VIDEO: Charlottetown protest highlights pesticide controversy

Nigel Armstrong NArmstrong@TheGuardian.pe.ca
Published on May 7, 2014

Sharon Labchuk says the P.E.I. government betrayed its public trust in regard to cosmetic pesticides in the past, and completely missed the point of a protest Wednesday in Charlottetown.

About 20 supporters, plus reporters from all Island media outlets and government staff gathered on the front lawn of Province House to spread granules of corn gluten, a product banned under provincial regulations.

In 2009 PEI introduced cosmetic pesticide legislation for lawn-care products after public pressure, said Labchuk.

There were petitions and presentations to committees and much lobby, she said.

"We were very confident," she said. "Then (Environment Minister) Richard Brown completely and utterly betrayed everyone.

"A lot of people that worked very hard felt they had been kicked in the guts and they went home demoralized and exhausted," said Labchuk.

"Government set about to introduce what was absolutely contrary to the will of the people," she said.

The problem was the choice to model the Island regulations after the least-restrictive province,  New Brunswick, said Labchuk.

"One chemical is banned," she said. "Ninety-some that Ontario banned are still being sprayed willy-nilly around the province."

The legislation on P.E.I. focused on the physical form of pesticide products, citing those in pellet form and as such ended up banning granular corn gluten.

In other provinces, said Labchuck, corn gluten is promoted by governments as a safe, organic lawn herbicide that will inhibit the germination of weeds in the spring and fall.

The Island also ended up mistakenly banning pellet forms of plain iron that inhibits moss plus banning some forms of fatty acids, or soap-like products that fight insects in an environmentally safe way, she said.

Labchuk wants to revive the cosmetic pesticide lobby. She called on P.E.I. to bring in legislation similar to Ontario which names many individual chemicals for exclusion on lawns.

"Lets work this summer to make sure this legislation is introduced in the fall," said Labchuk.

There is no problem, said Janice Sherry, minister of environment, labour and justice who spoke at the protest.

Government staff monitor the safety of lawn care pesticides, comparing evidence from other provinces, the public and the lawn-care industry, plus results from test wells around the province, she said.

"I am pleased to say that no pesticides were detected in the majority of wells province-wide," said Sherry.

Nor any pesticide residue in soil tests, she said later.

She told the protest group that work is underway to remove corn gluten meal from the list of banned lawn supplements.

"I want to thank Earth Action for bringing this to my attention and to the attention of the public," said Sherry.

Labchuk later said that Earth Action has worked for years with government to draw attention to the issue of corn gluten, iron and fatty acids so it is not a sudden surprise. She said the water testing on P.E.I. is poorly done and does not include many chemicals not considered active ingredients but still included in many formulations.

Retired dean of science at UPEI, Roger Gordon said the  real point of Earth Action's corn gluten protest Tuesday was to illustrate that in fact, all but one of some 90 proven-harmful pesticides used in lawn care formulations are still permitted for use on the Island.

"They are playing with peoples' health and safety," he said of the P.E.I government.

NArmstorng@TheGuardian.pe.ca

Twitter/NigelPEI

Sharon Labchuk, left, is joined by cosmetic pesticide opponent Roger Gordon as they sprinkle corn gluten granules on the lawn in front of Province House Wednesday.

©The Guardian/Heather Tweel