“Pesticides are approved by Health Canada so they’re safe.” If only that were true. Instead, this is a commonly held myth and one that it is time to leave behind.
As explained on the Pesticide Free Edmonton website, the reality is that approval from Health Canada does not mean that a pesticide is “safe.” The decision is instead based on “acceptable risk.” The framework is premised on risk-management options, with legal and practical considerations taken into account. The framework and review process has at times undermined health concerns.
Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency was the subject of a scathing audit in 2016. As The Globe and Mail reported, the agency “allowed pesticides that it deemed as posing unacceptable risks to humans and the environment” to be used for several years. Hopefully, the review of the Pest Control Products Act promised by the new federal government will address the shortcomings of past practice.
In the meantime, Pesticide Free Edmonton recognizes room for change within municipal jurisdiction over pesticides. For this reason, we are advocating for a cosmetic pesticide ban. A cosmetic pesticide ban means protection from non-essential use of pesticides (including herbicides, fungicides and other biocides).
Polls show that people across the political spectrum support these bans. People understand that eliminating unnecessary use of toxic chemicals means better health and environmental protection for their families, pets, and green spaces. Our campaign is supported by hundreds of individuals and endorsed by over a dozen health and environmental not-for-profit organizations.
Many cities across Canada have already banned the cosmetic use of pesticides because we simply do not need these chemicals. Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal (and indeed the entire provinces of Ontario and Quebec) have cosmetic bans, and one cannot say that these cities are overgrown with “weeds.” By any measure, Vancouver has beautiful parks and gardens, and at the same time, it is protecting biodiversity and public health.
In some cases, cities have had pesticide bans for over 20 years — meaning Edmonton is over two decades behind. And now, as we grapple with health and ecological crises, eliminating unnecessary exposure to toxic chemicals is more important than ever.
Clear best practices exist to protect people and the environment from pesticides. A cosmetic pesticide ban is that best practice. Children must be safe walking to school and playing in neighbourhood yards and city parks. Bees and birds must be protected from further extinctions, and biodiversity, in general, must be protected to prevent the collapse of ecological and food systems. People must be free to open their windows without worrying about toxic chemicals drifting from a sprayed lawn.
A ban will leave people with safer, more effective yard and park management tools and help keep us all healthy. That’s why we are asking you to join us in our call on the City of Edmonton to:
- Enact a bylaw to ban the cosmetic use of pesticides;
- Allow exemptions from the ban only for public health purposes;
- Provide proactive public education about the ban, informing city employees, councillors, and the public of the suspected link of several pesticides used for cosmetic purposes to cancer and other serious illnesses, the increased risk for children, the toxicity of pesticides to pollinators and other insects, birds and other wildlife, and critical soil organisms, and the importance of biodiversity;
- Provide the public with a list of least toxic pesticide alternatives, including alternative lawn and garden management practices;
- Lead by example, decreasing mowing and planting hardy native species.
For illness prevention, health protection and a beautiful community, it’s time to suspend myths that keep us in the practice of using toxic chemicals with harms that far outweigh the benefits. That means it’s time for a cosmetic pesticide ban in Edmonton.
For more information, see https://edmontoncouncilofcanadians.ca/pesticide-free-edmonton/.
Dr. Raquel Feroe is a retired medical specialist in internal medicine.
Jane McArthur, Ph.D. is toxics campaign director with Canadian Association Physicians for the Environment (CAPE).
Rod Olstad is co-chair of the Edmonton Chapter of the Council of Canadians.