The statistics don’t support pesticide use, cancer rates

P.E.I. relatively save, healthy place to live in Canada

Letters to the Editor (The Guardian)
Published on May 13, 2014

Editor: There seems to a never-ending deluge of letters to the editor regarding pesticide use on P.E.I. and our skyrocketing cancer rates.

While there is no shortage of opinions and anecdotal reports there does seem to be a shortage of facts. While I will not present an opinion of what, if any, pesticide use should or shouldn’t be allowed, I would like to address some of the misinformation that abounds.

Quotes from yesterday’s Guardian state: “How is it that most of Europe, states ... like California and huge provinces like Quebec and Ontario have managed to ban many, many of the most dubious pesticides and continue with successful agricultural industries?”, “Rather than P.E.I. being a dumping ground for dangerous chemicals banned by more forward thinking places we could be leaders in safer agriculture and moving toward a healthier environment for all of us.”,  “I am overwhelmed by reports of people developing and dying of cancer. I have been informed that P.E.I. has one of the highest cancer rates in Canada. I do not think that this is a coincidence.”

After reading these letters I was inspired to look up the cancer rates on the Statistics Canada website. I found that cancer rates are highest in the east, with Newfoundland being the highest at 429.7 new cases per 100,000 people in 2013, and the rates drop as you go west with the lowest being in Yukon (344.8/100,000) and B.C. (362.0). The only exception to this trend is P.E.I. (409.1) which has the lowest cancer rates east of Ontario and is only slightly higher than Ont. (402.2).

How can this be? I don’t think Newfoundland or New Brunswick have quite the intensive agriculture as P.E.I. does and remember that Quebec is one of the “forward thinking” places that banned “many, many of the most dubious pesticides.” There doesn’t seem to be much correlation between pesticide use and cancer rates in Canada.

One thing that I did find correlated to cancer rates is smoking rates. Smoking rates are highest in the east (N.L.) and lowest in the west (B.C.) and, just like the cancer rates, P.E.I. has the lowest smoking rate east of Ontario. So how do we fare compared to the U.S.? What about “forward thinking” California? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, California has higher cancer rates than all of Canada’s provinces (with the exception of Newfoundland) and territories at 426.2 cases/100,000. In fact, there are only three (count them — three) states with lower cancer rates than P.E.I. (Nevada, New Mexico and Arizona). So 47 states have higher cancer rates than P.E.I. Kentucky has the highest cancer rates at 510.7/100,000.

So, as it turns out, P.E.I. (toxic playground, toxic wasteland, dangerous chemical dumping ground, etc.) is a relatively safe and healthy place to live in Canada.

All the cancer rates for Canada for 2013 (Stats Can) are as follows: (per 100,000 population) NL. 429.7, N.B. 424.6, N.S. 423.0, Que. 419.9, P.E.I. 409.1, Ont. 402.2, Man. 391.6, Nun. 386.4, Sask. 377.8, Alta. 371.2, NWT. 368.4, B.C. 362.0, Yukon 344.8.

Andrew Thompson,