywhere near the level of insecticides that they are exposed to in the countryside. Farmland bird species have also been hit by pesticide use. Like bees, some farmland bird species are now coming into urban areas, to feed and forage. Pesticides get into our water where, if not taken out, they will ultimately come out of our taps and into © Graham White our glasses. The cost of their removal is placed on us, the customer, resulting in higher water bills. The water companies in the UK spend around £30 million per year removing pesticides from our drinking water.

What is the alternative? Effective alternatives to the use of pesticides in our towns and cities exist! In fact, more and more urban areas around the world are moving away from pesticides and taking up non-chemical alternatives that are safer for people and the environment. In France, for example, some 306 towns and villages have gone completely pesticide free and a further 350 are largely pesticide free but with some specified uses permitted. Over ten years ago Paris became one of the first major cities to limit pesticides use in public spaces following a decree by the then city mayor, Bertrand Delanoë. And in 2014 France also introduced legislation that will see a ban on the use of all nonagricultural pesticides, including glyphosate, by 2020. Meanwhile, the Netherlands and


Denmark have introduced a complete ban on nonagricultural uses of glyphosate following the success of local restrictions. In several cities in the US and Canada pesticide use has been seriously restricted in parks and public spaces or stopped altogether. So it is clear that it can be done and that there is no plausible excuse for not doing it in the UK. There are many non-chemical techniques available to replace pesticides and deal effectively with weeds in public places. These include mechanical processes, such as flame, foam or hot water treatments; hand weeding with a good old fashioned hoe; or, as they have in Paris, by accepting a higher level of ‘weediness’. And new solutions are emerging all the time. PAN UK has recently come across a hot foam system that uses biodegradable foam hot water. Because it is an inert substance and natural, it can be used in all weathers and in proximity to water bodies so is able to be used in a wider range of situations than conventional herbicides. The system claims to be more effective at controlling weeds, less time and labour intensive and costs are approximately the same as herbicide use. Herbicide use accounts for approximately 94% of pesticide use in UK towns and cities. Most of this use is for cosmetic, not public health, purposes which raises the question: do we really need to kill weeds and keep them in check as much as we do? There are very good arguments for leaving weeds. They are, after all, just flowers in the wrong place. Weeds provide food and habitat for a great number of species, including bees, which need all the help they can get. So leaving them in place could help our put upon pollinators whilst reducing our exposure to herbicides – a win win situation for everybody!

What are we doing about it? As PAN UK we launched our pesticide free towns and cities initiative. It aims to encourage local people and groups to work with us to make the places where they live pesticide free. We want towns and cities across the UK to go pesticide free or, at least, commit to going

pesticide free and start implementing plans that will help achieve that goal in the near future. PAN UK will provide materials and advice to help people set up their own local campaigns and share practical experience from towns and cities that have successfully gone pesticide free. We will also continue to advocate at national level for change in the ways pesticides are used in towns and cities of the UK. PAN UK will also continue to work with our colleagues across the EU and elsewhere to promote pesticidefree towns and to bring back examples and case studies of how people are successfully stopping the use of pesticides where they live. All of our information will be available to read and download from the PAN UK website. Image: Treating weeds with Foamstream, Manchester Ship Canal © Weedingtech

Grassroots campaigns can have a big impact Cosmetic pesticide bans in Canada In 1991, the small town of Hudson in Quebec became a world leader. It was one of the first towns in the world to introduce a local by-law banning pesticides. The ban – on the use of pesticides within the town area – was the result of a grassroots campaign led by local doctor June Irwin. In the 1980s, Dr. Irwin made a connection between the health of her patients and their exposure to pesticides used on lawns and gardens. Dr. Irwin went to every town meeting from May 6, 1985 until Bylaw 270 was passed six years later on May 6, 1991. Today, nearly 200 Canadian towns – including the cities of Vancouver and Toronto – have followed Hudson’s lead and introduced their own by-laws. In addition, eight of the ten Provinces in Canada have also introduced legislation banning the cosmetic use of pesticides. The bans vary in what is prohibited for use but all aim at reducing human exposure to pesticides. The ban in the province of Ontario is typical. Ontario, which has the largest population of all the Canadian provinces at 13,678,700, bans the use of glyphosate, 2,4-D and Diazinon and some others in or on;

66 66 66 66 66 66

lawns vegetable and ornamental gardens patios driveways parks schoolyards As a result of these bans almost 30 million Canadian citizens – 80% of the population – have had their potential exposure to harmful pesticides reduced. All this started by one determined woman

Italian villagers fight for their rights In 2014, citizens in the Italian community of Malles historically voted to ban pesticide use in their region. Importantly, the vote applied to the whole area covered by the local authority including agricultural land – not just the urban areas within the community boundary. In 2013, following years of concern over indiscriminate pesticide use by intensive fruit growers in the area, a coalition of organic and livestock farmers and concerned local parents joined together to launch a local campaign. Their goal was to secure enough support to trigger a local referendum to force local politicians to take the problem seriously. They began a letter writing campaign to local media and organised a series of local meetings. They even took samples of hay grown close to a local primary school for analysis. These samples found over half a dozen pesticides at such high levels that the hay was too dangerous to feed to livestock. The revelation prompted people to ask “if it is too dangerous for animals, what was it doing to our children?” When the referendum was finally held in autumn 2014, over 75% of the voters backed a ban on pesticide use. In July, the following year, the Community Council acted and introduced a new local law banning the use of chemical pesticides in its territory.


What you can do about it We do not believe that the politicians who make the decisions – national or local – will be prepared – or brave enough – to go pesticide free without being pushed into it by the people that vote for them. Which is where you come in.

66 You can start your own campaign to get your own village, town or city to go pesticide free. On the PAN UK website you will find all that you need to start your own campaign and we will help you all the way with it.

66 You can write letters to your local Council and MP asking them to stop using

pesticides and support our campaign. Example letters are provided on the PAN UK website.

66 You can start your own local petitions using an online platform such as 38 degrees -

66 If there is an area that you know is pesticide free where you live - a local park, allotment or even your own garden - you could put up one of our Pesticide Free Zone signs to advertise the fact and raise awareness about the issue. These are available for free from PAN UK.

66 If you would like to start your own campaign or

encourage an organisation on your area to start a campaign, PAN UK will be happy to work with you and support you all the way. We’ve prepared a practical toolkit to participate to the campaign. We are confident that in short time we will be able to establish a national network of like-minded people all working towards the goal of ridding our towns and cities of pesticides and helping to ensure a less toxic environment for ourselves and our children.

Be part of the change: together we can!


Focus on Glyphosate What is glyphosate? Glyphosate It is a broad-spectrum, non-selective, systemic herbicide (weedkiller). It is one of the most widely used herbicides in the world accounting for around a quarter of all global sales. It is used in agriculture, amenity and home and garden settings where it is mainly used to control a variety of weeds and other ‘undesirable’ plants. It is the main pesticide used – by volume – by councils in the UK. The active substance, glyphosate, was invented in the early 1970’s by Monsanto and made available to the public under the trade name Roundup in 1974. Glyphosate went out of patent in 2000 and now around 400 products containing glyphosate are available for use in the UK.

How does it work? Glyphosate works by entering the plant and killing it. Plants absorb “systemic” herbicides like glyphosate through their leaves and other green parts. Once absorbed, it disrupts the functioning of the plant and kills it completely from the leaf to the root.  Glyphosate is commonly applied in salt form or in liquid form to enhance its penetration into plants. 

Is it safe? Once marketed by its manufacturers as one of the safest substances that can be used to control weeds, concerns are now being raised about its safety. Glyphosate has been linked to neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, birth defects and behavioural problems in children. It has also been linked to serious kidney disease in Latin America and Asia. In May 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (part of the World Health Organization) concluded that glyphosate was probably carcinogenic to humans. Also of concern are other ingredients used in glyphosate products, such as the surfactant POEL. Due to the nature of the interaction between POEL and glyphosate the German authorities have taken all glyphosate products containing POEL off the market, but they are still available in the UK.

What have other countries done? Worries that glyphosate might be behind the epidemic of kidney disease that has killed hundreds of farmworkers in Sri Lanka led the Sri Lankan parliament to ban the use of it throughout the country. Meanwhile, in Europe, the Netherlands and Denmark have both banned the use of glyphosate in urban areas while France has banned over the counter sales. Over a dozen other countries are in the process of introducing restrictions or are reviewing the registration of the herbicide.


Who are Pesticide Action Network UK?

Contact PAN UK

PAN UK is based in Brighton. We are the only UK charity focused solely on addressing the harm caused by chemical pesticides. We work tirelessly to apply pressure to governments, regulators, policy makers, industry and retailers to reduce the impact of harmful pesticides.

The Green Hub The Brighthelm Centre North Road Brighton BN1 1YD Telephone: 01273 964230 Email:

Find out more about our work at:

Follow PAN UK

Support Pesticide Action Network UK You can donate to PAN UK at: pesticideactionnetworkuk or text PEST23 £3/£5/£10 to 70070 (e.g. Text PEST23 £3 to donate £3) PesticideActionNetworkUK twitter: @pan_uk


It doesn’t have to be this way... sti




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Pesticide Free Towns - Introductory Briefing