Wollongong nearly choked on its porridge this week over the fact that while US courts were awarding billion-dollar payouts to plaintiffs, ruling the weedkiller RoundUp caused their cancer, sites in our area were about to get it sprayed from helicopters near residential areas.
Glyphosate (sold as RoundUp) is approved for use by Australian authorities, but judged by the World Health Organisation to be a probable carcinogen. US courts have agreed with the WHO.
The Illawarra Mercury's story was followed by an immediate public outcry. It didn't take long for Wollongong City Council to announce it would review its herbicide use to make sure it was "meeting the expectation of our community". At first the Lord Mayor said it was just to make sure the proper guidelines were followed; this soon changed to a "complete review".
Not so for schools. While RoundUp is widely used in NSW schools, including in school hours, the Department of Education won't answer questions about what other options were available, or what parents should do if they are concerned.
This column understands some schools may have stopped or reduced herbicide use after representations from parents. The Department owes it to all parents to explain what other options schools have, why herbicides are used in schools, and who parents should speak to if they are concerned.
For its part, Wollongong City Council says it alerts the public whenever it is using poisons in public.
But how necessary is it really to use herbicides in sensitive areas?
Many of the weeds sprayed in schools - or in the recent case of Thirroul playground - can be pulled out by hand. Or weeds can be killed with steam wands. This isn't some policy from hippyland up north - it's how Bayside City Council in Melbourne operates.
Clearly enough people are concerned to make it worth being very cautious. And while industry lobbyists call it "hype", it's also true that the WHO's cancer agency found glyphosate is probably carcinogenic.
Again, RoundUp is approved as safe by Australian regulators. But it's possible for regulators to get it wrong - witness the "health star system" developed with Food Standards Australia and New Zealand, and the failures of ASIC laid bare by the banking Royal Commission. People have every right to demand scrutiny if such a need arises; that's all they are demanding now.