Keenan Blog

Safer Practices for Weed Abatement

May 05, 2020

Keeping weeds under control around our homes, businesses, public facilities and wildlands is important for sanitation, pest control and fire safety, especially in communities prone to wildfires.

Following the controversy and legal exposures relating to glyphosate-based herbicides (GBH), you may be considering alternatives. When looking into your weed abatement choices, remember that state regulations may impose specific requirements depending on the site. For instance, California schools are subject to the Healthy Schools Act of 2018 and are responsible for meeting requirements by implementing Integrated Pest Management (IPM). IPM emphasizes prevention, establishing action levels, using least-hazardous control methods, and communication. The IPM approach provides best practices for weed abatement and helps reduce health and environmental risks to the entire community.

While there are various alternatives to GBH application, many of the less toxic products – even those considered “organic” – must be handled carefully. Some of these have requirements for personal protective equipment (PPE) that are even more stringent than GBH because of their skin, eye and respiratory effects. Employees responsible for storing, preparing and applying any pesticides must be certified. Only a person holding a qualified applicator certificate (QAC) or a qualified applicator license (QAL) from the Department of Pesticide Regulation can apply restricted-use pesticides at schools. Depending on the application, the same qualifications may be required for commercial or residential purposes.

Homebrewed remedies, usually involving some combination of vinegar, table salt and dish soap, still need to be evaluated for their impacts on people, desirable plants and the soil. Salt can make the soil unable to support any plant growth for years. Rain and irrigation can leach salt to areas where treatment was not intended. Use of vinegar and dish soap alone may wilt exposed weed foliage but is limited in its effectiveness against the root system and preventing the weed from reemerging. Again, even spraying these common household ingredients can irritate your eyes, skin, nose and throat.

Torching weeds involves considerable risks and should not be performed in areas where flammable materials can cause property damage or personal injury. Steaming is effective for weeding pavement cracks and fence lines but does require significant water usage. The heat used in these methods means that they should only be employed away from other people.

Manually pulling weeds is more labor intensive than using herbicides but is probably the best approach for landscaped areas with desirable plants. Remember that herbicides that kill weeds will also kill the plants you want to keep. Mulching can help prevent the return of weeds in such areas while helping the soil to retain moisture.

There are many things for you to take into account when selecting weed abatement methods, including cost. The safety and welfare of yourself, your family and your community need to be paramount.

About Eric Preston
Eric Preston is Vice President, Loss Control Services at Keenan. He leads a statewide team of specialists assisting clients with services to reduce hazards, and improve property & casualty loss experience.