Full steam ahead for clean weed kill

Southern Gazette (South Perth) - - NEWS - Jaime Shurmer

STEAM tech­nol­ogy to con­trol weeds was in­vented in Aus­tralia in 1997 and ma­chines are man­u­fac­tured in Syd­ney.

Weedtech­nic man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Jeremy Winer, and in­ven­tor of the tech­nol­ogy, said the con­cept be­gan with the Aus­tralian Rail Au­thor­ity in 1920 which used lo­co­mo­tive steam on a heavy sack to kill weeds.

Mr Winer said there had been greater in­ter­est na­tion­ally in steam since the IARC's clas­si­fi­ca­tion of glyphosate last year.

He said coun­cils that con­sider it to be a cost bur­den are in­stead in­cur­ring a toxin bur­den and ran the risk of off-tar­get dam­age and oc­cu­pa­tional health and safety is­sues.

Mr Winer said the coun­cil clos­est to elim­i­nat­ing chem­i­cal sprays was Le­ich­hardt in New South Wales and it was the first to use steam to treat weeds.

In cli­mates like Mel­bourne, one coun­cil has found it to be more ef­fec­tive than sprays be­cause chem­i­cals were of­ten washed away by fre­quent rain.

In Perth, the Eastern Metropoli­tan Re­gion Coun­cil is con­tin­u­ing steam tri­als with lo­cal gov­ern­ments. PERTH coun­cils are turn­ing to steam to con­trol weeds, fol­low­ing con­cerns about the health im­pacts of chem­i­cal sprays.

In­ter­na­tional Agency for Re­search on Cancer last year found glyphosate to be “prob­a­bly cargino­genic to hu­mans”.

The chem­i­cal was listed by the IARC in the same cat­e­gory as red meat, high tem­per­a­ture fry­ing and some shift work.

The City of South Perth re­cently or­dered a steam ma­chine and the Town of Vic­to­ria Park uses steam to treat “no spray” ar­eas where res­i­dents have in­di­cated they do want sprays used. The City of Bel­mont will start a steam trial in Septem­ber, hir­ing a ma­chine to de­ter­mine its ef­fec­tive­ness.

Coun­cils have “no spray reg­is­ters”, pub­licly ad­ver­tise ma­jor spray­ing events and con­trac­tors must use sig­nage while spray­ing.

The City of Fre­man­tle uses a com­bi­na­tion of steam and sprays and has found the cost of steam treat­ment has risen since 1997 when it first in­tro­duced chem­i­cal-free tri­als. Since then, labour costs have in­creased, tech­nol­ogy has be­come so­phis­ti­cated and the num­ber of roads and paths has grown in the city.

But on April 27 this year Fre­man­tle re­solved to ac­cept the cost of its cho­sen weed con­trols.

Steam is used to con­trol weeds in “no spray” ar­eas twice each year in the Town of Vic­to­ria Park and there is mi­nor use of white oil in street trees and gar­dens.

The City of Canning has not ap­plied her­bi­cide to its sport­ing fields in four years, adopt­ing a pre­ci­sion nu­tri­ent man­age­ment pro­gram so the turf can out-com­pete weeds and in the process scorch any weeds be­fore they ma­ture.

City of South Perth Mayor Sue Do­herty said steam was a very ef­fec­tive way of man­ag­ing weeds, in­clud­ing aquatic species.

“The City is look­ing for­ward to the use of this steam treat­ment as a way of re­duc­ing weeds; it is in­no­va­tive and will be a means whereby the use of chem­i­cals can be re­duced,” she said.

But the City of Melville’s act­ing chief ex­ec­u­tive Steve Cope dis­agrees, say­ing sprays were re­quired for ef­fec­tive and ef­fi­cient con­trol.

“The City of Melville in­ves­ti­gated steam­ing a num­ber of years ago and at the time it did not prove to be vi­able given the ex­panse of paved verges, me­di­ans, and kerb lines that need to be man­aged within the City,” Mr Cope said.

The City of Cock­burn and the Shire of Ser­pen­tine Jar­rah­dale di­rected the Gazette to the Aus­tralian Pes­ti­cides and Vet­eri­nary Medicines Au­thor­ity web­site that says glyphosate is un­likely to pose a threat, ei­ther cargino­genic or geno­toxic, to hu­mans.

City of Ar­madale chief ex­ec­u­tive Ray Tame said if the APVMA de­ter­mined there was a risk or haz­ard, the coun­cil would im­me­di­ately cease to use it.

Some coun­cils are shy­ing away from chem­i­cal weed­killers.

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