CAPE — Gideon Forman — "It comes down to the age-old question of whom you trust. We trust the OCFP's literature review more than we do the PMRA industry-financed studies."

JULY 30, 2005 VOLUME 2 NO. 13

Toronto’s pesticide ban — a case of public health vs pretty landscapes Malcontents claim decision makers were led down the weedy garden path By Wendy Banks On a lazy weekend afternoon, couples, families with kids and dogs sprawl amongst the trees in a grassy park in west Toronto. It’s a familiar sight yet something seems out of place — thick patches of dandelion and clover seem to have sprung up everywhere. It’s a far cry from the uninterrupted green of summers before the pesticide ban went into effect. But back then, getting rid of the dandelions meant dousing the soil with the popular herbicide 2,4-D, now linked to a host of health problems including reproductive disorders and childhood leukemia, according to studies examined by Ontario’s College of Family Physicians (OCFP) in a 2004 literature review. Not everyone’s happy about the ban now that the weeds are back with a vengeance. “I don’t know if you’ve been in Toronto lately, but the parks look like crap,” says Debra Conlon, publicist for CropLife, the pesticide industry’s lobbying arm. But it seems that crap is in the eye of the beholder. According to Dr Monica Campbell, PhD, manager of Toronto Public Health’s Environmental Protection Office, an informal 2001 literature review conducted by the city raised red flags about the safety of common lawn and garden pesticides. These concerns were reinforced by the OCFP’s 2004 review. PERVASIVE PROBLEM Both reviews showed links between common pesticides and health issues including reproductive problems, neurological disorders and various cancers. The OCFP’s conclusions were clear: “Given the wide range of commonly used home and garden products associated with health effects, our message to patients should focus on reduction of exposure to all pesticides,” the report says. In response to these findings, city council passed a bylaw prohibiting the use of pesticides for cosmetic purposes in 2003. After a court challenge and an appeal by the pesticide industry, the bylaw was upheld in the Court of Appeals this May. Personal use by homeowners will be phased out starting this September, after which unauthorized pesticide use will be punishable by fines of over $200. Ms Conlon is unimpressed by both the OCFP’s literature review and the ban. “The literature review doesn’t take into account the role that Health Canada plays in regulating pesticides,” she says. “It’s not a case of putting in an application and getting your product registered. It takes skids of data, which take years to produce, and then they’ll register it if it causes no unacceptable risk to human health and the environment.” MISUSE IN MUNICIPALITIES But for Dr Campbell, neither Health Canada’s registration process nor provincial regulations address issues that come up on a municipal level. “In Toronto, there was no protective legislation to restrict pesticide use by the general population. That’s a concern, because we’ve observed a lot of inadvertent overuse of pesticides.” Gideon Forman, the executive director of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, also disagrees that Health Canada’s regulatory process provides sufficient protection. “When pesticide manufacturers apply for registration,” he says, “they pay the Pest Management Regulatory Agency [PMRA] a registration fee — so the government regulatory body is funded in part by the industry. Government agencies become more and more dependent on industry dollars, so there’s an obvious conflict of interest.” He also questions their research. “It comes down to the age-old question of whom you trust. We trust the OCFP’s literature review more than we do the PMRA industry-financed studies.”