Beyond Herbicides to Wipe Out Weeds

The active ingredient in an herbicide widely used for killing weeds has been added to California’s list of chemicals that can cause cancer, the state’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) announced in July.shutterstock_630630323

Glyphosate, which is found in Roundup and many other weed killers, was added to the state Proposition 65 list of carcinogenic chemicals after Monsanto—the maker of ubiquitous Roundup—lost its lawsuit against the state in the California Supreme Court to keep glyphosate off the Proposition 65 list. While appealing the decision, Monsanto asked the court for a stay that would have blocked the state listing, but that effort was rejected.

“Glyphosate is not a carcinogenic, and the listing of glyphosate under Prop. 65 is unwarranted on the basis of science and law,” Scott Partridge, Monsanto’s vice president of global strategy, told CNN.

OEHHA’s decision to add glyphosate to the Proposition 65 list stems from an assessment by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

Chemical-Free Options

While the state’s decision continues to be challenged by Monsanto, consumers concerned about the possible toxicity of weed-killing herbicides have options, including natural and organic weed-killer solutions available at home and garden stores.

Landscape and garden experts say pesky weeds also can be eradicated using several other methods, many on the cheap:

  • Distilled white vinegar. It can be used to douse weeds, with the 20 percent acetic variety being most potent. Be careful, vinegar is likely to kill anything green it comes in significant contact with.
  • Plain table salt. A potent killer of weeds, salt in small amounts can be added to vinegar for extra strength. Salt sprinkled directly on weeds or other yard areas as a weed preventative may leave the soil barren for a prolonged period.
  • Boiling water. This is most effective on young weeds, and adding a tablespoon of salt per every gallon of water or so can be even more effective.
  • Landscape fabric or newspaper. Weeds depend on light, so covering an open area with landscape fabric or multiple layers of newspaper and covering the area with mulch will snuff out weeds. (Newspaper is biodegradable and will eventually decompose and feed the soil.)
  • Growing competition. Areas densely planted with such things as ground cover and flowers will steal light as well as water and nutrients from weeds and eventually take them over completely.

For large areas that require heavy, diverse planting, it may make sense for homeowners to consult a landscape architect. To be sure the license of a landscape architect is in good standing, consult the Landscape Architects Technical Committee website (

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