Potential risks not worth it for cosmetic benefits alone

Letters to the Editor (The Guardian)
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Lori Barker, executive director, Canadian Cancer Society, P.E.I. Division

By Lori Barker (guest opinion)

I am writing this letter in response to Roger Gordon’s article “Just say no to cosmetic pesticides” printed in The Guardian May 2.

Recognizing that approximately half of cancers can be prevented, the Canadian Cancer Society feels strongly about educating the public about the various ways to reduce your risk of developing cancer. While we often speak of the importance of not smoking, eating healthy and exercising regularly, it is also important to understand the potential risks associated with the use of pesticides.

Studies show there may be a connection between pesticides and cancer in adults and children. That’s why you should reduce — and even eliminate —exposure to pesticides, where possible. It is also why the Canadian Cancer Society fully supports a ban on the use of all cosmetic pesticides, where the only benefit derived from their use is to make lawns, gardens and other green spaces look better.

We recommend all levels of government and individuals follow the precautionary principle on this matter: any potential risk is simply not worth it for cosmetic benefits alone.

Research to date does not provide a definitive link between pesticides and human cancer, but it does suggest an increasingly likely connection with cancers such as non-Hodgkin lymphoma (especially among farmers), multiple myeloma, and prostate, kidney and lung cancers. Studies on pesticides and childhood cancer show a possible connection with leukemia, brain tumours and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

 Children are at a greater risk of being exposed to higher levels of pesticides than adults because some activities increase their exposure, such as crawling and playing in grass treated with pesticides. Pesticides can also be absorbed more easily through their skin.  This exposure may do more harm to children because their bodies are still developing and may not be able to deal with these substances.

 Tips to reduce your exposure to pesticides:

- Ask neighbours to tell you if pesticides will be sprayed on their lawn. Keep your family — especially children and pets — away from those areas for at least 48 hours.  

- Stay indoors with family and pets if someone is using pesticides near your home. Keep windows and doors closed.  

- Look for signs posted on green spaces that indicate recent spraying of pesticides. Don’t walk or play in these areas.

- If pest control is needed for your lawn or garden, try safer options. The Canadian Cancer Society has a toolkit outlining many options for dealing with pests, including home recipes. Call 902-566-4007 if you’d like a copy sent to you.

- Pesticides are used during the growing season or to store and transport fresh vegetables and fruit. Sometimes traces of pesticides are left behind. You can reduce and often eliminate pesticide residues on fresh vegetables and fruit by washing all fresh vegetables and fruit thoroughly with lots of running water. Use a small scrub brush to clean the skin of vegetables and fruit if the skin will be eaten — for example, apples, potatoes and cucumbers. Another option is to peel the outer skin and trim outer leaves of leafy vegetables, then wash thoroughly.

Please visit cancer.ca to learn more about this important topic.


Lori Barker is executive director, Canadian Cancer Society, P.E.I. Division

Organizations: Canadian Cancer Society

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