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Say no to cosmetic pesticide use

October 29, 2013

The government is currently consulting on bylaws that would continue to allow cosmetic pesticide use, as long as commercial lawn care companies or other licensed applicators apply the pesticides.  British Columbians have repeatedly called for a ban on pesticides used for cosmetic purposes, and the government needs to hear that message again. 

You can send a message to the Ministry of Environment (c/o their consultant cindybertram@shaw.ca), and we suggest cc’ing the premier at premier@gov.bc.ca; or you can modify our suggested text in the form below and send it to the Ministry of Environment, the premier and your MLA.

The comment period has closed but you may still email the Ministry of Environment, the premier and your MLA. Click here for more background

BC government consulting on broken pesticide promise

It was only two years ago that Premier Christie Clark promised that the province would ban cosmetic pesticide use– pesticide use on lawns and ornamental plants.  But much has happened in a year, and the province is instead currently consulting on regulations that will allow cosmetic pesticide use – as long as a commercial lawn care company or other licenced applicator actually applies the pesticides. Between now and December 8th (when the consultation closes) the BC government needs to hear (yet again) that British Columbians want and deserve a ban on this unnecessary pesticide use. 

Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia have all banned the use of cosmetic pesticides, as have 40 municipalities across BC.  In 2011 both the Premier and the Opposition agreed that a ban was the solution. 

After her initial enthusiasm, Premier Clark struck a “Special Committee” of MLAs to look into a possible ban.  The Committee, chaired by MLA Bill Bennett, split along party lines.  The Liberal MLAs wrote a majority report that recommended against a ban (which they viewed as unscientific, despite the many doctors and health organizations supporting a ban).  Instead the Committee proposed a scheme under which cosmetic pesticide use should be licensed.  The NDP MLAs on the Committee supported a ban.

British Columbians have consistently favoured a ban over an attempt to regulate cosmetic pesticide use.  Polls show that 76% of British Columbians favour a ban, and members of the public who engage in government consultations have consistently favoured a ban.  A ban is supported by a wide range of health and environmental organizations, including the Canadian Cancer Society and the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment.  Most recently, the Special Committee reported that:

Of the 7,300 people who responded to the [Committee’s] e-questionnaire … [a]lmost 5,000 supported a ban on the sale and use of pesticides for cosmetic purposes. Their reasons for supporting a ban, ranked in order of most to least common, were: pesticides are harmful to the environment; pesticides pose a risk to human health; there are safer alternatives on the market; to promote consumer safety; and to reduce the reliance on pesticides.

Despite the fact that 69% of the respondents to the Committee’s survey favoured a ban, the government is claiming that its “licensed users” approach, which definitely is not a ban, is aimed at “address[ing] concerns expressed in recent consultations on the cosmetic use of pesticides conducted by the Ministry and the Special Committee of the Legislature on Cosmetic Pesticides.” 

A ban vs. licensed users

From a health and environmental perspective we see a host of problems with the government’s licensed user approach, and only one possible advantage. 

The advantage is that the actual application of pesticides will be done by people who (due to their training) should be able to understand, and presumably follow, the pesticide labels – which is essential to minimizing the risks posed by pesticides.  Arguably the additional cost of paying for lawn care companies might dissuade some people from applying pesticides, or convince them to use the safer alternatives exempted from the new rules. 

Although it might seem intuitive that using licensed applicators would result in a reduction in the amount of pesticides used, there is no evidence that past government efforts to require applicators to use “Integrated Pest Management” (a planning system for pesticide use) has actually resulted in reductions in the quantity of pesticides used.  The Ministry of Environment stopped publishing reports on amounts of pesticides used in BC shortly before the province’s new Integrated Pest Management Act came into force. 

Now consider the many down-sides: 

Pesticides used in close proximity to families, children and pets - Children and pets, as well as pregnant women and others who are vulnerable to pesticide exposure, are likely to come into contact with pesticides used on lawns and in yards.  One need only read pesticide labels to realise that these are dangerous substances which should not be used lightly.  Consider this condition (which seems to rely on especially compliant children or alert parents), which appears on some domestic pesticides: “Do not allow others such as children and pets on treatment area during application or to re-enter treated areas until spray has dried.”

Each year there are over 6000 reported pesticide poisonings in Canada, 2832 of which involve children.  190 children are reported poisoned in BC each year (of 436 reported pesticide poisonings.   It is well documented in the U.S. that pesticide poisonings are frequently misdiagnosed and substantially under reported, so the actual figure is likely much higher. 

Pesticides entering the environment - Ontario’s ban on cosmetic pesticides resulted in a dramatic drop in the levels of pesticides being detected in urban streams.  The Ontario Ministry of Environment discovered one year after its ban went into effect:

Concentrations of 2,4-D, dicamba, MCPP, total phenoxy herbicides and total insecticides were significantly lower in 2009 [a year after the ban was implemented] and a decrease in carbaryl concentrations approached statistical significance. Depending on the stream, median and maximum concentrations of 2,4-D, dicamba and MCPP were up to 94% (mean 67%) and 97% (mean 65%) lower in 2009, respectively.

Stronger, more dangerous pesticides may be used - Some lawn care companies apparently view themselves as providing a commercial service, and thus use “commercial” pesticides on lawns, rather than the “domestic” pesticides that federal government considers appropriate for residential users.  Commercial pesticides are often stronger and more hazardous than pesticides registered for domestic use.  Take, for example, the pesticide Par III, which contains Mecoprop-P, 2,4-D and Di-Camba, the label for which says (among other things):

Toxic to small wild mammals, birds, aquatic organisms and non-target terrestrial plants. TOXIC to broadleaf terrestrial plants. … The use of this chemical may result in contamination of groundwater particularly in areas where soils are permeable (e.g., sandy soil) and/or the depth to the water table is shallow.

At least one lawncare company that operates in BC, Canadian Lawn Fertilization, actually advertises its use of Par III for lawns on its website, and we’re aware of other lawn care companies using this pesticide on residential lawns and school yards.  It is not entirely certain that this is legal (since the pesticide is supposed to be used on “turf”, not lawns), but it has been described to us by Health Canada staff as an area where there is some “wiggle room.” 

A patchwork of regulations - One of the arguments for a provincial cosmetic pesticide ban is that 40 municipalities across the province already ban cosmetic pesticide use, creating a patchwork of rules.  The proposed regulations will allow local governments to “opt-out” of the provincial rules.  That means that those municipal bans can continue – but also that local governments can decide to weaken the provincial requirements – allowing a wider range of unlicensed pesticide uses.  

Ongoing conflicts between neighbours – In our experience, cosmetic pesticide use can be a major source of conflict between neighbours.  Since the new regulations would require notice of pesticide use to be posted (a good thing), but provides no recourse for neighbours who are concerned about that pesticide use (except to avoid the treated area or take personal precautions), we believe that increased conflicts may result. 

Difficulty of enforcement – A ban on cosmetic pesticide use is easy to monitor and enforce, while a system which requires licensed applicators to comply with technical legal requirements and license conditions is not.   Since the Integrated Pest Management Act was brought into force in 2007 there has never been a conviction under the Act (54 tickets for $575 each, and 4 enforcement orders, have been issued). 

That’s a lot of problems arising from allowing the use of pesticides on lawns and yards; especially when you can have a nice lawn (if you choose to do so) without pesticides

What to tell government

We need you to tell the BC government that British Columbians want, deserve and have been promised a ban on cosmetic pesticide use, and that we’ll accept nothing less.  You’ll probably get the biggest bang for your buck if you email or send them your own (unique) letter.  Send it to cindybertram@shaw.ca, but remember to cc the Premier (premier@gov.bc.ca), as she’s ultimately responsible for back-tracking on her promise.   

If you’re pressed for time, you can also click here to go back to the above form and send a quick pre-drafted email (you can modify it) to the Ministry of Environment, the Premier and your own MLA.

British Columbians have spoken loudly about the need for a cosmetic pesticide ban.  We need you to raise your voice again.

By Andrew Gage, Staff Lawyer

Ready to send a letter? Click here to go back to the form.

Photo courtesy of Kerry Bokenfohr.