One year later, pesticide ban still needs work: Orléans (Ottawa) area retailers
Posted Jul 29, 2010 By Charelle Evelyn
EMC News – Although the provincial ban on the sale and use of cosmetic pesticides has had positive effects on the environment a year after the fact, it is exposing some interesting side effects.
As of April 22, 2009 – Earth Day – the provincial government banned the use of pesticides for cosmetic purposes.
The government was acting on the belief that the use of pesticides to control weeds and insects for aesthetic reasons was presenting an unnecessary risk to families, pets and the environment.
From that point, consumers have only been allowed to purchase chemicals to get rid of vegetation that threatens public health and safety such as poison ivy or giant hogweed.
But despite the Ministry of the Environment’s best intentions, the ban has created undue stress for local retailers who have to deal with the public directly.
“We had a lot of angry customers,” said Estelle Laporte, who owns J.A. Laporte Flowers and Nursery with her husband Jean. According to Ms. Laporte, there were more frustrated customers this year as compared to last year, likely because they had stock that didn’t run out until this year.
At least twice, there have been customers who have become so upset by hearing they couldn’t buy certain products that they had to be escorted from the store, Mr. Laporte said.
“We do approve of the ban, but education has been left to us,” he said.
Ottawa-Orléans MPP Phil McNeely said he relied heavily on the Laportes to help make sense of the legislation. When the ban was first implemented, he said his office received a few calls, most of which were residents looking for information.
“I’m very proud of the way Laporte helped us out,” Mr. McNeely said, explaining that there was confusion with the legislation over what products contained the banned ingredients and what they could still legally sell.
More than 250 pesticide products are banned for sale in the province and more than 80 pesticide ingredients are banned for cosmetic uses.
A lot of the confusion comes from the fact that products that would technically be illegal under the ban are still offered on store shelves. The ministry classifies these dual- use products as Class 7 pesticides.
For example, the commonly used weed killer, RoundUp, is still available for sale, but with the understanding that it can only legally be used to kill plants like poison ivy.
Mr. Laporte said that the ban is too overreaching and has prohibited products that were not that dangerous to begin with. He said that as soon as they heard the ban was coming, he immediately stopped selling 25 varieties of plants that he knew needed insecticide to flourish.
“We’re not in the business of selling plants we know people would have problems with,” he said.
J.A. Laporte also stopped selling some families of tree. While tree care professionals and forestry workers are among those exempted from the ban, the average gardener is unable obtain the products needed to sustain their trees from poor health.
There are still many lower risk biopesticides available. As well, the ministry of the environment website has information about natural ways to combat weeds and other pests.
But many of these more organic methods and are not up to the task, Ms. Laporte said, adding that they are in danger of different foreign infestations, which have no natural predators.
“Soon we’ll be sending people to Michael’s to buy plastic trees,” Mr. Laporte said.
In order to make things simpler, the Laportes have chosen to take the Class 7 pesticides off of their shelves and only sell them to people who come in and verbalize that they are looking for a product to get rid of a dangerous species.
However, at big box stores, such as Lowe’s, the products are easily obtained and bought with no indication from staff that the use the consumer may be accustomed to is no longer allowed.
“It’s very frustrating, being a little business,” Ms. Laporte said. “We’re trying hard to get people to be eco-friendly, but it’s hard without help.”
Since last year, the ministry has been working with retailers to ensure that they are in compliance with the pesticide ban. As long as the retailer issues some sort of written notice when the products are purchased, they are following guidelines set out by the Ministry of the Environment, said Kate Jordan, ministry spokesperson.
While the Laportes may take a more direct approach, at Lowe’s a message appears on the customer’s receipt that says: “You have purchased a controlled sale pesticide. Certain uses of this pesticide to control weeds or insects outdoors, such as on your lawn or garden are prohibited.”
As long as that notice is there, the retailer is not doing anything wrong, said Ms. Jordan, and what the customer does with the product once it leaves the store is out of their hands.
“We have seen that the majority of people are complying,” Ms. Jordan said. “We have no reason to believe that people will go out and wilfully break the law.”
But Ms. Laporte is not so sure the message is reaching customers. She said she has had people come in and complain about the detrimental effects of products such as RoundUp and Total Wipe Out have caused to their lawns.
Ms. Laporte said that had the ministry done more research and consulted with garden centres, there may have been less confusion.
“I think the way they went about doing it was wrong.”
In the past year, the ministry has responded to about 100 complaints and visited over 1,000 retailers, said Ms. Jordan. Across the province there are regional offices and inspection officers who go out and check up on retailers to make sure they are in compliance, as well as respond to complaints.
If a business or individual is found to not be in compliance they will initially be issued a notice or order informing them they have to take steps to comply.
“We take an education and outreach approach at first,” said Ms. Jordan.
So far, there have only been three cases that have been sent to the ministry’s investigation branch, two of which have been brought up on charges in court.
But despite the confusion, there have been clear upsides to the ban, environmentally speaking.
In 2008 and 2009, the ministry and conservation authorities monitored pesticide concentrations in 168 urban streams and waterways that would be affected by run off.
Over the two-year sampling period, the concentration of the top three commonly used herbicides showed a significant drop.
“We’re going to continue building on this monitoring structure,” Ms. Jordan said.
According to Mr. McNeely, these results help prove that the government made the right decision in banning the chemicals.
But there is still more to be done. Because there was such confusion over the dual-use Class 7 products, after comments from businesses and the public, the ministry chose to use a phased approach. While they are available now, as of April 2011, products containing ingredients such as the glyphosate and glufosinate ammonium found in RoundUp and Total Wipe Out, will not be easily accessed by customers in stores.
“Our officers will go out again,” said Ms. Jordan, adding that a lot of the focus next year will be on the proper disposal of products so that the chemical do not still end up in the environment.