Ongoing efforts to reduce the cosmetic use of pesticides will get a boost this month as a provincial law banning 250 products comes into effect Apr. 22.
The ban prohibits the sale and use of pesticides for cosmetic purposes on lawns, gardens, parks and school yards, and includes many herbicides, fungicides and insecticides.
The sweeping controls were welcomed by numerous organizations throughout the province, including the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) because it overrides municipal pesticide bylaws and applies uniformly across Ontario.
“We see it as win-win-win,” said Gideon Forman, executive director of CAPE.
“It’s safer and it’s creating some new jobs,” he said, noting that organic methods of dealing with weeds are more labour intensive and especially significant during these hard economic times.
The provincial law is much more stringent than the municipal bylaws it will replace; whereas local regulations restricted the use of pesticides, the provincial ban will remove more than 250 products from store shelves and some 80 ingredients will be banned for cosmetic use.
Licensed operators can use the banned chemicals under exempted practices, including specific uses in agriculture, forestry, public health and on golf courses.
Response to the plan has not been universally favourable, however. Opposition has been fierce at times, as critics argue that the law has more to do with politics than with actual health issues and scientific fact.
“The ban is purely a political ban – it has nothing to do with the science and it is for political expediency that this type of thing has been driven,” said Clarence Swanton, a professor in the department of plant agriculture at the University of Guelph.
Grouping all cosmetic pesticides under one umbrella and making a blanket statement for all of them constitutes a flawed approach, he argued.
“That’s beyond logic … you cannot lump all the pesticides together and make one general statement that all pesticides are bad because that’s just simply incorrect.
“The people that have led this ban have done so ignoring the science.”
That opinion is shared by John Wright, founder of Wright Lawn Care Services in Bloomingdale.
“Some of these groups make very, very profound statements about the linking of pesticides to cancer and there’s no connection that anyone can find – they totally disregard the Pest Management Regulatory Agency in Ottawa,” he said.
As a result of the ban, landscapers across Ontario will face some significant challenges as they look to find alternatives when ridding clients’ gardens of weeds.
“They took the tools out of our tool box and as a lawn care company we’re left with next to nothing to work with.”
The alternatives offered by the province – including organic-based pesticides such as industrial strength vinegar and old fashioned elbow grease – are problematic, said Wright. With an increase in labour will also come an increase in the amount of gas that’s emitted by gas-powered machines and more frequent travel between sites. Instead of spraying lawns with herbicides twice a year, lawn care workers will spend more time, money, and gas weeding the old way.
“This is causing a bigger carbon footprint and it’s causing more cost.”
Other alternatives, like horticultural vinegars, said Wright, pose their own risks including complications for eyes and lungs and are irritants to many pets.
Wright and Swanton also argue that in many cases, pesticides are necessary when eradicating noxious weeds or poisonous plants that are in themselves dangerous towards humans and animals. In those cases, especially, the application of herbicides once or twice a year is often more beneficial than it is harmful.
Swanton noted that, like all technologies, pesticides pose risks if they are not used appropriately. Applied according to regulations, guidelines and proper training, such products shouldn’t be harmful.
Forman, however, believes that no level of exposure is safe.
“Is it fair to put people, mostly kids, at risk for cancer and brain damage and birth defects just because we want to change the appearance of our property?” asked Forman, adding that evidence shows a correlation between exposure to certain chemicals found in pesticides and major illnesses such as cancer.
“There’s no health benefit to these products – zero. And the risk is significant, so why would we take the risk when there are so many nontoxic products that will do the job?”
Forman also questions the motives of those opposing the ban.
“Who are those people who are questioning the science? On the side of those who are in favour of this ban you have the Canadian Cancer Society, the Registered Nurses Association, the College of Family Physicians, and on the other side you have the chemical companies that produce these products. I guess you have to ask yourself whom do you trust,” said Forman.
“The Canadian Cancer Society doesn’t make a buck off supporting the pesticide ban.”