Verge burns scorned

Verges like this one in Venus Road have turned brown after being sprayed with a herbicide.

Kirstenhof residents have accused a City contractor that sprayed a herbicide in their neighbourhood of flouting safety precautions, destroying their verges and posing a serious health and environmental threat.

The contractor was hired to kill weeds, but residents say it did more harm than good. Several took to the Kirstenhof Community Facebook page, complaining that they would now have to carry the cost of restoring their verges.

Resident Peter Hewitt said at first he thought it was only his verge that had been affected.

When I walked around, I saw that it was basically everyone’s grass and just about everybody has a big stretch of burnt grass. However, mine is almost as much as a metre into my property.”

Mr Hewitt runs a nursery from home and maintains his own verge. He said the City of Cape Town should have warned residents beforehand about the spraying so they could take precautions.

“Now we have toxic stuff right outside our houses,” he said. If the extraction fans in his greenhouse had been running they “would have sucked that poison straight into my greenhouse and would have killed every single plant in it”.

He has seen some dead frogs on the roadside and is worried about the effect the toxins will have on people’s pets.

“People throw bread on the side of the road for ducks to feed and my dog eats that bread when I take him for a walk and dogs love to eat what they find on the sides of the road.”

Cara-Dee Carlstein was driving home about two weeks ago when she spotted men spraying the verges.

“I was very concerned to see this as the facts about the dangers of glyphosate and weed control via chemicals is well documented and also has a detrimental influence on our groundwater quality.”

She had been alarmed to see the men were not wearing masks

“Out of concern, I reversed to confront one of the men. I told him that he really needs to speak to his employer about providing masks for their protection as they were working with highly toxic poisonous substances. The man pulled out a flimsy string doctor’’s mask from his pocket and said they do have them but they don’t wear them.

“I implored him to protect himself and to tell his colleagues and wished them well and drove off,” said Ms Carlstein. “We are concerned for our health and would like to know what is being sprayed so close to our homes without our knowledge or consent.”

Jean Fillis, a member of Friends of Kirstenhof Wetland, was worried about the timing of the spraying.

“Not only was it done in the rainy season, but everyone in the City council should know by now that it is the migration time of the western leopard toad. It is always between July and September, most often August and takes about two weeks in total.

“Toads absorb liquid through their skins and tend to walk along the edge of verges and in gutters to the river to mate. I presume the poison has a short life, but if it rains, it will drain into the gutters and then the rivers as well.”

“To add to the problem, the workers spray a wide strip – the idea is presumably to keep weeds and grass out of the gutter – but they even spray pristine verges and clearly annoy the residents. We had only a few patches of decent grass this year near our verge edge and every patch has been poisoned.”

Eddie Andrews, mayoral committee member for area south, said the weed spraying was meant to target only hardened surfaces within road reserves.

The contractor had used a “1,5% to 2% solution and a pre-emergent herbicide” that would affect grass. “For this reason, the contractor is not supposed to spray alongside grass verges which are being maintained.”

Nevertheless, he said, “the grass should recover”. He said the City would take the issue up with its contractor and also investigate the allegations that workmen had not been wearing protective gear.