Pro­tect­ing hu­man health

Can­cer so­ci­ety re­sponds to the City of Char­lot­te­town’s mo­tion de­feat­ing a pes­ti­cide by­law

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - Ken Hub­ley, Chair­man, board of di­rec­tors, of P.E.I. di­vi­sion of the Cana­dian Can­cer So­ci­ety

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.

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