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
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
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
“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
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.
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
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
“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.”
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.
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