BCLocalNews.com – Move to pesticides 'precautionary principle' defeated, but new pesticide bylaw still coming

By Aaron Orlando – Revelstoke Times Review
Published: June 22, 2010 7:00 PM
Updated: June 22, 2010 7:46 PM

A council discussion about the city’s role in the regulation of cosmetic pesticides resulted in the defeat of a motion calling for future decision-making based on the precautionary principle and the will of the majority.

Coun. Antoinette Halberstadt presented the motion and in the end was the only one who supported it.

The June 22 council debate, however, doesn’t substantially change the city’s course when it comes to plans to expand an existing cosmetic pesticide ban on public parks and fields to include private properties.

The discussion arose in response to letters from the ‘Industry Task Force II on 2,4-D Research Data,’ an organization supported by several pesticide manufacturers.

The letter picks out statements contained in city meeting minutes from June of 2009 that link the pesticide 2,4-D to cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, breast cancer and childhood leukemia and refutes them, claiming 2-4,D is safe and meets Canadian health and safety standards.

Coun. Antoinette Halberstadt’s response was a motion requesting council base their decisions and deliberations regarding cosmetic pesticides on the precautionary principle and the will of the majority of citizens, “rather than on specific arguments for and against the alleged safety or harmfulness of specific pesticides, including 2,4-D.”

Although all councillors eventually opposed the motion, the reasons they cited were somewhat different.

Coun. Tony Scarcella was the only councillor to overtly state the position that cosmetic pesticides were “safe.” He restated the position he presented at the June 10 city health advisory committee meeting. “It’s not a health issue, pesticide 2,4-D, and people should make their own decision. [It] should be voluntary, not council decisions.”

Coun. Chris Johnston said he felt the motion would bind future decisions of council and could not support it.

Johnston felt the motion would limit council’s ability to make good decisions by prescribing the basis upon which the decisions were made. “I think it gives this particular war more ammunition – between them – more ammunition that we don’t need pointed at us.”

Coun. Phil Welock said he wasn’t in a rush to jump into the debate at this point. “I know people in my neighbourhood use [pesticides], and I’ve used them and when I do I don’t feel very good physically after I’ve finished, so it’s not good stuff.”

He said the issue was being discussed globally and counselled moving forward cautiously on the issue.

Coun. Steve Bender said he felt council already works to base decisions on the will of the majority. “I would like to think that we do that already,” he said.

Mayor David Raven said the pesticides debate was controversial, saying people were “polarized very, very significantly” on the issue. He’d been dealing with the debate for 30 years.

“Unfortunately it’s not clean science in some cases,” he said.

In the end, Raven said he couldn’t support a motion that would “fetter” the future decision-making of this and future councils.

Halberstadt’s was the only vote in favour of the defeated motion.

Cosmetic pesticide ban bylaw work continues

The discussion was in response to correspondence, and is separate from ongoing staff work to prepare a bylaw that is exploring extending the existing ban on public property to private property.

City administrator Ross McPhee said staff was working on the bylaw and should have it ready for council by late August or early September.

The city recently hired new contract-based environmental sustainability coordinator, Penny Page-Brittin, and mayor Raven said she would also be working on the plan. “It’s one of her highest priorities,” he said.

Environment committee expresses support for cosmetic pesticides ban

The city’s environmental advisory committee has also reiterated unanimous support for the existing ban on cosmetic pesticides on city parks and playing fields and the proposed extension of the ban to cover private properties.

At their June 17 meeting, the committee passed a motion supporting city moves on both fronts, saying decisions on the matter should take into account the precautionary principle when it comes to health.

Committee member Sarah Newton said the committee has pushed for the ban on public fields first because parents like herself could voluntarily restrict pesticide use at home, but not when her kids were involved with activities in public spaces. “That is where our kids are,” she said.

She also said that in her discussion with Canadian Cancer Society representatives, she was told to expect significant opposition to city moves by pesticide industry lobbyists. “As soon as it hits the wire, these people will be on you. That’s what they do,” said Newton.

Committee members also discussed a perceived generation gap on the issue.

Chairperson Kelsey Furk wondered if older Revelstokians still adhered to the “better living through chemicals” motto of yesteryear.

“The hardest sell will be to older people,” she said.

The North Columbia Environmental Society gathered significant public support for the initial ban, including letters from diverse stakeholder groups such as the school district, the Revelstoke Rod & Gun Club, the Revelstoke Minor Soccer Association, the Friends of Mt. Revelstoke & Glacier and the Illecillewaet Greenbelt Society.

The environment committee motion was not available for the June 22 council meeting.

BCLocalNews.com – Move to pesticides ‘precautionary principle’ defeated, but new pesticide bylaw still coming.