By Chris Benjamin
Originally published in the Chronicle Herald, July 27, 2009
On the issue of cosmetic (lawn and garden) pesticides, Nova Scotia has officially gone from leader to last.
Ontario and Quebec have banned the sale and use of these products. New Brunswick has announced legislation that it hopes will reduce pesticide use significantly. P.E.I. has promised a pesticide ban by next year.
At one time, Halifax was the largest city in Canada to ban pesticides. Now we are the laggards of our region.
The new government has promised to change the rules, allowing any municipality the right to ban the use of pesticides. This is welcome news for towns like Wolfville and Stellarton, where residents harmed by pesticides have convinced their town councils that a pesticide bylaw is needed.
But, this change is only a first step because municipal bylaws allow the products to remain on retail shelves across the province. To get these poisons off our shelves and out of our neighbourhoods, a provincial ban on their sale and use is a must. During the election campaign, the NDP stopped short of promising a provincial ban.
CBC and local print media have published exhaustive stories showing that even in HRM residents can easily buy pesticides and spray them at night if they choose to flout the bylaw there. The HRM ban has reduced cosmetic pesticide use, but has not nearly eliminated it.
Banning cosmetic pesticides is really a no-brainer. Every piece of independent research on the subject shows that pesticides, which are designed to kill, don’t know to stop at weeds and pests. Aside from the intense acute effects experienced by vulnerable people like Mason Comeau, the two-year-old in Pictou County who experienced severe swelling and bleeding when he was exposed to the herbicide Par III, exposure to pesticides is associated with numerous cancers, fetal death and reproductive damage, asthma, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Mason was exposed while playing in a sandbox.
As Nova Scotia’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Robert Strang, wrote last year, "There is sufficient evidence of both potential human health and environmental harms and the ability to achieve the benefits without the use of pesticides that (they) should not be used for landscape purposes. Evidence from other jurisdictions … shows that the most effective way to decrease (their use) is to ban their sale and use."
A large majority, 70 per cent, of Nova Scotians support a pesticide ban, according to repeated polling by Corporate Research Associates.
Nova Scotians are well aware of the health risks, and associated financial costs of treating injured people, associated with pesticides. A 2008 study by Seattle Public Utilities put a number on it, concluding that "each household converting from synthetic to natural (lawn-care) practices produces nearly $75 in annual ongoing public health, ecological, water conservation, and hazardous waste management benefits." And that’s without a public health care system.
What many Nova Scotians may not know is that pesticide bans are a great way to create the green jobs our politicians keep promising. The lawn care industry is booming wherever cosmetic pesticides have been banned. Statistics Canada reports that the number of landscaping companies in Toronto has increased each year since that city implemented a cosmetic pesticide ban.
In Halifax, since the enactment of the cosmetic pesticide bylaw, the number of landscaping companies has increased by more than 50 per cent, as has the number of employees per firm. Most of this growth is sparked by organic landscapers filling the niche for pesticide-free yard work created by the ban.
Banning landscape pesticides is an easy way to create green jobs, save on health care costs, save lives and protect the environment. We can only hope that our new government decides to keep up with the rest of the Maritimes, and ban the sale and use of lawn pesticides outright.
Chris Benjamin writes on behalf of Pesticide Free Nova Scotia. Members include the Canadian Cancer Society, Ecology Action Centre, Environmental Health Association of Nova Scotia, Real Alternatives to Toxins in the Environment, and other health and environmental organizations.