Retired biologist sees red flags in report on pesticides
Retired biologist sees red flags in report on pesticides.
A pesticide report issued by the Department of Health and Wellness offers a “bias opinion” when it comes to establishing links between pesticide use and cancer rates, says a retired biologist with Environment Canada.
Bill Ernst spent years working on P.E.I. and contends while he is not an epidemiologist, a few red flags went up when he read the “Pesticide and Human Health” report posted on the department website just before Christmas.
“There is considerable bias in this report when they say agricultural production can’t go forward without the continued use of pesticides…. that shouldn’t be a determinant,” he said. “And it suggests that pesticides are needed to ensure agricultural production, but in my experience that’s not totally true. Pesticides can be reduced and even eliminated in some instances.”
Ernst spent 34 years with Environment Canada involved in pesticides and toxic chemicals used in P.E.I. and published widely in science journals. He admits his field is biology, but suggests it is not easy to determine how the conclusions in the report are supported.
The report said pesticides sold and used on P.E.I. are not associated with the four most common cancers in the province and suggests eliminating the use of all pesticides in P.E.I. would have little or no impact on Island disease rates.
It said there is evidence to suggest a possible connection between pesticide exposure and a number of types of cancer like blood, bone marrow, and lymphatic system, particularly nonHodgkin’s lymphoma. However, the report then says that pesticides sold in P.E.I. were not associated with the four most common cancers in the province - lung, breast, colorectal and prostate cancer.
“Pesticides used in P.E.I. do not pose a significant public health risk when used according to Health Canada’s usage and safety precaution labeling,” says the Chief Public Health Office.
Ernst says he knows government has to walk that “fine risk line”, but he questions and how some of the conclusions were reached.
“It’s well documented that P.E.I. has a higher pesticide exposure potential than others parts of the country,” he said. “Pesticide exposure in the air is very comparable to other parts of the world where pesticides affects have been documented.”
The veteran scientist said pesticide use is a balance between benefits versus risks.
“Obviously P.E.I. is dependent on agricultural production and the easiest way to ensure that production is with pesticides.”
He said the report makes a “leap of logic” when it indicates that because health effects aren’t elevated in P.E.I., there is no risk reduction achievable by reducing pesticides.
“The report would seem to indicate that there is an elevated melanoma occurrence in P.E.I. and there are substantive links to pediatric lymphoma and leukemia with pesticide use and therefore reducing any such risks would seem reasonable.”
Ernst said there is always a struggle between those that need pesticides against those who believe it is better with less or without.
“There is considerable empirical evidence on exposure which indicates P.E.I. has one of the highest bystander exposure situations in the country and perhaps that should have been brought out,” he said. “And it’s embarrassing that the most recent data on pesticide use was 2008. My recommendation is to have an independent, preferably academic, epidemiologist to review this report.”