The Coalition for a Healthy Ottawa

Myth v.s. Fact On Pesticide Bylaws

Myth: Lawn care pesticides are only two percent of pesticides used, getting rid of them won't make a difference.

Fact: The two percent statistic comes from a Canada-wide industry survey on sales that is not available for third party critique, and certainly holds little relevance for Ontario and Ottawa, where the numbers are likely much higher. In 1993, an Ontario government survey concluded that professional applicators alone were applying 1,302,086 kg of pesticides for cosmetic reasons, which accounted for 21 percent of the provincial total of outdoor pesticide use. Add in homeowners who apply the pesticides themselves and this percentage would surely increase significantly.

In 2003, 527 kg of imidacloprid was used for agriculture purposes in Ontario, while in Ottawa 776 kg of imidacloprid + Sevin was used on turf.  Public statements from lawn pesticide applicators indicate that they mainly apply imidacloprid.  It would therefore appear that the largest use of imidacloprid in Ontario is for turf.

World renown scientist David Suzuki reports that home owners have 6 times more poison on their yards than that which agriculture farmers use on their fields.

Myth: Pesticide bylaws do not reduce pesticide use because pesticides are still available in local stores.

Fact: A comprehensive report by the Canadian Center for Pollution Prevention reviewing pesticide reduction initiatives from around the world clearly shows that bylaws that are complemented by strong education are successful at reducing pesticide use by approximately 90%. In Hudson, Quebec, a local hardware store owner reported that sales dropped 90%, and chemical fertilizer sales dropped 50% with the implementation of the bylaw. (Toronto Star 2003. "War Over a Weed-free Lawn". 5/18/03, pg. A3) In Halifax, Nova Scotia, a public poll commissioned by the city was performed in 2002, the third year of the bylaw's implementation. 93% of respondents reported that they no longer use pesticides to manage their lawns.

Over 136 municipalities have now adopted pesticide bylaws including Halifax, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, as well as the Province of Quebec (source).  44% of Canadians, or  13.8 million people, live in communities that have already moved to restrict pesticide use. Not a single municipality has implemented a bylaw and subsequently rescinded it due to lack of effectiveness.Up

Myth: Pesticides have no harmful effect on our health and our environment.

Fact: An extremely dangerous myth to promote.  Studies have associated many of the common lawn and garden pesticides we use to birth defects, asthma (ref: here and here), developmental delays, prostate cancer, motor dysfunction, Parkinson's (ref: here, here, here and here), nervous system disruption and immuno-toxicity. 2,4-D, the most widely used lawn pesticide, is commonly contaminated with dioxin, a known carcinogen, and associated with increased rates of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and prostate cancer. 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. Cancer rates in Sweden dropped once pesticides were restricted.

There are currently no Canadian licensed medical doctors on staff at the PMRA (as of February 2007). The PMRA is therefore arguably lacking the properly medical knowledge necessary for adequately assessing the human medical consequences of pesticides.

A recent report by the Ontario College of Family Physicians highlights a growing body of studies that shows pesticides cannot be considered safe at any level of exposure.

In 2003, the City of Ottawa conducted a study that found that the Rideau River and its tributaries were contaminated with dangerous levels of pesticides.

To view an 11 minute long video on the adverse health effects of pesticides, please click here.Up

Myth: Only fringe environmentalists support pesticide bylaws.

Fact: Simply not true. Many organizations and bodies throughout Canada recognize the harm associated with the non-essential use of pesticides. For example:

  • There is a growing list of health and labour organizations who support pesticide bylaws, including: the Canadian Cancer Society; the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada; the Ontario College of Family Physicians; the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario; the Ontario Public Health Association, the Association of Early Childhood Educators, Ontario; the David Suzuki Foundation; the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment; the United Steelworkers of America and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers.
  • Numerous polls have shown that a clear majority of Ottawa residents support a pesticide by-law. In February 2005, Oracle Poll Research found almost 9 out of 10 Ottawa residents would support a ban on the cosmetic use of lawn pesticides on private property. 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.

For more public opinion polling information, please check out CHO's Fact Sheet:
Pesticide Polls and Surveys Across Canada

Myth: Pesticides are safe to use. If they were unsafe, Federal or Provincial government would ban their use.

Fact: The Federal government permits the sale of cigarettes in Canada, but doesn't consider smoking safe. Like cigarettes, pesticides registered for sale in Canada are not deemed "safe" by the Federal Government. Also, the track record of the Federal Government's Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA)  is questionable considering that many pesticides that were approved end up later being phased out due to serious health and environmental concerns. Recent examples of phased-out pesticides are; Dursban, Diazinon, Chlordane and racemic mecoprop (just to name a few!).

The Hon. Anne McLellan, former Minister of Health, publicly recognized municipalities' ability to further restrict pesticides through bylaws as a complementary approach to the Federal government's regulation of these chemicals. The Supreme Court of Canada echoed this recognition in the Hudson, Quebec by-law case.

Many have raised concerns that the Federal Government isn't doing its job when it comes to pesticides. The Federal Auditor General's office released a report in the fall of 2003 citing serious weaknesses in Health Canada's management of pesticides. The report highlights that new pesticides are sometimes not fully evaluated and older pesticides are not re-evaluated, information on compliance is lacking, and information on the use and impact of pesticides is inadequate.

Currently, the PMRA is supposed to be re-evaluating some 405 pesticides that are registered in Canada to determine if they meet current standards. However, although the completion date is targeted for 2006, only 1.5 per cent have so far been fully re-evaluated (Source - 2003 Report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, page 14). All of those that were re-evaluated were either removed from the market or had their permitted uses restricted. This is not very reassuring. 

Update: The Pest Management Regulatory Agency undertook to re-evaluate 405 registered and approved pesticides by 2006.  By February 1, 2007, only 60 per cent of these had been reviewed or were being reviewed.  Of these, 40 per cent were either expired or removed from the market and most of the other 60 per cent have had their permitted uses restricted. (as extrapolated from the PMRA's datasheet  -- click here to view). The PMRA's datasheet reveals 246 chemicals (in the left column) have been reviewed or are in the process of being reviewed and 99 products in the far right column that have expired or are to be discontinued.  Most of the remainder need new labeling with restrictions etc.  (we at CHO thank Healthy Calgary for providing us with this valuable information)

CHO therefore supports the pro-active "precautionary principle" which would immediately put a stop to the sale and and application of these mystery risk poisons.Up

Myth: Pesticide bylaws are just another limitation of personal freedom.

Fact: Like Ottawa's anti-smoking bylaw, the pesticide bylaw is not really about limiting personal freedom. It is about protecting people, especially children, from involuntary exposures to these toxic chemicals when walking on or by a lawn, or having a neighbor who uses pesticides.Up

Myth: The use of pesticides is necessary to keep our lawns and gardens attractive and weed free.

Fact: There are many alternatives to using harmful pesticides on our lawns and gardens and these alternatives are readily available every day to the average homeowner. The members of the Organic Landscape Association, a non-profit trade association, offer organic lawn care services and run an advice hotline to help do-it-yourself gardeners get their lawns off pesticides. Loblaws has realized the marketing opportunities of organic lawncare and gardening and has gone pesticide-free. As of spring of 2003, they filled their shelves with effective alternatives to pesticides and regularly hold community workshops on pesticide-free lawn and garden care.Up

Myth: A pesticides bylaw would limit the City's ability to address health concerns by effectively controlling allergens, infestations, epidemics or other health risks.

Fact: An effective bylaw would prohibit the use of non-essential pesticides for cosmetic purposes, while permitting their use to deal with specific public health-related issues, according to the professional judgment of qualified public health officials.Up

Myth: The pesticide application industry can voluntarily reduce their pesticide use to an acceptable level.

Fact: While it is true that some lawn care companies have voluntarily reduced the volume of pesticides used, this trend is certainly not across the board and it is very difficult, if not impossible, to reliably measure. Voluntary measures are simply industry self-regulation. We are told that the industry will monitor itself and audits its members. But, the information gathered to measure progress will not be publicly available nor subject to access to information laws. Without the ability to reliably measure progress, such an approach lacks accountability. Moreover, when we hear assurances that voluntary reductions of up to 85% of pesticide use are possible, it begs the question: why have they been using 85% too much? Nor does simply a smaller amount of unnecessary pesticide use provide an acceptable level of exposure. Acceptable to whom? Cosmetic pesticide use is simply unnecessary at any level.Up

Myth: A pesticides bylaw will put lawn care companies out of business.

Fact: Again, simply not true. Lawn care services are still a viable industry without pesticides. For example, members of the Organic Landscape Association, a non-profit trade association, are experiencing annual growth rates of up to 30% in satisfied customers of pesticide free lawns and gardens. Traditional lawn care companies can make the transition to organic lawn care with relative ease. One new recruit to the Organic Landscape Association experienced no significant economic impacts in changing over to organic methods and actually reported new business growth within two years of going pesticide free. And in Halifax, landscaping companies actually benefited from a pesticide bylaw.Up

Myth: Golf courses and other businesses who maintain lawns and gardens will experience increased costs.

Fact: Many companies have found cost-savings by avoiding the use of non-essential pesticides. For example, the Granite Club, a premiere golf club near Toronto, reduced costs by $40,000 through cutting its pesticide use in half and still has pristine greens. Municipalities, school boards and other public sector organizations have seem similar cost savings for up to ten years in some cases. An example of a successful organic golf course in Canada is British Columbia's beautiful Blackburn Meadows Golf Club. UpAnd in Alberta, the Banff Springs Golf Course is an Audubon certified organic golf course. 



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Last updated: April 20, 2008

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