By Roger Gordon
On April 1, 2010, the P.E.I. government brought in legislation affecting the way in which cosmetic pesticides are to be used. The calendar date is fitting, because what eventuated has all the appearances of a very bad April Fool's joke. Although the government web site provides a list of 39 banned products, these are commercial formulations involving the one pesticide that has been banned - 2,4-D. Despite a large number of entreaties by individuals and groups calling for an all-out ban on these chemicals, government caved in to the pesticide and lawn spraying lobbies. Lawns around the province continue to be sprayed with a potpourri of toxicants, with harmful health and environmental consequences.
The commonly used herbicide Mecoprop, for example, has been shown in laboratory tests to damage DNA, as well as inhibit the blood clotting and immunity mechanisms in human cell lines. According to the government-sanctioned, official Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS), it is corrosive to the eyes, and harmful if ingested, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin. In a landmark case study, scientists at the University of Saskatchewan analyzed medical records at health centers in five Canadian provinces. Their conclusion was that exposure to Mecoprop of 10 or more hours per year significantly increased the odds of contracting Non Hodgkin's Lymphoma, a form of cancer.
The insecticide Carbaryl (Sevin) is widely used by the lawn spraying companies to control the chinch bug and larvae of the June beetle. This chemical inhibits the enzyme acetylcholinesterase, which is fundamental to the normal functioning of the nervous system in all animals, not just insects. Its MSDS lists acute exposure systems that include burning of the skin and eyes, blurred vision, sweating, cramps, diarrhea, convulsions, and vomiting. A bit like the TV ads that offer a pill to cure headaches, followed by a warning that it could kill you. It too has been shown to damage DNA in human cells and in epidemiological studies, has been linked to a higher rate of miscarriages, lowered sperm counts, and alarmingly, higher rates of Non Hodgkin's Lymphoma and childhood leukemia. Taken together, Carbaryl and Mecoprop show toxicity to various forms of wildlife, including bees, fish, and aquatic algae that provide oxygen into the atmosphere.
I could go on and discuss the other chemical offenders in use - MCPP and Dicamba, for example. The story would be much the same. The cost in human and environmental terms of using cosmetic pesticides is not worth any perceived benefit, which is superficial at best. To add insult to injury, children are far more sensitive to these chemicals than adults. According to the Sierra Club of Canada, children exposed to household pesticides are six to seven times as vulnerable to childhood leukemia as other children.
Many residents of Stratford have been rightfully concerned about the lawn spraying that is occurring in their community. It is time now for the province to show real leadership, put the health of its residents and integrity of the environment first, and bring in comprehensive legislation like exists in five other Canadian provinces to ban the sale and usage of cosmetic pesticides. It's the responsible thing to do.
- Roger Gordon of Stratford is a retired biologist and former Dean of Science at UPEI. During his career at several universities he conducted research and published extensively on controlling insect pests using biological, environmentally sound strategies.