By Emily-Anne Paul
Emily-Anne Paul is the campaign coordinator for Toxic Free Canada .
This past winter, the B.C. government held a public consultation on the topic of cosmetic pesticides. Over the three-month process, 8,000 submissions were received from across the province. The commitment to this consultation came from the 2009 throne speech, which stated: “British Columbians will be consulted on new statutory protections to further safeguard our environment from cosmetic chemical pesticides.” Even though British Columbians were consulted, nothing has been done yet to further safeguard our environmental, or our communities, from cosmetic chemical pesticides.
Currently, more than 20 health and environmental groups have called for provincial legislation that would prohibit the use, sale, and retail display of chemical pesticides for lawns, gardens, and non-agricultural landscaping; allow exemptions only to protect public health; provide for public education about the ban and alternatives to chemical pesticides; and include effective mechanisms for enforcement. As pressure from these organizations builds to have the provincial government change regulations, some are still skeptical about why we need these changes. To address concerns, I offer four reasons why we need provincial cosmetic pesticide legislation.
First, cosmetic pesticides are inherently unnecessary. These products are used only for aesthetic purposes to beautify lawns and remove unwanted pests. The results these pesticides temporarily provide are something that can be achieved through proper care and maintenance, a practice that is more sustainable and economical in the long run. In addition, these products require multiple uses to control spread and return of pests. This use not only contributes to pest resilience, it exposes users and their community to additional unnecessary risks. In a world where we are constantly exposed to carcinogens, neurotoxins, endocrine disruptors, and reproductive toxins, why would we willingly submit our families and ourselves to additional threats?
Second, we have no idea what the long-term impacts of these chemicals are. Since World War II, approximately 100,000 chemicals have been produced, of which 60,000 are still used—25,000 in Canada. Of the 80,000 toxins in current databases, barely 10 percent have been tested for their long-term health and environmental impacts.
We need to adopt the precautionary principle and take steps to protect our health and the environment. Even if there isn’t 100 percent evidence that certain chemicals will in every situation cause cancers or neurological, endocrine, and reproductive disorders, we have no evidence they won’t. So, why are we risking exposure?
Third, provincial legislation would close the loophole and require retailers to remove dangerous pesticides from their shelves. Without legislation, retailers like Canadian Tire can continue to sell pesticides even though the use of them is banned in many municipalities. If people are unaware of the ban, as many are, they can still use these products, exposing themselves and their neighbourhoods to dangerous chemicals.
Finally, we have to recognize that people deserve the right to choose what they are exposed to and to protect their health. When we talk about toxin exposure we often talk about chemical trespass, the idea that chemicals are entering and remaining in our body without our knowing, ultimately affecting our long-term health. Without legislation, it’s not as if we can just avoid our neighbour’s lawns that have been sprayed with pesticides; these products aren’t isolated on his or her private property. These chemicals don’t know property lines, they don’t care where they are released into the environment, and we don’t know where they end up. Provincial pesticide legislation that upheld the precautionary principle would help protect British Columbians from unknown chemical exposure.
Ultimately, people want the government to act on cosmetic pesticides. In a 2008 Ipsos Reid poll for the Canadian Cancer Society’s B.C. and Yukon division, 76 percent stated that they believed cosmetic pesticides are a threat to their health, nearly 76 percent said they would support provincial legislation restricting use, and 85 percent with a lawn or garden said they would be willing to try an alternative. More recently, during public consultations conducted by the provincial government, 88 percent of the more than 8,000 submissions received supported a cosmetic pesticide ban.
The public wants protection from these pesticides, and it’s time the provincial government did something about it. Vancouver is trying to be the greenest city, B.C. is trying to be an environmental leader, and a ban on cosmetic pesticides seems like a very easy step in the right direction.