‘For goodness’ sake, don’t use a poison’

There should be a B.C.-wide ban on the use, sale and display of lawn and garden pesticides, says a Canadian environmental group of physicians and other health-care professionals.

The group, called the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE), launched a campaign March 5, which will continue until the end of March, urging the B.C. government to ban all non-essential pesticides. One hundred doctors and health-care workers from across Canada have signed the campaign’s open letter, which has been published in ads across the province. CAPE says these products should only be allowed in cases where human health or commercial agriculture is threatened.

The B.C. Drug and Poison Information Centre (DPIC) has reported an average of 436 cases of pesticide poisoning per year between 2003 and 2005; on average, 190 of those reports involved children under six years old. Debra Kent, clinical supervisor of the B.C. DPIC, says many of the reported cases included spray pyrethrins pesticides designed for indoor use to get rid of fleas, bed bugs, silverfish and the like.

“There’s no health aspect to lawn and garden. You’re not destroying dandelions because they threaten human health; you just don’t like the way they look. Remove it by hand or use a non-toxic product, but for goodness’ sake, don’t use a poison,” says CAPE executive director Gideon Forman.

On Feb. 20, the B.C. government introduced a bill that will require anyone using lawn and garden pesticides to have a licence. Forman says this bill, which amends the Integrated Pest Management Act, is not even close to satisfactory.

“It won’t protect people’s health because it will still allow people with licences to use these poisonous chemicals,” he says. “Our doctors feel the fact that you’ve been instructed in their use doesn’t make them less poisonous.”

A pesticide is any product used to control or destroy any pest; this can include fungicides, herbicides, insecticides, algicides and material and wood preservatives, as well as animal and insect repellents.

Health Canada decides which pesticide products are allowed for use, while the B.C. environment ministry regulates the application and sale of those products. Municipalities have the ability to pose further restrictions on top of federal and provincial requirements.

The Capital Regional District (CRD) promotes “the short-term reduction and long-term elimination of non-essential pesticide use in our community,” according to its website. Victoria, Esquimalt, Saanich and Oak Bay have all adopted a variation of a pesticide-use bylaw that promotes the elimination of non-essential use of pesticides.

Currently, the provinces with restrictions on pesticides include Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, P.E.I. and New Brunswick. Alberta’s ban only includes products that contain a combination of fertilizer and herbicide.

UVic’s sustainability initiative calls for zero pesticide/herbicide use on campus, except in limited cases.

“We use cultivation techniques to control pests as a first, primary and overall goal, without using other requirements,” says Glenn Brenan, facilities management director of operations.

When asked what the exceptions might be, Brenan gives the example of dealing with a hornet’s nest outside an office window. “We’ll spray that hornet’s nest with something to control the hazard,” says Brenan.

Brenan says the workers who would apply these pesticides are licensed through the Ministry of Environment to do so.

He adds, “We wouldn’t do anything to endanger anyone’s health or well-being. If there are weeds, we aren’t spraying [them]. We’ll dig them out.”

Last year, the Ontario College of Family Physicians (OCFP) released a review of existing studies on health impacts of pesticides. Their review revealed possible associations between pesticides and respiratory and neurological diseases as well as reproductive problems, with children being most at risk from exposure while in the womb. The Health Canada website states the OCFP review “does not consider all of the relevant epidemiological evidence.” Still, the Canadian Cancer Society is calling for a ban on pesticides for cosmetic use, saying that the associations cannot be ignored.

Victoria gardener Susanne Osmond uses organic practices and supports a pesticide ban. She doesn’t believe pesticides work as intended, but says most gardeners and landscapers still use them.

“Most people don’t enjoy pesticides. They know they’re doing harm to themselves and the air they breathe and the water they drink and all of that, but they just think they don’t have any other choice,” says Osmond. “I’m really excited in getting people to see there are other choices.”

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