A few weeks ago I wrote that road side verges provide the right conditions for many species of flora and fauna. I also wrote that I had not seen herbicides being used to remove this vegetation for many years and I was hoping that this practice had stopped. Last week I saw two teams in different parts of Malta using herbicides on pavements.
I do not understand this obsession to remove any living things from built up areas. Wild plants not only provide habitat and food for butterflies, bees and other insects but also have aesthetic value. They add colour to their drab surroundings and cover ugly concrete and rubbish. But, while accepting that some people cannot appreciate nature and use their power to anihilate it, it is unacceptable that herbicides are sprayed on pavements.
Herbicides are poisons that are used to kill vegetation. Many if not all of them can also harm humans, pets and wildlife. The toxicity of herbicides varies greatly as does the time taken for them to break down. Some are programmed to decompose after a relatively short time so that crops can be sown in soil after they have been sprayed but, while the breakdown products might not kill plants, there is no guarantee that these products do not harm humans and other animals.
Furthermore, anybody using a pavement has no option but to walk on poisoned ground. Children and pets are more vulnerable to poisons and their small size and the fact that they are closer to the ground makes absorption of poisons faster and easier. And even if children and pets had to be kept inside, a person walking on a poisoned pavement can unwittingly collect poison on his or her shoes and transfer it to his or her home where his children or pets come in contact with it.
There are indications that some herbicides are carcinogenic and, although acute toxicity comes only from exposure to large quantities of herbicides, even low doses might have long-term problems.
Using herbicides to remove vegetation might be the cheapest way to remove unwanted vegetation but our health and environment are worth more than that.
This article was published in The Times on 11.05.2011