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Cosmetic Pesticides

Pesticide use has been clearly linked to behavioural changes, encephalopathy, ataxia, seizures, insomnia, muscle cramps, urinary hesitation, coma, non-Hodgkins lymphoma, pediatric soft tissue sarcoma, pediatric leukemia, Parkinson's disease and other neurological disorders, and adverse effects on reproductive function, among other afflictons. All of these disorders can occur from exposure to existing allowable levels of pesticides in agriculture and gardening.

Cosmetic pesticide use clearly impacts more than just the property on which it is applied. Pesticides contaminate surface and ground water through run-off into sewers, absorption into the ground, illegal dumping into drains, and so on. They are also spread through the air during spraying, contaminating the air supply. Pesticides enter the body through ingestion, inhalation and absorption through the skin. Pets and wildlife can also be poisoned by pesticides, and the chemicals can move up through the food chain, increasing in concentration (this is called bioaccumulation).

Children are at a much higher risk from cosmetic pesticides than adults, due to a combination of having smaller bodies with less developed organs and immune systems, and of being in closer contact with the ground and more likely to put contaminated materials into their mouths. Children are thus both more likely to come into contact with pesticides and also more susceptible to the effects of those pesticides. These effects can take the form of cancers, neurological disorders, and environmental hypersensitivities.

After all of this, most municipalities, and all provinces in Canada, still allow residences and businesses to apply pesticides to their property for purely cosmetic purposes. Indeed, most municipalities use pesticides themselves on public land, including parks and playgrounds. What the hell is up with that?

In the summer of 2001, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled on a lawsuit that cosmetic pesticide companies Chemlawn and Spraytech brought against the municipality of Hudson, Quebec, a suburb of Montreal. The municipality had banned cosmetic pesticide use within its borders, and the companies were contesting the decision. They launched the suit against Hudson by arguing that the city was acting outside its statutory authority in enacting the pesticide ban. However, the Supreme Court dismissed this charge and upheld Hudson's right to prohibit cosmetic spraying.

Before the Court returned its verdict, other municipalities could be forgiven for fence-sitting. Once the decision was announced, however, every other municipality should have been busy legislating similar by-laws. The science is quite sound; there is no question that pesticides are harmful. The federal government of Canada published a fairly comprehensive report assessing the risks associated with pesticide use entitled Pesticides: Making the Right Choice for the Protection of Health and the Environment. One of the most interesting sections in the report was the submission of the Opposition. The Canadian Alliance tried to defend cosmetic pesticide use on the following grounds, and it is worth quoting their statement at some length. I will reproduce it here with no further comment.

The Committee Report has done little to further the understanding of the need for pesticides in urban environments. Pesticides are important to allergy sufferers in alleviating the discomforts associated with weeds, pollen and moulds. Most homeowners and communities take great pride in their properties, and pesticides are one tool to create healthy environments. Gardening is now the number one hobby of North Americans over the age of 35, and pesticides are critical to protecting grass, plants, trees and ornamentals from disease. Statistics show that injury rates to sports participants are higher when games are played on poorly maintained sports surfaces. Over 40% of ankle and foot injuries to school athletes were attributable to poorly maintained field conditions, and pesticides play an important role in maintaining quality turf.

Managing golf courses is another challenge and an example of the importance of the products. Turfgrass disease can be a significant problem on golf course tees and greens, and without the use of fungicides, certain fungal diseases can kill acres of grass overnight and shut down a golf course.

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