Patchwork of provincial “cosmetic” pesticide laws
leaves a third of Canadians unprotected
Ontario and Nova Scotia permit only the safest products for landscaping
Provincial laws lacking in the west
OTTAWA (August 30, 2016). A report released today highlights a patchwork of ‘cosmetic’ pesticides laws across Canada. Roughly a third of Canadians are well protected, and a third not protected at all from this non-essential use of pesticides. The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) gives the provinces of Ontario and Nova Scotia top marks for limiting pesticides to least-toxic products for urban landscapes; Quebec’s Pesticide Code protects children both indoors and outdoors, but only addresses lawns and not gardens; and west of Manitoba no province requires least-toxic options for landscaping.
Eliminating non-essential pesticides is an easy step towards healthier environments for children, as chemicals used to control pests (weeds, insects, etc.), can have non-target effects. “Early life exposures to pesticides can change a child’s life-time trajectory, affecting development and increasing probability of chronic disease,” cautions Dr. Curtis Lavoie, emergency physician at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario.
“Several weed killers and insecticides, registered by Health Canada for home use, may cause cancer,” said Dr. Richard van der Jagt, Ottawa haematologist. “The recent International Agency for Research on Cancer reviews found that some common insecticides and the herbicide glyphosate (Roundup®) probably cause cancer. 2,4-D, used against weeds on turf, possibly causes cancer.”
“Least-toxic approaches should be the norm where families live, work and play,” explained Dr. Meg Sears, Chair of Prevent Cancer Now. While some provinces ‘black list’ a few chemicals, Ontario, Nova Scotia and Manitoba have ‘white lists’ of permitted products. “Listing best practices gives clearer direction, and avoids the situation of new problematic products being permitted simply because they are not on a banned ‘black list’,” Sears concludes.
“Organically maintained, beautiful green spaces can be more resilient and sustainable, and very affordable,” says Mark MacKenzie, past-president of the Organic Landscape Alliance, McNab/Braeside Township Councillor.
Laws that successfully reduce pesticide use come with public education to garden in accordance with clear, strong rules, backed up with restricted sales and good enforcement. Local bylaws cannot restrict pesticide sales, making them less effective than provincial laws that put hazardous products off the shelves or behind the counter.
Pesticides laws substantially reduce environmental levels and exposures. Ontario, Quebec and Alberta studies showed that pesticides from urban landscapes enter waterways. Follow-up studies in the east showed that cosmetic pesticide laws greatly reduced this pollution.
Jurisdictions without cosmetic pesticide laws rely on Health Canada’s decisions that individual pesticides pose an ‘acceptable risk.’ These decisions have been criticized by Canada’s Commissioner for the Environment and Sustainability as being out of date, opaque, and not protective of the most vulnerable, because a legislated protective 10-fold exposure margin is ignored.
Health Canada assesses only single ingredients rather than realistic complex mixtures. “Many exposures trigger pathways to cancer, such as inflammation, and interfering with genes, hormones or the immune system. Pesticides can work in concert to disrupt natural functions, highlighting the need to use least-toxic approaches,” explains Dr. Michael Gilbertson, a lead scientist in the international cancer research collaboration known as the Halifax Project.
Health Canada relies on secret industry-supplied animal testing data while discounting peer-reviewed science,” explained Dr. Sears. “Pesticides are only banned when there is very strong evidence of serious human or environmental harm. This proof can easily take a generation to assemble, if it ever is.”
This highlights the need for a national ‘big data’ approach to environmental and health data – Environmental Health Information Infrastructure. Drs Sears and van der Jagt echo, “It is unethical to require that many, many people be harmed by a pesticide before requiring known, safer approaches, especially since data to prove or disprove pesticide safety is typically not collected. Public health draws a line when pesticides are used for aesthetics.”
Prevent Cancer Now is a Canadian national civil society organization including scientists, health professionals and citizens working to stop cancer before it starts, through research, education and advocacy to eliminate preventable causes of cancer.