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Do you believe lawn chemicals are a health threat?

Maclean's (Canada) 18dec00

Do you believe lawn chemicals are a health threat?

Yes: 70%

No: 30%


In the spring of 1997, a lawn spray company came to our home in error and sprayed our lawn. Our beautiful blue merle collie, Cisco, was in our yard at the time of this spray. The next morning, he was coughing and foaming from the mouth. After an examination by a veterinarian, we were told that he was dying. He had excessive liquid around his lungs, was anorexic and became progressively weaker. We put our five-year-old family pet and friend to sleep to end his incredible suffering. There is no doubt in our minds and in the minds of two veterinarians that his life ended because he was poisoned by the toxic assault of lawn pesticides. Cisco weighed 54 pounds. How much does your child weigh?

Paddy Running-Horan, Bolton, ON

My concern is drinking water. Can someone please name one Canadian community that requires lawn sprayers to know where the drinking water wells are before they spray? Imagine how much more employment would be created if all the money spent on chemical care were put into natural lawn care -- easy to do requiring one, perhaps two, extra visits a year for weed removal. Besides being good for health and the environment, natural lawn care would be good economically.

Peter Jones, Dartmouth, NS

This question is not what should be asked. The real question should be: "Why are we taking such unnecessary risks with chemicals we can not fully understand, merely to make our lawns fit an arbitrary and unnatural definition of aesthetically pleasing?" No one knows definitively whether lawn chemicals are safe or not. A group of scientists, and therefore our government, may have declared them safe. Have we not learned, however, from past mistakes -- DDT or thalidomide -- that we can never be certain?

Todd Schenk, Guelph, ON

"No" when used on the lawn. "Yes" if mixed in your Kool-Aid. I think you should ask the question in context.

Vaughn Tozer

Pesticides are licensed poisons whose purpose is to kill insects. Humans don't live in a bubble that exempts them from exposure. This is a case of science using us as guinea pigs for profit.

Sarah Miller, Toronto

As a nurse with a PhD in community health, I have been researching the health effects of commonly-used pesticides for over a decade. Many, many studies published in peer-reviewed medical and epidemiological journals point to strong associations between exposure to pesticides and serious health effects including birth defects, cancers, neurological problems, and endocrine disruption.

Pesticides (insecticides, herbicides, fungicides etc.) are poisons specifically designed to kill various life-forms. Why would humans be exempt from harm? Kudos to the town of Hudson, Quebec for showing the way by banning the cosmetic use of these products. Now it's time for all Canadians to wake up and smell the poison, and to say "Not in my backyard!" (Or in my park, sports field, golf course, school yard, etc.)

Merryl Hammond, Baie d'Urfe, Quebec

Canada's current regulatory regime determines which synthetic landscaping chemicals present a level of risk considered 'acceptable' for use. Once approved these synthetic chemicals are presumed to be "innocent until proven guilty." The burden of proof of unacceptable risk is then placed on the public who must endure an 'uncontrolled experiment' to the benefit of corporate interests. A senior drug reviewer with Health Canada, once summed up 'the risk' by stating that risk management is the language of corporations and institutions, not the language of public protection.

In the last six months, two of the more popular synthetic landscaping pesticides Dursban and diazinon, products containing chlorpyrifos (pronounced klor-PYE-ruh-fahs), have been determined by the Environmental Protection Agency to have unacceptable levels of risk, especially to children, and are finally being phased out. Canadians need to learn about alternatives and need to get their lawns of drugs. We will all benefit from chemical free lawns.

Mike Christie, Nepean, ON

It is clear to me, as an ecologist, that lawn chemicals are dangerous to the health of humans and other animals. Children are especially at risk.

James W Drescher, New Germany, NS

It took us 30 years to act to protect the public and our children from the documented health risks from exposure to second-hand cigarette smoke. It is now an everyday occurrence that the Canadian public, including children walking to and from school, are being exposed repeatedly and involuntarily to non-essential cosmetic lawn and garden pesticides. And they are being exposed indoors as well because pesticides are shown to be coming indoors where they were never licensed for use, and staying there for up to a year bonded to house dust (next to where you lie on the floor reading the comics?). The government should prove that it is independent of industry's grip and act on its own federal party policy, and on the recommendations of the House of Commons Report on Pesticides and the Federal Commissioner of the Environment, and place a moratorium on non-essential landscape pesticides until they are proven safe.

Helen Jones, Dartmouth, NS

Pesticides are most definitely damaging to the health of all living beings. The situation is made more critical for us because humans receive double exposure by ingesting foods with pesticide residues and those animals that have eaten pesticide-ridden foods. The residual pesticide load is far more concentrated than the individual exposure each species receives. It's certainly enough to stop my family from eating anything but organically-produced foods.

John Scime, Almonte, ON

The reason that cancer is exploding is entirely due to toxic chemicals of all kinds that are in our food, water, air and soils. If this stuff kills bugs, what do you think it does to us?

Baron Fowler, Salt Spring Island, BC

Two products have been taken off the market by the U.S. EPA since spring: Dursban and diazinon. We have been told for 48 years the stuff is safe. Now it is recognized they are neurotoxins and especially dangerous for children. This is another example of the inadequacy of regulatory bodies. History teaches that mistakes have been made when regulatory bodies have failed to act quickly or deeply enough to protect the health of the public -- consider lead, asbestos, DDT, thalidomide, tobacco, and most recently PPA's found in cold remedies. Chemical companies assure us 2,4-D is safe, just as they did with these other products. And yet there is enough evidence to say it is not. How long do we wait before acting to protect public health?

Barbare Elizabeth Kinnie, Calgary

I don't like the fact that 2,4-D is spread all over my neighbourhood even if I choose not to use it on my lawn. You can smell something irritating on the air whole days after commercial spraying, although all of the pamphlets I've read have emphasized that nothing evaporates after application. The challenge for the chemists is to design something that kills humans much slower than the fungus/weeds/insects that it is supposed to target. Quite frankly, I'd rather spend an hour a week pulling dandelions.

Glenn Kukkee, Thunder Bay, ON

This ought to be a no-brainer. Err on the side of caution. There's certainly enough reason to believe that these chemicals are potentially hazardous even when used properly. But even if we believe those who would tell us the risks are minimal, what real benefit is to be gained by using herbicides? Do we really need to be offended by the appearance of a few weeds?

Bob Paolino, Madison, Wisconsin, U.S.A.

As an environmental toxicologist, I think it would be wrong for anybody to say that lawn pesticides aren't at least a threat to health. I would go even further and state that the evidence is clear that both human and ecosystem health have already been negatively affected by lawn pesticides.

Dale Marshall, Vancouver

I feel that limited and proper use and disposal of well-researched chemicals, "according to the label," may not represent a huge danger. However, the failure of the general public -- and untrained, underpaid, and sometimes greedy landscaping "professionals" -- to use these products appropriately and dispose of remnants and containers properly, constitutes the biggest threat. And, on balance, is the hazard really necessary? I appreciate nice landscaping, but my lawn will be the first thing to go if my family's survival is at stake.

Peter Kingsmill, Hafford, SK

If anyone doubts the toxicity of pesticides, they should spend a summer on PEI -- Pesticide Exposure Island -- when the air is full of agricultural pesticide spray. Some of these pesticides are also used on lawns in Canadian cities. Tourists and residents complain of headaches, breathing problems, nosebleeds, nausea and chemical sensitivity. Thousands of fish are killed here every summer by minute amounts of pesticides.

Sharon Labchuk, Millvale, PEI

The precautionary principle in science leads us to use products that may be a threat only after they have been proven not to be. Unfortunately, the politics of profit-making have turned that idea on its head. Money comes first, and we ban things only when we know with overwhelming proof that a product such as a pesticide is dangerous. Laws in Canada, including the NAFTA, highly discourage the former approach and encourage the latter. Just look at products like toxic gasoline additives and cigarettes, and their impact on our health care system.

This issue will likely be boiled down on the 6 o'clock news to a questions of one group's rights against those of another group. The cynical view might be that the group with the biggest resources and best lawyers will ultimately win, but I choose to believe that good sense will prevail.

Alex Atfield, Guelph, ON

I was listening to the CBC this morning and was shocked to hear that two chemical companies are appealing a decision to ban chemicals on lawns. The people of the community had decided that they would rather have a few dandelions than the toxic chemicals poured on their lawns. It is disgusting to think that democratic decisions, especially those regarding health, can be challenged by the companies that make the poisons.

Linda Murphy, Saskatoon, SK

The health of my children, who are among the most frequent users of public park space, is of paramount importance to my husband and I. We have encouraged our City Council to eliminate the use of pesticides in Calgary. Unfortunately members of the City Administration are intent upon continuing the use of these toxic chemicals on our city properties for cosmetic purposes. There may be a long battle ahead, but we are determined to win.

Barbara Surplus, Calgary

Readers may be interested to note that the Canadian Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development's 1999 report states that the federal government is not adequately managing the risks to the public that pesticides create, some of which have been linked to respiratory illnesses, birth defects, reproductive disorders, lowered resistance to disease, and cancer, and that many pesticides used today were evaluated against less stringent health and environment standards than we currently have today.

Canada's laws and standards with respect to pesticides and toxic waste are like many of our other laws: inadequate. When the limited benefits of the frivolous use of designer cosmetic pesticides are weighed against the risks, I think that the conclusion should be that we can tolerate some dandelions.

David deBelle, Oakville, ON

I definitely believe that lawn chemicals are a health hazard, as any other chemicals that are used freely in wide open spaces and in any living environment. In this age of 'consciousness' and sophisticated knowledge, it is almost criminal to continue the use of such substances knowingly.

Carol McFarlane, Colorado Springs, CO, U.S.A.

No, private use of chemicals on private property is not a health threat because it is applied very judiciously and carefully. But use of chemicals by cities or large corporations is often indiscriminately applied and, therefore, a health threat. There are no organic products that can be used in both cases. Maybe it's time that changes are made.

Helen Christoffersen, Portage la Prairie, MB

The current regime for testing exposure limits for pesticides fails to consider the risks of exposures for children who are not just little adults. Pound for pound they eat more food, breathe more air, drink more, and their skin much more readily absorbs chemicals. Anyone who has ever been around a small child knows that they are constantly putting their hands and other objects into their mouths and that toddlers can't read signs that tell them to stay off the grass following pesticide applications. There are alternatives. We would all be better off if we used them.

Angela Rickman, Sierra Club of Canada

I have never been injured by a dandelion, but I know many people who have suffered breathing problems when exposed to lawn spraying chemicals. The possible additional health effects of lawn chemicals are enough to cause me to not use them -- my yard has not been chemically treated in at least 16 years.

Carol Kozak, Calgary

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