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Birmingham: reconsider toxic weedkiller

Birmingham is a community which considers itself fiscally responsible and environmentally progressive, which is why we were so surprised, and downright disappointed, when the Birmingham City Commission decided to take the easy way out at a recent October meeting and approve the use of the controversial weedkiller glyphosate as a means of control of invasive plants, weeds and other nuisance vegetation in the downtown area, as well as other areas of the community.

Glyphosate is the main ingredient in the weedkiller RoundUp, and critics of the pesticide assert that exposure to Roundup and glyphosate, which can come through humans running on sprayed grass to exposure in drinking water from surface runoff or drainage into wells, may damage liver and kidneys, cause irregular heartbeat, reproductive disorders, neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson's and cancer. Some cities, such as Chicago, New York City and Boulder, as well as countries like Holland, Denmark and Sweden, have banned the use of the chemical in all public spaces. In March 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an arm of the World Health Organization (WHO), classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

While the state of Michigan does not test nor regulate glyphosate, Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner Jim Nash said glyphosate is a chemical he personally worries about, and doesn't use. We would have liked to think Birmingham, with its diverse, affluent, well-educated and well-traveled residents, would appreciate a community which protects its population from exposure to a potentially deadly chemical, all in the name of a few weeds.

There was a yearlong moratorium on its use after commissioner Patty Bordman brought the issue to the attention of the commission in July 2016. However, DPS Director Lauren Wood said it was too time consuming to “pull weeds,” and a homeopathic mixture was too costly.

Chicago, New York City, Boulder all have succeeded without glyphosate. Were their solutions even investigated? We suspect not because, after the vote, one city official bluntly said, “We don’t have the time” when we queried whether other municipalities had been contacted.

Birmingham has a long history of investing in endeavors when it chooses to. We believe public health is one worthy of both the time and the money.

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