1. What are pesticides?
The term "pesticide" refers to chemical substances that are biologically active and interfere with the normal biological processes of living organisms deemed to be pests, whether these are noxious plants or weeds, insects, mould or fungi. (Toronto Public Health, April 2002). A “pesticide” is anything used to kill weeds, insects, plant diseases and other unwanted living things. They include herbicides, insecticides, fungicides and rodenticides. Watch a video on the adverse health effects of pesticides by clicking here.
2. Are pesticides harmful to one’s health?
Pesticides are among the most widely used chemicals in the world, and also among the most dangerous to human health. They are a leading cause of poisonings here in Canada and have been estimated to account for thousands of deaths each year globally. Pesticides can also cause chronic health effects due to both acute poisonings and from chronic long-term exposure. Many studies have documented adverse health effects on humans. Among several areas of concern, many of the commonly used household insecticides are organophosphates, which have been linked in many studies to neurological damage in humans. Watch a video on the adverse health effects of pesticides by clicking here. For further information please visit the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment's website at: CAPE and the Ontario College of Family Physicians at: OCFP
3. Are Pesticides safe?
Pesticides are registered by the Federal Government, but it is against the law to claim that they are "safe". Approval only means that pesticides are deemed not to pose "unacceptable" risk if used under particular circumstances, in particular ways. Many pesticides have never been evaluated with modern methods. Modern testing still does not investigate many mechanisms of toxicity.
Throughout North America, pesticide manufacturers and applicators have been fined and sued for millions of dollars because of illegal and misleading advertising of safety.
Bill C-45 (Westray), in effect since March 2004, states that employers are responsible for ensuring workers' safety. Thus if a pesticide makes an employee sick, the employer may be held criminally responsible.
The Krever Commission established that government officials must protect citizens in a timely fashion when evidence (not even absolute) indicates that a product is harmful or has potential to cause harm. Pesticides should not be an exception.
Canada's federal Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development audited in 2003 Canada's pesticide approval process and found major flaws. The Commissioner concluded that: "Canadians want to know: Just how safe are the pesticides we use? The federal government should be able to answer that question. But it can't."
An Ottawa scientist explains why science can't prove a pesticide is safe.
4. Does the Canadian Cancer Society support a ban on the cosmetic use of pesticides?
Yes, they strongly support such a ban. Their media releases are found here and here.
5. Do herbicides contain dioxins?
Weedkillers 2,4-D, Mecoprop and Dicamba are three of the top five landscaping chemicals. These three chemicals are often combined in products such as Killex and Par III. They are known as phenoxy herbicides. By nature of the way they are synthesized, they are inevitably contaminated with chlorinated dioxins. These persistent, bio-accumulative toxic substances are linked to cancers, and to reproductive, immunological and neurological problems. There have been allegations of criminal fraud concerning dioxin contamination in products such as 2,4-D (see: Monsanto). For additional information on dioxins, please click here.
6. Aren't there thousands of studies indicating that the herbicide 2,4-D is okay, so what's your concern?
Some of these studies focus on pure 2,4-D, but not the final product that generally ends up being sprayed on lawns. For example, when you see a commercial pesticide applicator spraying herbicides on lawns, that 2,4-D is normally mixed with other herbicides such as Dicamba and Mecoprop ("phenoxy herbicides" marketed as Par III or Killex), along with contaminants and formulants (possibly ingredients to make the pesticide spread, stick, join or penetrate better). In our opinion, it is this toxic mixture of chemicals that has not been adequately studied. Synergistic effects are poorly understood. Mecoprop is eventually being replaced with "mecoprop-p", so it will never be assessed according to today's standards. Nevertheless, it will stay on the shelf until 2009.
A recent study published in the "Toxicology Journal Environmental Health Perspectives", revealed that the commercial, off-the-shelf mixture of 2,4-D, Dicamba and Mecoprop may pose serious reproductive risks. Furthermore, 2,4-D and other phenoxy herbicides are contaminated with chlorinated dioxins. These persistent, bio-accumulative toxic substances are linked to cancers, and to reproductive, immunological and neurological problems. Concern over 2,4-D is such that it is currently not approved for use on lawns and gardens in Québec, Sweden, Norway and Denmark. Accordingly, cancer rates in Sweden dropped once pesticides were restricted. A top 10 list on why you should not use 2,4-D may be read here.
7. Pesticide application companies seem to promote "Merit" to kill grubs. What is Merit?
The grub-killing insecticide imidacloprid (dubbed "Merit") is a chlorinated nicotine-like chemical. It acts upon the nervous system, as do many insecticides. Imidacloprid is also used as a deterrent to birds eating seed, and may similarly curtail control of grubs by birds, which would be counter-productive. Imidacloprid is highly toxic to bees. Imidacloprid is soluble, mobile in some soils and may pollute water. It is persistent. The half-life is widely variable and the PMRA has stated that the half-life is more than 700 days. Imidacloprid has been seen to build up with repeated yearly applications, and to induce pesticide resistance within a few years. A break-down product, 2-chloropyridine, is extremely toxic and persistent, but the PMRA has not adequately addressed this issue. For more info, click here.
A safer alternative to "Merit" are Nematodes which eat grubs. For more information on Nematodes, please click here.
8. What is "bought science" that I hear so much about?
"Bought science", not to be confused with "junk science" or "sound science" describes studies whereby unfavourable scientific test results are suppressed in order to support desired outcomes. In other words, "he who pays the piper calls the tune." An example of possible fraud is provided here. Many studies considered for pesticide registration are also "proprietary" and cannot be independently reviewed. Also, many concerned Canadians are critical of bought science because it has potential to contaminate the pool of accurate and objective peer-reviewed studies. Consequently, many Canadians are urging the Canadian Government to require the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) to do its own independent pesticide testing rather than relying upon the pesticide industry's science, as is now the case.
9. How are pesticides assessed?
The PMRA registers pesticides if their studies demonstrate that the probability of a variety of risks is below a defined threshold (the risk is "acceptable") and if the product does what it is advertised to do (kill the target species). There is no assessment of the need for a product (i.e. do less-toxic alternative products or strategies exist, such as a dandelion-digger?). No risk/benefit assessment is carried out.
Science may allow assessment of risks; science may be co-opted to obscure risks by posing questions that ignore important contaminants or breakdown products. However, no science can determine the degree of "acceptability" of risk.
Canadians are now demonstrating that they are not prepared to entertain significant risks to kill weeds, by passing bylaws and, in Québec, the Pesticide Code..
10. Why a by-law? Isn't public education enough?
A study of pesticide reduction initiatives in North America and Europe concluded that public education was important but not sufficient, and that legislation was necessary to achieve non-toxic, sustainable landscaping practices. The study is entitled: "The Impact of By-Laws and Public Education Programs on Reducing the Cosmetic / Non-Essential, Residential Use of Pesticides: A Best Practices Review", and can be downloaded here.
11. Did Québec recently restrict pesticide use?
In 2003 Québec determined that the risk of pesticides wasn't worth it and announced that products containing 2,4-D and a host of other lawn pesticides are no longer permitted for use in urban areas, as of April 2004. For more info, click here.
12. Is Halifax's pesticide bylaw working?
Yes it's working very well. For further information, please click here.
13. How are people exposed to pesticides?
Pesticides can enter a person’s body by three possible routes: by the lungs, by the mouth or through the skin. Spray applications of pesticides increase the chance that the applicator and by-standers may inhale fine droplets. Lawn care pesticide residues may also be tracked into the home. Children are more likely to be exposed by inadvertent ingestion of pesticide residues on objects in their environment. (Toronto Public Health - Playing it Safe)
14. If pesticides are used as directed, do they still have a health impact?
Chemical pesticides need to be regulated by the federal government (PMRA) due to their health impacts. Even with approval, the PMRA acknowledges that there are associated risks that can be managed through labeling information. (Toronto Public Health, April 2002) For example, a label might indicate that a product might be considered “safe to use” provided that humans are not exposed.
15. Isn’t pesticide spraying a private property right?
No. Pesticides are known to move from the point of application into air, water and soil. They don’t stay on the property where they are sprayed. Additives such as solvents, contaminants and break-down products may be more dangerous to the health of neighbours as the pesticide itself. Birds, butterflies and other wildlife don’t stay on a single property. Many pesticides kill them.
16. Won’t cutting pesticides reduce property values?
Not if the reduction is done city-wide so it’s a level playing field. In fact, improving Ottawa’s reputation as a healthy place to live will increase the desirability of Ottawa homes to those considering moving here, hence property values.
17. Is there support in the community for pesticide reduction?
Yes. Almost 9 out of 10 Ottawa residents would support a ban on the cosmetic use of lawn pesticides on private property, according to a Feb. 2005 public opinion poll conducted by Oraclepoll Research for CAPE. The poll also revealed that three out of four Ottawa residents believe lawn pesticides pose a threat to children. An even higher percentage of Ottawans said pesticides pose a threat to the environment, including wildlife, air quality and groundwater. Many provincial and national polls have found support of over 80% for restricting the cosmetic use of pesticides. Over the last decade the number of municipal pesticide by-laws adopted in Canada has increased to over 136. source When all the current regulations and by-laws come into full effect the total number of Canadians thereby protected from unwanted exposure to synthetic lawn and garden pesticides will grow to over 13.8 million or approximately 44% of Canada's population (based on the 2006 StatsCan Census). For more information on public opinion poll results concerning support for pesticide bans across Canada, please click here.
18. Isn't agricultural pesticide use more prevalent than
residential use? Will that come next?
Pesticide application, per hectare, is much more intensive for landscaping than for agriculture. Efforts are focused on the cosmetic use of pesticides because, by definition, there is no health benefit. Farms are in a crisis and there is no need for the city to tell farmers how to farm. As well, there is no evidence that agriculture is a big problem. Farmers have financial incentives to reduce pesticide use, and are doing so. The City of Ottawa Surface Water Monitoring study found only landscaping pesticides. Pesticides that are restricted, only for agricultural use, were not detected. Pesticides running off lawns and gardens are the problem. Nevertheless, residents in the rural area are very concerned about contamination of their drinking water and environment. As people become used to sustainable gardening at home, they tend to become more interested in locally grown food
19. Why focus only on landscaping pesticide use?
Pesticides should not be in the environment were children play. Activities on our properties, such as the application of pesticides, have the potential to affect our neighbours and the health of the urban environment.
20. What is the current City of Ottawa's policy?
On City of Ottawa property, the only justification for the use of chemical pesticides is if there is a serious risk to human or animal health , or if the survival of trees or shrubs is threatened. Chemicals cannot be used for cosmetic purposes. Furthermore, pesticide use is limited to specific chemicals and criteria that have been approved by council.
21. Has anyone died as a result of exposure to pesticides? (long-term exposure?)
The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment takes the position that pesticides have been estimated to account for thousands of deaths each year globally. Check out the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment's website for more information.
22. Are children and pets more vulnerable than others?
Children are particularly vulnerable due to the specific characteristics of their development and physiology. For example, they eat more food, drink more water and breathe more air per kilogram of body weight than adults and can thus absorb larger quantities of the pollutants present in the environment. (House of Commons - Pesticides Report)
In general, studies find that children have a lower tolerance for pesticides. On the whole, children are typically more sensitive to the effects of pesticides because the enzymes and organs that rid their body of toxic chemicals are not fully developed. Children are also smaller and lighter than adults, so they receive a proportionately larger dose per exposure than adults. (Toronto Public Health, April 2002). Pesticide exposure during critical times during early development may affect children, or even their children.
23. If pesticides are just used once in a while, can they still be harmful?
There are risks whenever there is human, animal and environmental exposure to chemical pesticides.
24. If I spray pesticides on my lawn, how long should I wait before the grass is safe to sit or play on?
Warning labels on chemical pesticides give a good indication of the toxicity of the product. However, "safe" is a very subjective term. Unfortunately, due to both environmental and human variables, there is no certainty that toxic substances will react according to label specifications.
25. Do pesticides harm wildlife?
The scientific research that describes the impact of pesticides on wildlife suggests that pesticides affect reproduction, growth, neurological development, behaviour and the functioning of the immune and endocrine systems. (House of Commons - Pesticides Report)
26. If my neighbour uses pesticides, can it leach into my backyard or blow onto my property?
Pesticides are known to move from the point of application into air, water and soil. Wind, rainfall and dust carry pesticides to neighboruing properties. In 2003, harmful levels of pesticides were found in Ottawa's waterways.
27. What is the federal government’s position on pesticide use?
"The Government of Canada is committed to ensuring that Canadians are better protected from health and environmental risks posed by pesticides. (Government of Canada web site)
Anne McLellan, Minister of Health, recently introduced in the House of Commons a bill to enact a new Pest Control Products Act (PCPA). The bill is designed to safeguard Canadians, especially children, and will help ensure a safe and abundant food supply. Pesticides must receive registration from the federal government, under the Pest Control Products Act, in order to be used in Canada. Update: As of 2002, Canada now has a new PCPA.
28. Can I still have a full green lawn without pesticides?
The best lawns on the street are often the organically maintained ones. Chemically-dependent lush, green lawns are prone to disease. Many lawn care companies and garden centres now specialize in organic gardening and non-chemical alternatives and can offer expert advice and service. There are numerous successful Ottawa organic lawn care companies. To find one near you, please click here for a listing.
29. I heard about a lawn care company that applies toxic pesticides while claiming to be ecology friendly; isn't that misleading consumers?
The Competition Bureau has found that statements such as "ecology friendly"
can be misleading consumers. As a result, the Competition Bureau released a
warning to consumers
about such potentially misleading claims, and issued requirements to the
pesticide application company. If you witness a lawn care company claiming to be ecologically friendly while they spray noxious pesticides, then please notify the Competition Bureau. Additionally, in 2003, false / misleading advertising was found by the PMRA to have occured from pesticide manufacturers: Bayer, Syngenta as well as the following lawn care companies: Weed Man, and Bobby Lawn Care (source).
30. Do alternatives cost more?
Commercially applied alternative treatments generally cost between 10 and 25 % more. Otherwise, it can arguably be a less expensive proposition if the only investment you need make in your lawn is a little extra personal attention. Once established, organic lawns are more resilient and less expensive to maintain than lawns on soil that has been depleted of organisms by chemical applications.
31. Do alternatives take more time to apply and show results?
Yes, unlike chemical treatments that are designed to kill problems instantly, alternative measures may take time to cure a chemical-dependent lawn. However, the results will last.
32. What about people with health conditions such as asthma? Are alternatives effective?
Pesticides have been reported to aggravate asthma symptoms and in some cases may induce asthma (references: here and here). Non-chemical alternatives are considerably safer to humans than chemical pesticides. If alternatives are not able to provide a healthy environment, the use of low-toxicity chemicals needs to be considered to control noxious weeds.
33. Where can I find information on alternatives?
To get information on alternatives to chemical pesticides, residents can call the City of Ottawa Gardening Alternatives to Chemical Pesticides Line at 613-724-4227 or check out our lawn and garden tips.
34. What about the indoor use of pesticides? Isn't that a concern?
The indoor use of toxic pesticides can pose serious health risks. An increased risk of leukemia has been associated with indoor pesticide use. Additionally, Ontario Provincial Court documents reveal that Ottawa-Gatineau Germex Exterminators broke laws while applying and storing pesticides. Why take the risk? CHO supports only safe organic approaches to indoor pest control. The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) has produced a pamphlet entitled "Farewell To Cockroaches; Getting Rid of Cockroaches the Least Toxic Way." It can be viewed online here.
35. Is there an Environmental Sensitivities Voluntary Registry for West Nile Virus pesticide applications?
Yes. The City of Ottawa has set up a registry to notify people with environmental sensitivities of adulticiding for West Nile Virus near their homes. For more information, please click here.
36. Q & A from the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA):
Q: How many licensed Canadian Medical Doctors are employed by the PMRA?
PMRA Answer: None (as of February 2007)
Q: Is it correct to say that pesticide use is 'safe'? If so, in which part of the Pest Control Products Act governing pesticides would this indication be found?
PMRA Answer: It is not appropriate or legal to say a control product (pesticide) is 'safe'.
Q: Does Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) documentation exist that would allow a licensed applicator to make the claim that registered pesticides are 'safe'?
PMRA Answer: No provision exists to allow a licensed applicator to claim a control product is 'safe'.
Q: Are pesticides approved for usage because they are proven 'safe'? If not, on what basis are they approved?
PMRA Answer: The PMRA conducts assessments on the risks and value of the control product specific to its proposed use. Only text from the approved control product label can be used to describe/advertise that product.
Q: Does the PMRA evaluate the breakdown products of formulants that are contained in pesticides?
PMRA Answer: The PMRA does not necessarily know or evaluate the breakdown products for a specific formulant (molecule) on its own. The breakdown products would most likely vary depending on how it is used, what other chemicals are used in conjunction with a specific formulant. However, the transformation products are examined during the registration of a product for the entire formulation (the active ingredient and formulant together).
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