Two sides of issue
Strong opinions expressed on proposed pesticide ban.
— Nova Scotia’s Environment Department is hearing some strong opinions on both sides of the issue when it comes to a proposed ban on the sale and use of non-essential lawn-care pesticides.
Brent Baxter, a spokesman for the department, says it has received about 500 responses to a discussion paper and invitation to Nova Scotians that was issued last month to convey their opinions about the proposed ban, which would apply to cosmetic pesticides used only in lawn and turf maintenance mainly for weed control or lawn-specific insects.
“ There seems to be strong emotions both ways but it’s one of those (situations) where I think people who have a closer interest in the issue tend to be the ones that reply,” he said.
The deadline for response is March 7, after which the department will prepare a summary of the public mood and some recommendations on the preferred options for the government, he said.
Legislation could come in the spring, he suggested.
In Cape Breton, there are polarized opinions about how dangerous pesticides can be and the proposed ban on cosmetic use.
Lawn pesticides include carcinogens to which children are particularly vulnerable, according to doctor Chris Milburn.
“I think the fact we are causing cancer in people should be more than enough to say I can stand a dandelion or two on my lawn to reduce the risk of cancer for the kids in the neighbourhood,” says Milburn, an emergency room doctor who is also a member of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment.
Children do a lot of growing, which puts them at greater risk for carcinogens that interact with human DNA, and they are at higher risk of exposure to chemicals in lawns just by the nature of childlike activities, he said
Milburn believes, based partly on his years as a family doctor, that some people are more sensitive to the chemicals in pesticides, although he says it’s a harder argument to prove.
He has already shared his views about cosmetic use of pesticides with the Nova Scotia government.
Lawn-care companies using pesticides contend that a ban would put them put of business but he knows a company in Ontario that used only organic methods that had to expand to keep up with the demand, said Milburn
Milburn has put a covenant against the use of pesticides on lots he has for sale in Sydney.
Lawn-care professional Allan MacKay, who owns a Weed Man business in Cape Breton, calls the proposed provincial ban “ridiculous.”
“As far as chemicals go, there are more chemicals under your sink than what we spray, and our stuff is all sprayed by professionals who know how to mix it properly,” said MacKay, who plans to accept the province’s invitation to share his opinion.
“As far as I am concerned, it is crazy. I think the provincial government has enough problems without worrying about a few chemicals that are getting sprayed around.”
Lawn pesticides can be dangerous if not used properly, he said.
“As far as an applicator like my guy who is professional, no, this stuff doesn’t hurt you.”
The ban would put a lot of people in his industry out of work and could spell the end for his company, he said.
“ You have to look at both sides of the story and I don’t think the government is.”
Last month, the provincial Environment Department issued a discussion paper encouraging people to express their opinions about its proposed ban on cosmetic use of pesticides used for lawn and turf maintenance.
The discussion paper says in the debate that occurs in society, many people on one side claim there are adverse health effects, that pesticides aren’t necessary and we can grow healthy lawns without them. People on the other side of the issue say there isn’t enough scientific evidence to support a ban and Health Canada’s pest management regulatory agency approves pesticides for use.
The authors of Nova Scotia’s discussion paper say, however, that Health Canada also recommends limiting their use and that’s why the province is proposing a ban on cosmetic use.
The discussion paper urges people to grow stronger lawns using hardier grass species native to our climate over at least 15 cms of good soil, use biopesticides made from natural materials such as animals, plants, bacteria and minerals or try good old-fash- ioned weeding.
Nova Scotia’s discussion paper notes that Health Canada regulates pesticides in this country registering pest control products, re-evaluating registered products, and setting maximum residue limits.
Before it will register a pest control product, Health Canada evaluates scientific data submitted by the pesticide company to ensure that the pesticide is an acceptable health and environmental risk, the discussion paper notes.
“Before a pesticide is allowed to be used or sold in Canada, it must undergo a rigorous scientific assessment process, which provides reasonable certainty that no harm, including chronic effects such as cancer, will occur when pesticides are used according to label directions,” Health Canada said in an email to the Post.
Gary O’Toole, the director of environmental health for the provincial government’s Health Promotion and Protection Department, said that pesticides are not good for human health.
“I think generally it’s safe to say that science supports that these chemicals are not good for your health, there are a lot of carcino- gens that are used in these chemicals in these cosmetic pesticides. So the science is there to support that, for sure,” he said.
O’Toole says his department supports the proposed ban on cosmetic use of pesticides because of that scientific evidence and because the chemicals are not necessary.
Baxter was also asked if the province consider the pesticides to be carcinogenic.
“ Well, that’s always the potential,” he said. “ That’s the potential with a lot of things we use in our everyday life so the more we can reduce some of these things, probably the better off we will be.
“ We don’t have any evidence of that. I mean, it’s certainly something we are working with and the federal government does continuously look at scientific literature and that sort of thing on these materials and if they have concerns, they re-examine them or even pull them off the market. ”To see the discussion paper and find out how to share your thoughts on the proposed ban with the provincial government, go to www. gov. ns. ca/ nse/ pests/ discussing.pesticides.asp.
Dr. Chris Milburn and his dog Hudson walk through an area of land that he is developing in Sydney, Thursday. Milburn has put a covenant against the use of pesticides on lots of land he has for sale.