Protecting human health
Cancer society responds to the City of Charlottetown’s motion defeating a pesticide bylaw
The City of Charlottetown’s recent, unsuccessful attempt to create a cosmetic pesticide bylaw has reopened the debate over what level of government is best placed to protect the health and safety of people on P.E.I. But while the issue gets tossed back and forth, the sad reality is Islanders may continue to be at increased risk of being impacted by cancer until meaningful action is taken. This past year, more than 900 Islanders were diagnosed with the disease and 376 people died from it. That is more than one person a day.
The Canadian Cancer Society has called for a ban on the use and sale of pesticides used for cosmetic purposes because they provide no value other than to improve the appearance of lawns. And there is a convincing body of evidence showing a connection between pesticides and cancer.
Research shows that pesticide exposure is implicated in several types of cancer such as non-Hodgkin lymphoma, multiple myeloma and prostate, kidney and lung cancers. Although many of these studies show weak associations with cancer, increasingly convincing evidence comes from research on children exposed to residential pesticides. The connection is strongest for pesticide exposure in adult brain tumours and childhood leukemia.
Minimizing risk is a major component in the fight against cancer. For example, not smoking, following safe sun practices and adopting a healthy life style are all actions that will minimize the risk against a cancer diagnosis. The Canadian Cancer Society’s position on minimizing risk is based on the precautionary principle — when an activity raises threats of harm to human health, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. Waiting for absolute, definitive proof of a connection between pesticides and cancer goes against the precautionary approach to protecting health.
People sometimes mistakenly equate pesticide registration with “safety.” The Pesticide Management Regulatory Agency refers to registered pesticides as having an “acceptable risk” but the society sees this as an unnecessary risk. As a social society, we sometimes accept risk if there is an important benefit. In the case of cosmetic pesticide use, the benefits do not outweigh the risks. More attractive lawns do not outweigh the risk to human heath.
Many Islanders want pesticide bans. Recently, the Canadian Cancer Society – P.E.I. division initiated a public opinion survey and 84 per cent of the nearly 1,600 P.E.I. respondents support a provincewide cosmetic pesticide ban.
Elected officials appear willing to have an ongoing debate about who has responsibility for this issue. The Canadian Cancer Society strongly encourages leadership at both the provincial and municipal level to listen to the wishes of Islanders, consider their health and well-being and take the appropriate action to effectively move the issue forward rather than have it simply pushed to the back burner.
Islanders deserve no less.