Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Province weeds out synthetic pesticides

Critics say impending ban based on 'junk science'

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Manitoba will join several other Canadian jurisdictions in banning the sale and use of synthetic pesticides on lawns, playgrounds and schoolyards.

Conservation and Water Stewardship Minister Gord Mackintosh said Friday the prime motivation for the measure is the protection of children.

The government intends to introduce enabling legislation in the next session of the legislature. It plans to institute the ban in time for the 2015 lawn care season.

Mackintosh said there are safer alternatives for Manitobans who wish to spray their lawns against weeds.

"It's not about whether to spray or not to spray; it's what's in the spray," he told a news conference, surrounded by medical professionals, parents and a bio-pesticide rep.

Mackintosh said the medical evidence "has never been clearer" on the risks posed by synthetic pesticides, particularly to children.

Adrienne Percy, whose daughter, Hannah, plays in an under-six soccer league, said she was moved to lobby for a ban on cosmetic pesticides after witnessing kids rolling in the grass shortly after a field had been sprayed. No signs warned of the chemical, which she could clearly smell.

Children were dropping grapes into the grass and picking them up and putting them into their mouths, Percy said. Babies were chewing on blades of grass.

"What I saw that day spurred me to take action," said Percy, who would form a group called Concerned Mothers Coalition of Manitoba.

Paul Doucet, an emergency-room physician and father of five, spoke of the anguish of witnessing an eight-year-old daughter undergo two years of chemotherapy for a relatively rare form of childhood cancer.

"The type of cancer she had is directly linked to exposure to pesticides, and she did have an exposure early in her life," Doucet said of his now-grown daughter. "If any risk can be avoided, it would be important."

Dr. Elise Weiss, deputy chief provincial public health officer, said when it comes to using synthetic chemicals to beautify lawns, the risks far outweigh any benefits.

Scientific studies have shown "associations" between pesticide use and adverse health effects. And while the research has not yet proven cause and effect, it "certainly raises some concerns," she said.

Mackintosh said the government still has a lot of work to do before it introduces legislation and drafts the accompanying regulations.

Penalties for breaking the pesticide ban are yet to be determined. They would be directed primarily at retailers and professional applicators rather than homeowners, unless there were persistent complaints about an individual, Mackintosh said. The government is counting on education rather than punishment.

Homeowners would also be granted a one-year grace period after the law is in place before facing any penalties, Mackintosh said.

But Manitobans are about to pay a lot more money for products that are less effective, said a longtime local lawn-care service provider.

Dillon Vincent, president of Eco Green, said there is only one real bio-pesticide lawn-care alternative on the market to the chemicals he uses -- Fiesta. And it's so expensive he will have to double his rates for treating lawns once the government's ban on synthetic pesticides takes effect.

"I would say the days of having a weed-free, beautiful lawn are coming to an end," Vincent said Friday.

Vincent said the industry asked the government to consider restricting rather than banning traditional lawn-care chemicals. He said the province could have limited the number of applications in a given year or confined spraying to spring and fall, when fewer kids are in parks and playgrounds.

The Canadian Association of Agri-Retailers slammed the province in a press release Friday. The move is "based on emotional response to generalizations and misleading junk science rather than hard-fact science," said Delaney Ross Burtnack, CAAR president and CEO. "They are inciting fear using children and pets as examples rather than relying on the science from Health Canada, a respected and unbiased federal institution."

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 29, 2013 A8

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