Myths & Facts

Myth vs. Fact On Pesticide Bylaws

Thank you to the Coalition for a Healthy Ottawa for providing most of the information in this section.

Myth: Pesticide bylaws do not reduce pesticide use because pesticides are still available in local  stores.

Fact: A comprehensive report by the Canadian Center for Pollution Prevention reviewing pesticide reduction initiatives from around the world clearly shows that bylaws that are complemented by strong education are successful at reducing pesticide use by approximately 90%. In Hudson, Quebec, a local hardware store owner reported that sales dropped 90%, and chemical fertilizer sales dropped 50% with the implementation of the bylaw. (Toronto Star 2003.  "War Over a Weed-free Lawn". 5/18/03, pg.  A3) In Halifax, Nova Scotia, a public poll  commissioned by the city was performed in 2002, the third year of the bylaw's implementation. 93% of respondents reported that they no longer use pesticides to manage their lawns.

Over 125 municipalities have now adopted pesticide bylaws including Halifax,  Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, as well as the  Province of Quebec. Read more . . .  40% of Canadians, or  12.8 million people,  live in communities that have already moved to  restrict pesticide use. Not a single municipality has implemented a bylaw and subsequently rescinded it due  to lack of effectiveness.

Myth: Pesticides have no  harmful effect on our health and our environment.

Fact: An extremely dangerous myth to promote.  Studies have associated many of the common lawn and  garden pesticides we use to birth defects, asthma , developmental delays, prostate cancer, motor dysfunction, Parkinson's, nervous system disruption and  immunotoxicity. 2,4-D, the most widely used lawn pesticide,  is commonly contaminated with dioxin, a known carcinogen, and associated with increased rates of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and prostate cancer. Concern over 2,4-D is such that  it is currently not approved for use on lawns and   gardens in Québec, Sweden, Norway and Denmark.  Cancer rates in  Sweden dropped once pesticides were restricted.

There are currently no Canadian licensed medical doctors on staff at the PMRA (as of May 2006). The PMRA is therefore arguably lacking the proper medical knowledge necessary for adequately assessing the human medical consequences of  pesticides.

A recent report by the Ontario College of  Family Physicians  highlights a growing body of studies that shows pesticides cannot be considered safe at any level of exposure.

Myth: Only fringe environmentalists support pesticide bylaws.

Fact: Simply not true. Many organizations and bodies throughout Canada recognize the harm  associated with the non-essential use of pesticides.  For example:

    •    There is a growing list of health and labour organizations who support pesticide bylaws, including: the Canadian Cancer Society; the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada; the Ontario College of  Family Physicians; the Registered Nurses  Association of Ontario; the Ontario Public  Health Association, the Association of Early Childhood Educators, Ontario; the David  Suzuki Foundation; the Canadian Association  of Physicians for the Environment; the United Steelworkers of America and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers.
    •    An independent poll of Calgarians conducted in February 2006, found that 82 % would support a phase out of cosmetic pesticide use on private property, 84% in public parks, and 89% in other public spaces such as schools and hospitals. [link to poll - I’ve sent you a pdf and it should be posted off the Why - Calgarians Support It page]
•     The environment has been shown to be an important issue to most Canadians in two national polls conducted in January 2007.  "‘It's developed a top-of-mind salience the likes of which we've never seen before,’ said Allan Gregg, chair of the Strategic Counsel, which conducted the Globe/CTV News poll.”  Of note is the high percentage of Canadians willing to make sacrifices (60-70%) if this will protect future generations from environmental degradation. Read more . . . [link to the globe and Mail article - I’ve sent you a copy of it  and it should be posted off the Why - Calgarians Support It page]

Myth: Pesticides are safe to use. If they were unsafe, Federal or Provincial governments would ban their use.

Fact: The Federal government permits the sale of cigarettes in Canada, but doesn't consider smoking safe. Like cigarettes, pesticides registered for sale  in Canada are not deemed "safe" by the  Federal Government. Also, the track record of the  Federal Government's Pest Management  Regulatory Agency is questionable considering that many pesticides that were approved end up later being phased out due to serious health and environmental concerns. Recent examples of phased-out pesticides are; Dursban, Diazinon, Chlordane and racemic mecoprop (just to name a few!).

The Hon. Anne McLellan, former Minister of Health, publicly recognized municipalities' ability to further restrict  pesticides through bylaws as a complementary approach to the Federal government's regulation of these  chemicals. The Supreme Court of Canada echoed this  recognition in the Hudson, Quebec by-law case.

Many have raised concerns that  the Federal Government isn't doing its job when it comes to pesticides. The Federal Auditor General's office released a report in the fall of 2003 citing serious weaknesses in Health Canada's management of pesticides. The report highlights that new pesticides are sometimes not fully evaluated and older pesticides are not re-evaluated, information on compliance is lacking, and information on the use and impact of pesticides is inadequate. Read more . . . [link to it off our why- fed regs page - with the page by Johanne Gelinas as it is here - just in our format with the link at the bottom and one at the top to the full report on our web-site] .

Currently, the PMRA is  supposed to be re-evaluating some 405 pesticides that are registered in Canada to determine if they meet current standards. However, although the completion  date is targeted for 2006, only 1.5 per cent have so far been fully re-evaluated (Source - 2003 Report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, page 14). All of those that were re-evaluated were either  removed from the market or had their permitted uses restricted. This is not very reassuring.

Update: The Pest Management Regulatory Agency undertook to re-evaluate 405 registered and approved pesticides by 2006.  By February 1, 2007, only 60 per cent of these had been reviewed or were being reviewed.  Of these, 40 per cent were either expired or removed from the market and most of the other 60 per cent have had their permitted uses restricted. (as extrapolated from the PMRA's datasheet  -- click here to view). The PMRA's datasheet reveals 246 chemicals (in the left column) have been reviewed or are in the process of being reviewed and 99 products in the far right column that have expired or are to be discontinued.  Most of the remainder need new labelling with restrictions etc.  (we at CHO thank Healthy Calgary for providing us with this valuable information)   [we don’t need to link to our own web-site here!]

CHO  therefore supports the pro-active "precautionary  principle" which would immediately put a stop to the sale and and application of these mystery risk poisons.

Myth: Pesticide bylaws are just another limitation of personal freedom.

Fact: Like Calgary's anti-smoking bylaw, the  pesticide bylaw is not really about limiting personal  freedom. It is about protecting people, especially children, from involuntary exposures to these toxic  chemicals when walking on or by a lawn, or having a  neighbor who uses pesticides.

Myth: The use of pesticides is necessary to  keep our lawns and gardens attractive and weed free.

Fact: There are many alternatives to using harmful pesticides on our  lawns and gardens and these alternatives are readily  available every day to the average homeowner.  Loblaws grocery stores in Ontario have realized the marketing  opportunities of organic lawn care and gardening and have gone pesticide-free. As of spring of 2003, they filled their shelves with effective alternatives to pesticides and regularly hold community workshops on pesticide-free lawn and garden care.

Myth: A pesticides bylaw would limit the City's ability to address health concerns by effectively controlling allergens, infestations, epidemics or other health risks.

Fact: An effective bylaw  would prohibit the use of non-essential  pesticides for cosmetic purposes, while permitting their use to deal with specific public health-related issues, according to the professional judgement of qualified public health officials.

Myth: The pesticide application industry can voluntarily reduce their  pesticide use to an acceptable level.

Fact: While it is true that some lawn care companies have voluntarily reduced the volume of  pesticides used, this trend is certainly not across the board and it is very difficult, if not impossible, to reliably measure. Voluntary measures are simply industry self-regulation. We are told that the industry will monitor itself and audits its members. But, the information gathered to measure progress will not be publicly available nor subject  to access to information laws. Without the ability to  reliably measure progress, such an approach lacks accountability. Moreover, when we hear assurances  that voluntary reductions of up to 85% of pesticide  use are possible, it begs the question: why have they  been using 85% too much? Nor does simply a smaller  amount of unnecessary pesticide use provide an acceptable level of exposure. Acceptable to whom?  Cosmetic pesticide use is simply unnecessary at any level.

Myth: A pesticides bylaw will  put lawn care companies out of business.

Fact: Again, simply not true.  Lawn care services are still a viable industry without pesticides. For example, members of the Organic Landscape Association, a non-profit trade association in Ontario, are experiencing annual growth rates of  up to 30% in satisfied customers of pesticide free  lawns and gardens. Traditional lawn care companies can make the transition to organic lawn care with relative ease. One new recruit to the Organic Landscape  Association experienced no significant economic  impacts in changing over to organic methods and actually reported new business growth within two  years of going pesticide free. And in Halifax, landscaping companies actually benefitted from a pesticide bylaw.

Myth: Golf courses and other  businesses who maintain lawns and gardens will experience increased costs.

Fact: Many companies have found cost-savings by avoiding the use of non-essential pesticides. For example, the Granite Club, a premiere golf club near Toronto, reduced costs by $40,000 through cutting its pesticide use in half and still has pristine greens. Municipalities, school boards and other public sector organizations  have seem similar cost savings for up to ten years in  some cases. An example of a successful organic golf course in Canada is British Columbia's beautiful Blackburn Meadows  Golf Club. The Banff Springs Golf Course is also an Audobon certified organic golf course.