By Ray Letheren, Friends of Bayfield River, Bayfield, Ontario
The frog had five legs. Why? Humans use chemical pesticides to enhance crop and lawn development and appearances. While not the sole cause, these chemicals may act as a growth hormone, a protein that is suspected of causing abnormal development. Can this frog issue be translated to human development? No person is prepared to voluntarily expose oneself to tests involving pesticides, so we are required to accept that what is happening to this bell-weather amphibian could be happening to humans.
Studies throughout Europe, Canada and the USA have demonstrated a relationship between cancer and other abnormal conditions and pesticide use. A US study shows women golfers have a significantly higher rate of breast cancer than the general population. A Saskatchewan study shows that farmers have a higher rate of testicular cancer. A recent Swedish study drew a relationship between Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and pesticides. Canadian and Russian studies find that children have immune system alterations and a higher risk of infectious disease. An Ohio based producer of a commonly used pesticide warns in its product fact sheet (required by US law),”overexposure may affect the central nervous system”.
Some of the commonly used pesticides are 2,4-D, Mecoprop, and Dicamba. These are classified as phenoxy herbicides that impact the living creature by blocking the transmission of nerve impulses and inhibiting mineral conductivity across the nerve cells. It is estimated that, in addition, there are up to 250 inert ingredients that are not identified.
US and Canadian federal laws empower municipalities to “protect the health and safety” of citizens. From coast to coast in Canada, towns and cities have followed the lead of the small Quebec community of Hudson by enacting legislation to restrict the use of non-essential (cosmetic) pesticides. Their right to enact a by-law was upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada. More than 125 communities now have by-laws in place, protecting 47% of the Canadian population.
Still, it remains a struggle for others to move municipal councils to adopt legislation. There are two recurrent issues cited: 1) the pesticide use in small towns is insignificant compared to agricultural use and 2) the fear that once urban areas have bylaws the agricultural industry will be targeted.
Community groups will continue to press their respective Councils to engage in discussion on the pesticide issue while joining forces with Pesticide Free Ontario to seek provincial legislation to restrict the use of cosmetic pesticides. Perhaps with the environment regarded as the number one issue facing Canadians, the time is right. Visit www.pesticidefree.ca for resources and updates.
Sources referenced in this article include the Canadian and American Cancer Societies, David Suzuki Foundation (2007), Rachael’s Environmental Health (2004), Ontario College of Family Physicians review of over 600 publications on the hazards of pesticides (2004), The Responsibility of Municipalities: a legal opinion (Melissa McDonald, LLB), and the “Making the Right Choices” report by the Canadian House of Commons joint committee on Sustainable Development (2000).