Just say no to cosmetic pesticides

Letters to the Editor (The Guardian)
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Pesticides and children

By Roger Gordon (guest opinion)

So, winter is finally over and spring has arrived. At least, that’s the impression I get as I walk around my neighbourhood and see all the homeowners beginning to rake over their lawns. Then, the penny drops. It will soon be time for the lawn spraying companies to get into high gear. Letters in my mail box advising me that a neighbour will be having his or her lawn sprayed with a toxic concoction. Pickup trucks cruising around the streets, drums of pesticides on their flat beds. Vapours in the air that I do not appreciate.

There is no doubt the provincial government caved in to pressure from the industrialized pesticide lobby and left Islanders with one of the worst situations in the country regarding cosmetic pesticides. Only 2-4,D is banned. But not its chemical relatives Mecoprop or MCPA. Health Canada has approved what is being sprayed, so it must be OK. Right? Wrong.

I have a list as long as a yardarm of pesticides once approved by Health Canada that in the light of subsequent knowledge have now been banned. Also, Health Canada only certifies the active ingredient. What is sprayed on a person’s lawn contains a whole slew of chemicals that magnify the toxic effects.

But, here’s the good news. People can just say no to this lawn spraying nonsense. There is abundant evidence to link cosmetic pesticides with several serious human illnesses. In a recent (meta) analysis, published in a peer-reviewed international scientific journal, the authors examined 15 studies within the primary literature and determined that exposure to cosmetic pesticides either pre or post partum increased the chances of a child contracting childhood leukemia by 50 to 100 per cent.

In a broader examination of both cosmetic and agricultural pesticides, another group of scientists found that there was a positive correlation between pesticide exposure and non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 12 out of 14 investigations. Even more worrisome is the fact that children are far more susceptible to pesticide exposure than adults.

The naysayers will argue that the evidence against cosmetic pesticides is not iron clad. It’s true that some studies have yielded inconclusive results, but that’s to be expected. Much like the situation with tobacco smoking back in the 1950s, we have to rely upon after the fact information — sampling populations and examining medical records to look for cause and effect relationships.

Controlled experiments with humans are not possible for obvious ethical reasons. Thus, we rely on the thoroughness of the studies and the robustness of the statistical analyses used to eliminate factors (age, gender, lifestyle, etc.) that might otherwise interfere with the conclusions.

 Unlike the tobacco analogy, however, cell and molecular biology is nowadays able to provide insight into what is going on: DNA damage, impairment of blood clotting, immune system suppression, etc. So, this is where common sense kicks in. If you were offered a beverage and told that there was evidence for and against it being a poison, would you drink it? Just say no to cosmetic pesticides.


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.

Organizations: Health Canada

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