By Darrell Bellaart, The Daily News June 10, 2011
VIU instructor Rob Wager says no science supports city's list of banned substances
A ban on the cosmetic use of pesticides in Nanaimo is being challenged as scientifically unfounded by a Vancouver Island University professor.
A bylaw that severely restricts the application of pesticides on lawns and gardens took effect April 1.
Regulation came in response to pressure from the Canadian Cancer Society and other special interest groups who claimed environmental damage and risk of cancer from over-using such chemicals.
Rob Wager, whose background is in chemistry and microbiology said no science supports the city's creation of a list of banned and allowed substances.
Wager said he opposes a blanket ban but when he spoke to the committee in charge of writing the city's pesticide bylaw his advice was ignored.
"They did not understand the science," Wager said.
"I have a huge problem with blanket bans on anything synthetic and at the same time allowing natural pesticides that have far greater environmental impact."
To measure a product's toxicity, scientists use a complex formula to compare the substance and how it is used to get its environmental impact quotient or EIQ rating.
A higher EIQ means more toxic.
The selective weed killer 2,4-D has an EIQ rating of 18. Glyphosate, Roundup's active ingredient is 15 and common soap is 19.5. Pyrethrin, a pesticide made from chrysanthemums, is 37. Sulphur has an IEQ of 45.
"Like anything political, facts are only part of the equation," Wager said. "What I take exception to is where the facts are disregarded altogether."
Coun. Fred Pattje said Wager is "entitled to his opinion" and stands by council's decision.
Rob Lawrence, city environmental planner, said when the bylaw was written, certain chemicals were left out based on provincial legislation.
"There's nothing to say we couldn't add more products or substances to the list. Basically it's a starting point," Lawrence said.
ADVISORY COMMITTEE ON THE ENVIRONMENT
MEETING HELD ON WEDNESDAY, 2009-JUN-10 AT 4:15 PM
BOARD ROOM, CITY HALL, 455 WALLACE STREET
a) Robert Wager – His research on a cosmetic pesticide bylaw:
R. Wager introduced himself to the Committee before beginning his PowerPoint presentation entitled "Science & Society". He had presented the information at the last Council meeting and Council had suggested that he show his presentation to ACE. He made it clear that he is speaking on behalf of himself and not Vancouver Island University (VIU). Points in his presentation were as follows: ACE Minutes – 2 – 2009-Jun-10
Science and Society
Most regulations are based on sound science. R. Wager emphasized the importance of science in society.
There is a new call for risk-free society.
He noted that people have used the Precautionary Principle to disregard science.
The internet is a good resource, yet the information found there can be easily misused.
Fear vs. Real Risks
The fear of a particular pesticide may not agree with the science associated with it.
He noted that the Canadian Cancer Society is not a scientific organization, but an advocacy group.
Many things contribute to cancer: red meat, sugar, BMI, alcohol, smoking.
All Pesticides Not Created Equal
R. Wager noted that there is a tremendous difference between the different types of pesticides; because one pesticide is dangerous they should not all be banned. Just because something is natural, does not make it safe. Just because something is synthetic, does not make it unsafe.
R. Wager stated that the majority of pesticides used by common citizens are chemicals like Roundup and Weed-N-Feed. Chemicals such as these have been studied for decades and deemed safe when used as directed.
A. Kerr pointed out that the most noxious ingredient in 2,4-D has been removed, explaining the reason that these chemicals were approved.
R. Lawrance asked how "safe when used as directed" is defined. R. Wager noted that information is available on the Health Canada website. Safe-use can include wearing long clothes and gloves, washing hands, wearing eye protection and using proper application equipment.
S. Serebrin noted that although R. Wager is emphasizing that nothing is "risk-free", these pesticides are claiming to be "safe when used as directed". She explained that people assume that "safe" means "risk-free". R. Wager replied that the risk is exceedingly small.
Glyphosate is a herbicide. It does not cause birth defects, is virtually non-toxic to animals, insects, bees, and fish, and has been studied for over 30 years. Glyphosate replaces Atrazine, which is a much more toxic chemical. Use of Atrazine has dropped dramatically due to the invention of Glyphosate.
He said that Health Canada Pest Management Regulatory Agency uses a "precautionary approach" towards pesticides: a science based system (Environmental Impact Quotient (EIQ)). The Canadian Cancer Society uses the „"Precautionary Principle": a political tool.
R. Wager emphasized that when developing a policy, to look at the scientific aspect. He feels that a blanket ban on pesticides is a blunt instrument with unscientific assumptions. He feels that the solution is better public education on safe-use of pesticides and believes that a science-based system should be used to decide public health policies.
A. Kerr reminded R. Wager that the ban that is being discussed is for the restriction of "cosmetic" pesticides only. The Committee is not pushing for a complete pesticides ban. J. Kipp noted that the City is leaning towards an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach to cosmetic pesticides.
J. Wagner asked R. Wager that if there were methods that existed that were both as easy and scientifically proven as pesticides, would he be in favor of using them? R. Wager answered "yes". ACE Minutes – 3 – 2009-Jun-10
M. Savory said that she believes public education is not manageable. Having a list of low- and high-risk pesticides easily available to the public and updating it on a yearly basis would be helpful. A. Kerr agrees that it is naïve to think that education alone will be a successful strategy.
C. Thirkill again mentioned that it would be a good idea to post basic information regarding alternative pest management on the City website in an easy and user-friendly format. The information could be updated on a seasonal basis to correspond with issues that are currently relevant.
A. Kerr brought a copy of Ontario‟s bylaw for the Committee‟s review. The bylaw came into effect April 21, 2009, creating a clear set of rules throughout the province. The information is presented in a very clear format. She handed the bylaw to R. Lawrance. R. Tubbs will send the Ontario bylaw attachments to the Committee members via e-mail.
J. Kipp thanked R. Wager for his time and information presented. R. Wager excused himself. (5:03)
M. Savory noted that the Province of B.C. should be lobbied to establish a provincial pesticide regulation, similar to Ontario. Working through the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) may be the best route. The Ontario policy is banning the actual sale of said products which is a good strategy. If the policy was not provincial and only applied to the City of Nanaimo, someone could purchase the said chemicals in Parksville or other surrounding communities.
The Committee needs to find out if it is possible for a policy to be implemented at a provincial level. R. Lawrance noted that another strategy would be to implement a permitting system within the city.
S. Serebrin asked what step ACE is at in the bylaw process. R. Lawrance said that he is currently drafting the bylaw and is hoping to present a draft bylaw to Committee members by the July meeting. The draft bylaw then should be going to Council in September/October.
J. Wagner noted that in the Horticultural Program at VIU, having pesticide training and receiving a pesticide ticket is mandatory. She said that the main thing that people are looking for is information and education regarding organic horticultural practices.
S. Serebrin noticed that the scientific community does embrace the Precautionary Principle.